Time for change – MPs from across parties turn out for CJC event

  • Fleur Anderson MP (Labour)

At the end of May, we joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights to host the event “Levelling the playing field for UK companies: Mandatory supply chain due diligence to protect human rights and the environment” in Parliament.

The event was set up to highlight to Parliamentarians the broad and strong support for a new UK human rights and environmental due diligence law – obliging businesses and the public sector to prevent and remedy human rights abuses and environmental harm in supply chains. And with more than 50 Parliamentarians and staff turning up, our goals were very much achieved.

The call for a new UK law has wide-ranging support from businesses, investors, civil society organisations and the UK public – with a YouGov poll showing that 4 in 5 Britons want a new law to end the exploitation of people and the environment in supply chains.

From the very beginning, there was a noticeable, constant buzz in the Jubilee Room as Parliamentarians keenly chatted with the civil society groups and businesses dotted around the room.  Parliamentarians had the opportunity to talk to the John Lewis Partnership, Marshalls, Aviva, the UN Global Compact, the Trades Union Congress, Anti-Slavery International, and Friends of the Earth – to name just a few of the organisations present. Mars and Tony’s Chocolonely kindly provided free chocolates for attendees, Tony’s Chocolonely even designing a special wrapper calling for a new UK law.

Parliamentarians from across parties were present from start to finish, with many showing their support for change by holding banners, signing a new, cross-party sponsored ‘Early Day Motion’ (#1169) in recognition of the campaign, or signing the Good Business Matters pledge in favour of a new law.

Attendees included, among many others, Labour Frontbenchers Fleur Anderson MP, Justin Madders MP, and Catherine West MP, Conservative MPs Fiona Bruce and Andrew Selous, and Liberal Democrat MPs Sarah Green and Wera Hobhouse. The SNP showed particularly strong support for a law, with Chris Law MP, Alison Thewliss MP and Brendan O’Hara MP among those attending.

Cross-party interest in a new law is especially clear through the EDM: “Potential merits of new legislation on mandatory corporate due diligence”. Published in the same week as the event, it is co-sponsored by Tony Lloyd MP (Labour – Chair of the APPG on Human Rights), Caroline Lucas MP (Green), Ben Lake MP (Plaid Cymru), Alison Thewliss MP (SNP), Wera Hobhouse MP (Liberal Democrat), and Sammy Wilson MP (DUP). The EDM recognises the campaign for a new UK human rights and environmental due diligence law, its backing by the people, businesses and investors, and calls on the Government to adopt a new law.

A new UK law would bring benefits for businesses through the creation of a ‘level playing field’. On the one hand, between businesses which do the right thing already and those which do not, and on the other between the UK and  Europe, where many UK businesses operate and where a new EU-wide law is now under discussion and expected to be on the books in 2024/25. A law would also increase legal certainty for investors, via enabling them to make more informed and sustainable investment decisions.  Most importantly, if done the right way, a new law will help people and the environment through better protection of their human rights and the prevention of and remedy for abuses.

Civil society organisations call for a law based on the ‘failure to prevent’ model, as known from the Bribery Act, Criminal Finance Act, Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill and the Online Safety Bill. In doing so, they support the 2017 recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, an approach confirmed as legally feasible by the British Institute for International and Comparative Law.

While briefly a leader in legislating on business and human rights, the UK has now become a clear laggard. It is time for the UK to step up, live up to its words and adopt legislation to protect people and planet from corporate abuse.

By Luise Schroter

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