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

Letter from the Chair of the Committee to the Rt Hon Michael Wills MP, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

  I would like to extend my thanks to you and your colleagues, Lord Malloch-Brown and Ian Lucas MP for your attendance before the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 14 July 2009.

  During that session, you each promised to provide the Committee with additional information in a supplementary written memorandum or memoranda. The transcript of this session is now available and has been forwarded to your officials for correction (Question references below are to the uncorrected transcript, HC 559-v).

  In addition, there are a few additional questions arising from the evidence we have received to which we would welcome a Government response.


  The following supplementary evidence was promised in oral evidence on 14 July 2009:

  1.  A list of which Government departments, if any, which have had problems in relation to Section 6(3)(b) HRA, including through disputes, litigation or proposed Bill amendments, since the decision of the HL in YL. We would be grateful if you could list the Government's position in any litigation, or its response to any amendments, if possible. (See Q365; Michael Wills MP)

  2.  What role do human rights and, in particular, conflict risk, play in the assessment of Export Credit Guarantee applications? (See Q420—423; Ian Lucas MP. See ECGD -v- ICO and Hildyard (EA/2008/0071) Transcript, 6 July 2009, pages 83—86)

  3. You promised to provide a supplementary memorandum on the Government's position in respect of public procurement and human rights. It would be helpful to know what guidance is currently provided to public authorities by central Government on public procurement and human rights. Please provide examples—if there are any—of good practice on public procurement and human rights in the UK. (Q 432, Michael Wills MP) The JCHR last commented on the role of public procurement, and the adequacy of public guidance on human rights in it last report on the meaning of public authority for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 (Ninth Report of Session 2006-07, paragraphs 33—61; 118—123).

  4.  We asked the Ministers to consider the approach of the Norwegian Government to ethical public investment. Ian Lucas MP promised to consider the Norwegian position and come back to the Committee (Q442).

  Further information about the Norwegian approach can be found in the submission of the Holly House Trust to our inquiry (their submission is available online) and in the recent submission of the Norwegian Government to Professor Ruggie on their corporate social responsibility policies.[1] The administration of the Norwegian public pension fund is overseen by a Council of Ethics which is responsible for ensuring that all investments comply with certain ethical principles. These include that no investment may contribute to unethical acts or omissions, such as violations of fundamental humanitarian principles, serious violations of human rights, gross corruption or severe environmental damages.[2]


(a)  Government responsibilities

  We understand that at least six Government departments have responsibility for Government policy which may be relevant to this inquiry: Justice; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Business, Innovation and Skills; International Development; Work and Pensions and Treasury.

  5.  Please confirm how responsibility for human rights and the private sector, including responsibility for corporate responsibility, is currently arranged across Government. We would be grateful if you could explain which Ministers, departments and agencies have responsibility for each area of Government policy; and set out any recent relevant joint-working programmes or initiatives undertaken, specifying the departments involved. (See Q389—391)

  In evidence, Ian Lucas MP, referred to a "steering board across government" with responsibility for corporate responsibility. This steering board included a number of Government departments and agencies. (Q 391)

  6.  Please provide further information on the cross-Government steering board on corporate responsibility. In particular please tell us about its:

    — History'

    — purpose and goals;

    — membership and structure;

    — working methods and objectives; and

    — responsibilities and achievements.

  Lord Malloch-Brown explained that although the Conflict Group at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was responsible for liaison with Professor Ruggie, the priorities for the Government were not limited to conflict issues. The FCO was working specifically with Professor Ruggie on conflict issues. The FCO also sees that the human rights debate "needs to be integrated into foreign policy across all sets of countries, all sets of company actors, etc". (Q392).

