Any of our business? Human Rights and the UK private sector - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents



1. A number of our submissions referred to a range of international voluntary and multi-stakeholder initiatives on business and human rights. We address the OECD Guidelines and the work of the UN Special Representative in Chapter 4. In this Annex, we summarize the characteristics of a number of these initiatives and provide references to some of the evidence we received.

The UN Global Compact

2. The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.[386] By doing so, member businesses aim to help ensure that "markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere". The UN Global Compact has two objectives:

  • Mainstream the ten principles in business activities around the world
  • Catalyze actions in support of broader UN goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

3. The Ten UN Global Compact Principles include:

  • Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.  
  • Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. 
  • Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges; undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.   
  • Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery. 

4. The Global Compact, today stands as the largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative in the world. It has 6,500 signatories - 5,000 from business and 1,500 form civil society and other non-business organizations - based in over 135 countries. In 2008, the Global Compact welcomed 1,473 business participants - a 30% increase in new corporate signatories compared to the previous year.[387] There are Global Compact Local Networks in over 80 countries. Their role is to support companies in their efforts to implement the Global Compact (both local firms and subsidiaries of foreign corporations), while also creating opportunities for further engagement and collective action.

5. A number of witnesses to our inquiry referred to the UN Global Compact as an example of an initiative supported by UK businesses.[388] Professor David Kinley, for example, told us that it provided an important "model code" but was only one of many initiatives to which business could subscribe.[389]

Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights

6. The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VSPs) are a set of non-binding principles which were developed to guide extractives companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations within an operating framework that ensures respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.[390] The main goal of the VSPs is to provide guidance for companies on identifying human rights and security risk, as well as engaging and collaborating with state and private security forces.

7. The VSPs address three main areas: risk assessment, interactions between companies and public security, and interactions between companies and private security. The provide human rights guidelines designed specifically for oil, gas, and mining companies, sectors that are particularly exposed to fundamental human rights risks and involved in controversies.[391]

8. The VSPs were developed in 2000 and involve the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Norway, companies in the extractive and energy sectors and non-governmental organizations (Amnesty International, International Alert, Oxfam), observers (International Committee of the Red Cross, International Council on Mining & Metals, International Petroleum Industry Environmental), all with an interest in human rights and corporate social responsibility. The VSPs aim to help businesses to:

  • Conduct a comprehensive assessment of human rights risks associated with security, with a particular focus on complicity.
  • Engage appropriately with public and private security in conflict prone areas.
  • Institute proactive human rights screenings of and trainings for public and private security forces.
  • Ensure that the use of force is proportional and lawful.
  • Develop systems for reporting and investigating allegations of human rights abuses.

9. Prospective participants—including governments, companies, and NGOs—agree to proactively implement or assist in the implementation of the VPs and to fulfill the roles and responsibilities described in the participation criteria. A considerable number of UK based companies support the international standards and initiatives that address the link between business and human rights including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.[392]

10. War on Want told us that the VSPs had limited effects:

    Many voluntary initiatives were found not to be embedded in the operations of corporations in a meaningful way. For example, regarding the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights…only a few companies had attempted to integrate these principles into their operations let alone include them in contracts with suppliers.[393]

Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

11. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a global standard which aims to strengthen and improve transparency and accountability in the extractives sector.[394] It is formed by a coalition of governments, companies, civil society groups, investors and international organisations. The EITI provides a methodology for monitoring and reconciling company payments and government revenues at the country level to increase transparency. The EITI Board and the International Secretariat support the EITI methodology internationally. Implementation is the responsibility of individual countries. The EITI Board consists of members from governments, companies and civil society. Its current governance structure was formalised at the latest EITI Global Conference in Doha, February 2009.

12. EITI aims to build governance capacity, improve international credibility, and affirm that participant Governments are committed to fighting corruption. Implementation of the EITI also aims to enhance local investment climates for participant companies. Energy security may be enhanced by a more transparent and level playing field.

13. A number of our witnesses referred to the EITI, including the role played by the UK Government in its establishment.[395] Others told us that its operation made a valuable contribution to the business and human rights debate. For example, Steve Westwell, for BP said:

    We are now making significant headway and getting all the interested parties, government, business, NGOs, to participate in a process which is increasing the transparency involved in business. It takes time, it is not easy, but we are definitely seeing good progress in the EITI through a voluntary process"[396]

14. Some of the individuals and organisations we met during our visit to the US told us that it was important that participant Governments, including the UK maintained their support for the EITI and other initiatives after their early years.

Ethical Trading Initiative

15. The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is an alliance of companies, NGOs and trades union organisations.[397] It exists to promote and improve the implementation of corporate codes of practice which cover supply chain working conditions. ETI was set up in 1998 by a group of UK companies, NGOs and trade union organisations, with the backing of the then Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short MP. Original member companies of ETI included ASDA, Premier Brands, The Body Shop, Littlewoods and Sainsbury's. Membership of ETI now comprises over 50 companies with leverage over more than 38,000 suppliers, collectively covering in excess of eight million workers across the globe. The ETI is supported by a number of UK Government departments, but DFID take the lead .[398]

16. Underpinning its work is the ETI Base Code and the accompanying Principles of Implementation, both of which were negotiated and agreed by the founding trades union, NGO and corporate members of ETI. The Base Code contains nine clauses which reflect the most relevant international standards with respect to labour practices (ILO Conventions):

  • Employment is freely chosen
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected
    • Working conditions are safe and hygienic
    • Child labour shall not be used
    • Living wages are paid
    • Working hours are not excessive
    • No discrimination is practised
    • Regular employment is provided
    • No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed

17. The Principles of Implementation set out general principles governing the implementation of the Base Code and require companies to:

  • demonstrate a clear commitment to ethical trade;
  • integrate ethical trade into their core business practices;
  • drive year-on-year improvements to working conditions;
  • support suppliers to improve working conditions, for example through advice and training;
  • report openly and accurately about their activities.

