For the last two months, Traidcraft has been encouraging supporters, campaigners and anyone concerned about the actions of UK-linked companies in developing countries to write to their MP. Over a thousand of us have written or emailed, and asked our MPs to contact the Prime Minister to ask him to take a lead on the government's review of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.
We're concerned that the long-promised review may not deliver any significant changes and that UK-linked companies will continue to get away with doings things in developing countries - harming people and polluting the environment - which would simply not be acceptable here.
So we are really pleased that the government has responded. We’re a little disappointed that we didn’t get a reply directly from the Prime Minister, but we understand that he has many calls on his time.
Here is Baroness Anelay's letter in full, and you can read the original here:
Dear Liz May
Traidcraft supporters have raised concerns to the Prime Minister about the UK’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (BHR). As the focus of this is on the impact of UK companies overseas, I am replying as Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for human rights policy. I would be grateful if you would consider publishing this letter on your website in response to the Traidcraft justice campaign.
I would like to assure you that the UK is committed to action on BHR and the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs), also known as the “Ruggie Principles” through its Action Plan, which was the first of its kind to be published in September 2013.
The UNGPs make very clear that, while states have a responsibility to “promote and protect” human rights, firms have a responsibility to “respect” them. We have made clear that the Government’s expectation is that British companies will build respect for human rights into all aspects of their operations both in the UK and overseas and will act accordingly.
The UK has a culture of human rights awareness and protection – much of which results from our framework of legislation – and our range of remedy mechanisms is diverse. We recognise that remedy may include apologies, restitution, rehabilitation, financial or non-financial compensation and punitive sanctions, as well as the prevention of harm through, for example, injunctions or guarantees of non-repetition.
In addition to this, the British Government has sought to promote access to remedy by:
- tasking UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) teams in the markets where they operate to advise UK companies on establishing or participating in grievance mechanisms for those potentially affected by their activities and to collaborate with local authorities in situations where further State action is warranted to provide an effective remedy.
- encouraging companies to extend their domestic UK practice of providing effective grievance mechanisms to their overseas operations, adapting them where necessary according to local circumstances and consulting interested parties. This also applies to dispute arbitration / mediation mechanisms through their sector of activity or collective industry organisations.
As an adhering country to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the Government has also established the UK National Contact Point (NCP) which considers allegations of non-compliance by UK companies with the guidelines.
The promotion of business, and respect for human rights, go hand in hand. We recognise that responsible action by the private sector on human rights is good for business and communities. It helps create jobs, customers and a sense of fairness, and contributes towards a market’s sustainability. We want UK companies to succeed. But that success must be consistent with our deeply held values of human rights and individual dignity. This is why we continue to encourage wide adoption of the voluntary principles and collaboration between government, business and civil society organisations in that process.
Rt Hon Baroness Anelay of St John’s DBE
Minister of State
It's good to hear that the government is committed to action on business and human rights, and that they expect 'British companies to build respect for human rights into all aspects of their operations'.
We're disappointed though that the letter only refers to voluntary mechanisms - things that companies do themselves, like setting up their own grievance mechanisms. We agree that grievance mechanisms do have a place but for many of the harms that we have investigated - which include deaths, serious injuries or health problems caused by pollution - they are not appropriate. We shouldn't expect victims to rely on the alleged perpetrator for justice.
Equally, the UK National Contact Point is a useful mechanism in some instances, but doesn't have the power to do more than investigate and publish findings. It is not able to enforce its recommendations.
These voluntary approaches aren't enough. The severity of harms associated with the operations of a few irresponsible UK companies - and the fact that some of these companies are the subject of repeated allegations over many years - demands more than grievance processes or investigations. Companies need to be accountable for their actions. Traidcraft is calling for a change in the law to make it possible to prosecute these companies.
We're looking forward to seeing what is in the National Action Plan when it is published. In the meantime, you can still add your voice to the campaign and email your MP now.