It’s official: UK Action Plan on business and human rights still needs some legal teeth

by 28th Nov 2014
A woman in Kenya working on a plastics recycling initiative A woman in Kenya working on a plastics recycling initiative © CARE

As a Policy Adviser, it is always gratifying to learn when some individual or group with a bit more power than you basically agrees with you and is pushing your viewpoint.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog here which said that the UK Action Plan on business and human rights needs some legal teeth. So it is good to see that the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has basically agreed in its recently-published review of The FCO’s human rights work in 2013. The Committee has now said:

“We also note concerns about …whether it lacks teeth. If the Action Plan is to command confidence, the Government should indicate that mandatory measures are being held in reserve if voluntary measures are not effective in improving business respect for human rights.”

Of course this does not go as far as I suggested in my earlier blog, where I suggested that, at a minimum, the Companies Act should give rise to a civil remedy for breaches of corporate obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which could be pursued by victims, shareholders, or indeed by the company’s own directors seeking to pursue redress where human rights abuses have occurred.

However, it does acknowledge a need for more vigour from government in encouraging companies to acknowledge and deliver on their obligations under the Guiding Principles to respect human rights, conduct due diligence and provide access to remedy where required. That is to be welcomed. We now look forward to the Government and FCO’s response.

Gerry Boyle

I lead CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around value chains and dignified work. I originally joined CARE as the Senior Policy Adviser on Private Sector Engagement. With the advent of our new Global Programme Strategy which put a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, my focus changed a little, although I still work extensively with issues in the private sector and with CARE’s corporate partners.

Until recently I spent a lot of my time on financial inclusion, now looked after by my colleague Fiona Jarden. I also co-chair the Bond Private Sector Working Group.  Immediately before I joined CARE I worked for Oxfam as Head of Business Relations for about three years, but the vast majority of my career was spent as a management consultant including being a consulting Partner at Deloitte, where for a time I led Deloitte UK’s Consumer Business consulting practice, serving many major multinationals. My original degree was in Law from Oxford University, and in 2008 when I left Deloitte I did an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE.

One good thing I've read

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. It provides a framework for many people’s modern understanding of what is development, based on a profoundly human-centred approach rather than anything instrumental. And to check whether one personally is doing enough to fight poverty, I recommend Peter Singer’s The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty – it’s very clear and easy to read but very challenging! Finally, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: Rich nations, poor policies, and the threat to the developing world is a very readable guide to economic development which argues strongly against many of the prevailing orthodoxies.

Email: boyle@careinternational.org

Twitter: @gerryboyle10