And now we are the Corporate Justice Coalition.
Our name has changed but our call for corporate accountability in the UK, in order to ensure the protection of human rights from abuse by business, remains as loud as when we began 20 years ago.
We have a track record of making change – we’ve been calling for the laws on corporate accountability that the UK’s introduced over the past two decades, and we’ve been there supporting people and communities in their search for justice in the UK court system.
We are an independent charity but we do not work alone. Our strength lies in the unity of our coalition of partners – NGOs, trade unions and law firms – coming together to demand change.
And as a coalition, our mission remains the same: We bring together groups working to change the rules in order to protect rights, ensure corporations are transparent and accountable, and that people and communities who suffer from corporate abuses have access to justice.
Our coalition was founded in 1998 as a network when the then Labour Government announced its plan to review company law and started consulting with stakeholders. Our founding name was the Corporate Accountability Network – CAN.
The Network led a group of its founding partners to pull together what became a private member’s bill, known as the ‘Corporate Responsibility Bill’. To reflect this, CAN became CORE, the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, and in 2006, our campaigning vision became a legislative reality under the then ground-breaking Companies Act, Section 172.
Ahead of the 2011 unanimous adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), CORE was already calling for a UK company reporting regime in a report with a foreword by Labour MP, Lisa Nandy. We then engaged extensively in the work undertaken by Prof John Ruggie which led to the UNGPs.
In 2013, we joined partners around Europe in calling for the EU Non-Financial Reporting directive as an effective tool for improved corporate transparency, before two years later successfully campaigning for the then Modern Slavery Bill to be amended to require companies to report on what they are doing to address slavery and human trafficking in their global supply chains.
In the years since, it’s become increasingly evident that the Modern Slavery Act’s S.54 Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) provision doesn’t go far enough towards realising the UK’s commitments under the UNGPs. At the same time, the years since have seen other states go far beyond the Modern Slavery Act’s provisions focused on reporting for forced labour abuses alone.
Influential decision-makers, from the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to government committees, are making the case for the reform of the Modern Slavery Act because it fails to achieve what it set out to. What we urgently need is for all potential and actual human rights abuses to be identified mitigated and meaningfully addressed wherever they may take place, with provisions for corporate liability for harm and access to justice for any victims of harm.
One of the Corporate Justice Coalition’s main aims is to secure just that: a new law which ensures real corporate accountability for all human rights abuses, including liability for corporations and access to remedy and justice for victims of corporate abuses of human rights – based on strong corporate liability provisions that already exist in UK law but which are currently only applied to bribery and corruption, but not to human rights.
Due to the overwhelming need for much more to be done on the access to justice pillar of the UNGPs – which sits alongside the state duty to protect rights, and the corporate responsibility to respect them – we have always tried to engage in campaigns and policy areas that can advance progress on this.
And from 2019 through to 2021 we contributed to successive landmark victories in the UK Supreme Court which have given a new and vitally important understanding of the ‘duty of care’ held by UK parent companies for the harmful actions of their overseas subsidiaries: Vedanta vs Lungowe, and, this year, Okpabi v Shell.
As we near a decade since the adoption of the UNGPs, it is to the shame of countries around the world, including the UK, that they have failed to fully realise what they endorsed in 2011. The price of this failure is paid for by people and communities around the world who continue to suffer abuses at the hands of some of the world’s most powerful corporations.
It is a situation of injustice, a moral wrong, that the most powerful profit from abuses of the rights of some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people and communities in the Global South – and the destruction of the environment they depend on for their lives, livelihoods and wellbeing.
This situation of injustice is reflected across many of the issues civil society groups campaign and call for change on – with corporate accountability a relevant issue across all – which is why we have UK and international movements and organisations championing climate justice, trade justice and tax justice, to name but a few.
Under the UNGP framework, the state has a duty to protect human rights, business has a responsibility to respect human rights, and access to remedy and justice must be available and appropriate when duties and obligations are breached.
As a civil society organisation and a coalition, we ultimately work for the people and communities – the ‘rights holders’ – who suffer from the ongoing injustice of abuses, often without any real hope of remedy at the hands of some of the most powerful actors in the global economy.
And against this backdrop of impunity and injustice, the call from civil society groups must be simple, loud and clear: justice.
Now, we are the Corporate Justice Coalition.