18. ETI members are expected to adopt either the Base Code or their own code, which in the case of UK is the Global Sourcing Principles. These should be accompanied by guidelines for implementing the code, and a structure to support the ETI's philosophy of learning.

19. We heard evidence from Tesco and Associated British Foods, the parent company of retailer, Primark, both members of the ETI (Tesco was a founding member of the ETI and Primark signed up in 2006). Tesco told us:

    We only work with suppliers who share our values and demonstrate commitment to the ETI Base Code.[399]

20. Associated British Foods said:

Primark attaches huge importance to its relationship with the ETI, of which we are active members…Like the ETI, and many others in the industry, we recognise that the only way to successfully ensure that supply chans are ethical, and that standards continue to improve, is through collective action from all parties.[400]

21. A number of other witnesses referred to the role played by ETI.[401]

Kimberley Process

22. The Kimberley Process is a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds (rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance violence). The scheme was initiated following decades of devastating conflicts in countries such as Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone, where conflict was financed by illicit trade in diamonds.

23. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) imposes extensive requirements on its members to enable them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as 'conflict-free'. The KP is open to all countries that are willing and able to implement its requirements. As of November 2008, the KP has 49 members, representing 75 countries, with the European Community and its Member states counting as an individual participant. KP members account for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds. The World Diamond Council, representing the international diamond industry, and civil society organisations are participating in the KP and have played a major role since its outset.

24. The Government told us that it adopts a leadership position across the Kimberley Process on Diamonds, the EITI and the VSPs.[402]

The Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights

25. The Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights (BLIHR) was a business-led programme to help develop the corporate response to human rights. Its purpose was to demonstrate how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be integrated into business management across a range of geographical areas, political contexts and business functions.[403] The programme was created in March 2003 and ended in March 2009. It had 14 corporate members and was chaired by Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Initiative was founded by 7 companies: ABB Ltd, Barclays Plc, MTV Networks Europe, National Grid Plc, Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, Novo Nordisk and The Body Shop International Plc.[404]

26. BLIHR gained recognition for its expertise in the area of business and human rights, having collaborated with other international organizations and companies including the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF).[405] BLIHR worked with the Kennedy School at Harvard University and the Institute for Human Rights and Business to generate a diverse range of business case-studies which reflect links between human rights, development and business growth and opportunities in emerging economies.[406]

27. In developing tools and policy views in the area of business and human rights, BLIHR "aimed to support a reduction in human rights abuses by corporations, the development of a level playing field and ultimately a way of doing business that is socially sustainable for everyone".[407]

28. In June 2009 BLIHR was replaced by the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights. This is a "global-led business project committed to advancing human rights around the world". The initiative provides a platform for companies from different sectors to "show leadership". It aims to provide "a supportive environment in which to learn about how to respect and support human rights and integrate them into the management of their business". The strategic goals of this initiative are:

  • To raise awareness of human rights, the business case for respecting rights and the practical steps companies can take to integrate a respect for human rights into their business;
  • To support and share concrete, practical examples of companies respecting human rights in a variety of industries and locations around the world (e.g. developing policies, processes, procedures and initiatives); and
  • To be a leading global business voice on the realities, challenges and opportunities for incorporating human rights into responsible business and sustainable development and so inform national, regional and international policy dialogues.
  • The Global Business Initiative on Human Rights works in partnership with the United Nations Global Compact and the Swiss Government.[408]

Institute for Human Rights and Business

29. The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IBHR) is a global centre of excellence and expertise on the relationship between business and internationally proclaimed human rights standards.[409] The Institute works to raise corporate standards and strengthen public policy to ensure that the activities of companies do not contribute to human rights abuses, and in fact lead to positive outcomes[410]. It supports the 'protect, respect and remedy' framework developed by the Special Representative and believes that the current international financial and economic environment has strengthened the need for "a common framework of universal social values, good governance and accountability in relation to business activity".[411]

30. IBHR was created in January 2009 after a year of global consultation. It aims to bring together expertise from business, government and civil society. The Institute is registered in the UK but has a global remit. It is also chaired by Mary Robinson. DFID contributed seed funding.[412]

386 Back

387   From United Nations Global Compact Annual Review 2008. Available at: Back

388   See for example, Ev 89, Ev 98, Ev 125, Ev 129  Back

389   Ev 147 Back

390  Back

391   Ev 125 Back

392   Ev 227 Back

393   Ev 165 Back

394  Back

395   See for example, Q124 Back

396   Q 124 Back

397 .The House of Commons Committee on International Development commented on the operation of the Ethical Trading Initiative in its report Fair Trade and Development, Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 356.See Government Response, Eighth Special Report of 2006-07. Back

398   See for example, Q440, Ev 172. Back

399   Ev 351 Back

400   Ev 327 Back

401   See for example, Ev 172, Ev 191, Ev 211 - 212 Back

402   Q 360. Back

403   Ev 268 Back

404   Ibid Back

405   Ev 214 Back

406   Ev 268 Back

407 Back

408  Back

409 Back

410   Ev 270, p.1 Back

411   Ev 270, p.1 Back

412   Ev 85 Back

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Prepared 16 December 2009