I buy Fairtrade bananas – isn’t that enough?
Buying Fairtrade bananas is a great start and by taking that small action you are part of a global movement of people fighting to protect workers rights. However, not all companies sign up to Fairtrade or have such ethical practices. So we need a Commission for Business, Human Rights and the Environment so when UK companies are responsible for human rights abuses or environmental destruction, victims can get access to justice.
What’s happened so far in SPEAK’s campaign for corporate accountability?
SPEAK members took a creative built the biggest Dress in the world, made out of people’s petitions for justice in the clothes industry. The Big Dress can still be seen today at various festivals in the summer (as well as a petition it’s also a very handy large tent!) Alongside others in the CORE (Corporate Responsibility) Coalition, SPEAK campaigners affected the biggest shake-up of company law in 150 years, with the 2006 Companies Act. It strengthened requirements for companies to report on social and environmental issues, and introduced for the first time a duty for directors of companies to consider these issues when making decisions. But it didn’t go nearly far enough, and access to justice for victims of corporate abuse was left completely untouched.
Why’s it called ‘Unfinished Business’?
Simply because the 2006 Companies Act made some changes but left huge amounts of work ( “Business”) still to be done (or “Unfinished”!) to ensure UK business acting abroad improve their environmental and social performance. So SPEAK campaigners decided to carry on focussing on this issue with the Unfinished Business MP3 Petition.
What’s in it for poorer countries?
Poorer countries often don’t have adequate legal systems or economic power to prevent UK businesses from committing human rights abuses or environmental destruction. So by having this Commission, people from poorer countries can get access to justice and show UK businesses that human rights and the environment need to be respected everywhere.
Why’s it our job if another country’s legal system doesn’t work?
The book of Proverbs in the Bible asks us to ‘SPEAK out for those who cannot SPEAK for themselves’. Some poorer countries simply don’t have enough trained lawyers, money or power to create strong legal systems. What’s more, poorer governments can be bullied out of introducing stronger human rights or environmental protection, by companies threatening to take their business elsewhere. We should always do what we can to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from injustice, so that means supporting providing access to legal justice in whatever way we can.
Isn’t it a bit colonialist to go meddling in other countries’ affairs?
We live in an increasingly interconnected world and countries need to work together to create a more peaceful and sustainable future for everyone. By creating a Commission to deal with these issues we are providing a way for victims and poor countries to stand up and demand their rights.
How would the Commission work?
The functions of the Commission could include:
- promote– global and local laws, standards and best practice that are relevant to the human rights and environmental impacts of UK companies wherever they operate
- evaluate – the effectiveness of existing standards, regulations and voluntary principles applicable to the overseas operations of UK companies and, where relevant, recommend regulatory and policy reforms to the UK Government and to business
- receive and investigate – complaints against UK companies relating to their operations abroad
- mediate – between parties to facilitate conflict resolution
- remedy– harm done to people and the environment by UK companies abroad
- sanction– corporations for egregious misconduct which contravenes recognised standards
- collaborate - with relevant actors and bodies based in host countries
- guidance– to government on improving existing law and policy