Updating the UK Business and Human Rights Action Plan: CORE’s Recommendations

On 4th September 2013 the UK became the first country to release a Business and Human Rights Action Plan, building on its commitment to implement the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs). CORE gave the Plan a cautious welcome and urged the government to ensure that it leads to concrete steps to address corporate human rights abuse.
The process to update the Action Plan started just before the general election. CORE’s initial contribution to the update is a set of key principles for the revised Plan. This post summarises some of the major recommendations. The original document can be viewed here.
First – at the foundational level – we emphasis the need for independent evaluation of the Action Plan’s impact  including at least one national case study, alongside a comprehensive baseline assessment. To facilitate policy coherence, the revised Plan should also set out a cross-departmental approach to fulfilling the commitment to implement the UNGPs – including the identification of specific milestones, a timeline towards their achievement, and formal parliamentary scrutiny.

Access to remedy

The revision of the plan presents an opportunity to address barriers to remedy for victims of corporate abuse. It is important that the plan identifies steps to improve accountability mechanisms for harms suffered in the international supply chains of UK companies, as this remains particularly problematic.
As well as addressing barriers to judicial remedy, non-judicial mechanisms can also be improved. The UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (NCP) should be given enhanced investigatory powers and there should be consequences for UK companies found to be in breach of the Guidelines.
More broadly, the plan should reiterate that the UK government takes corporate crime very seriously, and that UK companies and their directors will be prosecuted where there is evidence that crimes committed here led to serious human rights abuses abroad.

Transparency and reporting

 The updated Action Plan should include a commitment to extend the narrative reporting requirements in the Companies Act 2006 to large non-listed companies and to monitor and enforce the supply chain reporting requirements introduced in the recently passed Modern Slavery Act.

Procurement and government support for business

The Action Plan should lay out plans for implementing the 2014 EU Procurement Directives in a way that enables the deployment of human rights criteria during the bidding process for public sector contracts. Further, the revised Plan should provide guidance identifying the circumstances in which public bodies could exclude tenderers that have seriously harmed human rights in the course of their business.
The Plan can also be used to strengthen the presence of human rights standards in government interactions with business. The commitment in the first Plan to make human rights obligations central to investment treaties  should be retained and elaborated on, particularly with reference to investor protections and Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms.
The update should also require companies that the UK enters into development partnerships with, to undertake human rights due diligence – including proper impact assessments as per the UN Guiding Principles.

Moving forward

While the first Action Plan contained some significant commitments, detail was sparse, and aspirations were sometimes simultaneously undermined by actual policies. The current review allows the UK government to reflect on progress to date and to set priorities for the next phase. This is set against a context of genuine global momentum, with over 40 countries having commenced the process of preparing an Action Plan. The UK should be looking to set the bar high.

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