  7.  Please explain how responsibility for human rights issues is organised across the FCO.

(b)  Current guidance for business

  In evidence, Ian Lucas MP, helpfully explained that Government has "support mechanisms within Government to assist business in developing their human rights consciousness". (Q375; see also Q394)

  8.  Please provide further details of the "support mechanisms" which currently exist within Government for the purposes of assisting businesses to develop their awareness of human rights, both in relation to their activities within the UK and overseas. We would be grateful if you could provide examples of how these mechanisms work in practice.

  The Minister went on to explain that, in his view, the Foreign Office provides very detailed guidance for businesses seeking to improve their practices overseas and that this role was "very high" on the list of priorities for UK missions engaging with British businesses abroad. (QQ394—395)

  9.  We would be grateful for examples of the circumstances in which guidance is provided by the Foreign Office to businesses on the human rights impacts of their activities.

  The Minister added that there was a "perception of difference" between the work of the FCO and the work of UKTI. He was "working hard to try... to ensure for UKTI human rights are just as much of their agenda as they are for the Foreign Office" (Q402). UKTI states that one of its key purposes is to work with UK businesses "to ensure their success in international markets". One of UKTI's strategic objectives is to "deliver a measurable improvement in the reputation of the UK in leading overseas markets as the international business partner of choice."[3]

  10.  What steps, if any, has the Government taken to integrate human rights into the objectives of UKTI?

(c)  Private Sector and Human Rights Project

  11.  Please provide further details of the scope and purpose of the Private Sector and Human Rights Project, including the working methods employed, its aims and the departments and agencies involved in the steering group for the project. In respect of each department or agency, please explain their role in the project. (Q388)

(d)  Bilateral investment treaties

  We asked about the conclusions of Professor John Ruggie on the impact of stabilisation clauses in bilateral investment treaties (Report of the UN Special Representative, April 2009, paragraph 31—33). Lord Malloch Brown explained that the conclusion of these treaties were not the responsibility of the FCO (Q409). Ian Lucas MP was concerned that we had not reflected the observations of Professor Ruggie accurately (Q412).

  12.  How does the Government respond to the concerns of Professor Ruggie that stablisation clauses in bilateral investment treaties impact adversely on human rights in developing countries? What is the Government's position on stabilisation clauses? How, if at all, does the Government consider their potential human rights implications?

(e)  Companies Act 2006

  13.  During the passage of the Companies Act 2006, the Government committed to review the operation of the social and environmental requirements of the business review within two years (by 2010). We would be grateful if you could confirm the arrangements for that review, including the proposed timetable. (See QQ 443—445)

  14.  In the Government's view, are there any lessons to be drawn from the already completed business reviews for 2009?

(f)  UK Commission for Human Rights, the Environment and Business

  15. In evidence, you told us that you did not see the need for a dedicated Commission for Human Rights, the Environment and Business. I would be grateful if you could provide us with more detail on the Government's position. (Q460)

  16.  Do you see any place for the existing UK human rights commissions in raising awareness among businesses of the human rights impacts of their activities or having an educative role in disseminating good practice? In the Government's view, would this role be open to any of the EHRC, the SHRC or the NIHRC within their existing mandates and resources?


  On 9 June 2009, the Committee issued a supplementary call for evidence, focusing on a number of recent Government activities or initiatives. These included:

    — HM Government, Corporate Responsibility Report, February 2009;

    — Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Consultation on Promoting High Standards of Conduct by Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) internationally, April 2009;

    — Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill 2009; and

    — Draft Bribery Bill, May 2009.

  17.  If the Government would like to submit supplementary evidence on the human rights implications of any of these proposals—or other recent Government initiatives affecting the private sector and human rights—this would be welcome.


  18.  We would be grateful if your officials could provide us with copies of all submissions on behalf the UK to Professor Ruggie and with any submissions made by the United Kingdom intervening in any proceedings in the United States against UK companies under the Alien Torts Claims Act (Alien Torts Statute).

  I have copied this letter to Lord Malloch-Brown at the FCO and Ian Lucas MP at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with whom you may wish to coordinate a Government response.

21 July 2009

1   Available online through the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre: Back

2 Back

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