CORE’s report, The Bottom Line: UK Corporate Abuse Overseas, brings together ten case studies of serious abuses linked to UK corporations’ international operations. Issues range from the appropriation of indigenous lands, the callous destruction of natural habitats, and corporate complicity in the violation of a litany of civil and political rights.
A clear pattern emerges of insurmountable barriers to justice for victims, and few, if any consequences for the companies concerned. None of the companies featured in The Bottom Line has been subject to meaningful sanction in the UK. The world over, some UK businesses are behaving in ways that would be unacceptable at home and getting away with it.
Particularly illustrative is the case of Trafigura’s toxic waste dump, where the UK authorities have refused to conduct an investigation in spite of credible evidence that a crime was committed in the UK. This sends a signal that some British companies can act with impunity, paying mere lip service to international standards and local laws, and undermining the efforts of responsible companies to operate to high standards.
Many laggard companies are largely immune to pressure from consumers and investors. Only government action can close the accountability gap.
In September 2013, the UK government broke new ground when it released the world’s first Business and Human Rights Action Plan, setting out how the UK would implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The Action Plan is now being updated, with a revised version due to be published by the end of the year. This presents a vital opportunity to create a corporate culture in which serious malpractice, anywhere, is unacceptable.