Inequality of justice

October 15, 2014

Today is Blog Action Day. Around the world, people from different countries, interests and languages are contributing ideas around this year’s theme: inequality. We’re taking the opportunity to reflect on inequality of justice.

We live in a world where inequality of income and wealth is huge and growing. But money is only one dimension of inequality. Through our Justice Campaign,Traidcraft is highlighting the massive inequality in access to justice.

It shouldn’t be so. The principal of equality before the law is enshrined in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.’

In this country its roots go much further back to the Magna Carta signed nearly 800 years ago in 1215. The Magna Carta set down for the first time that no-one, not even the king, was above the law. All people should be able to get justice. ‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay, right or justice.’

But, as we know, the reality in today’s world is very different.

Traidcraft has been highlighting instances where people are struggling to get justice after being mistreated or even abused as a result of decisions by British companies. These people were often living in extreme poverty before the harm occurred – have a look at the case studies from Tanzania and Bangladesh which we’ve featured on this blog. It’s no coincidence that many companies choose to source from countries where wages and production costs are low – meaning that health and safety standards are lax and workers have little power and no voice.

Once the harm has occurred – whether that is an industrial accident that could have been foreseen or pollution of the local environment that could have been prevented – victims face numerous barriers to getting justice. Our Head of Policy Liz May has blogged about these previously.

A small number of brave people, supported by local NGOs and UK law firms, are still bringing civil cases in the English courts. Once heard there, they should benefit from a legal system founded on Magna Carta and Article 7.

But what of the others? What of the hundreds and thousands of people who are not able to fight for justice? Who end up accepting some paltry local compensation deal – a bag of rice, or a job feeding chickens – in return for the loss of their livelihood or permanent disablement? Or even get nothing?

And just as looking at income inequality is as much about wealth as about poverty, so the inequality of justice is also about those companies who believe they can operate with impunity. In a world where business is global, but law is not, things need to change.

We want the next UK government needs to do three things:

  • Make it possible to bring criminal prosecutions in the UK against British companies that abuse human rights in other countries.
  • Remove the barriers which stop people from poor communities bringing civil cases in the UK courts
  • Ensure that companies can also be held to account effectively outside the court system.

We are calling on the leaders of all the UK political parties to set out what they plan to do to ensure that victims of British businesses can get justice. Please join us and stand up for justice.

What do you think? Have you been denied justice? Please share your thoughts in the comments.