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

Supplementary memorandum submitted by BP

  I undertook to write to you to expand our views on how to approach situations where prospective claimants in foreign jurisdictions perceive they have no effective remedy in their own country for human rights claims against the foreign subsidiary of a UK domiciled company.

  This is an issue which we believe to be at the heart of one of BP's core values—namely that in the conduct of our business, we must always have regard to the human rights impact of those who are involved with and affected by our business activities. I hope that through both our written and oral submissions, it is clear that BP has sought to take tangible steps to embed consideration of human rights within our business and risk management process and that there is senior leadership commitment to addressing the issue. Our company is also actively engaged with other extractives companies (along with governments and Human Rights NGOs) in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs). We continue to implement the VPs in our major projects and operations specifically to address human rights concerns in the provision of security.

  When I appeared before you, I acknowledged that there will always be the risk, despite the best systems a company can devise, that even the best-intentioned companies may fail to live up to their own standards, and that this could result in the infringement of the human rights of nationals in foreign countries. In such cases, we believe the most appropriate response should be the swift, fair and proportionate resolution of such complaints on the ground in the relevant country, including, where appropriate, the provision of reasonable compensation and remedial action, without the need for such complainants to seek redress in their local courts.[127] As a company, where we believe complainants have justifiable and meritorious claims, we aim to settle matters promptly and reasonably without the need for recourse to either local or other courts, In Appendix 1, I provide examples of BP's efforts to facilitate timely feedback and resolution of community based issues, including human rights claims.

  None of this, however, precludes foreign complainants from accessing the UK courts in appropriate circumstances. In the event that such complainants believe a foreign subsidiary of a UK domiciled company has infringed their human rights, and that they have no real recourse in the courts of their own country, then we believe it is a matter entirely for them if they wish to bring an action in the UK courts. As a general matter BP believes the UK courts provide a just and efficient forum for resolution of disputes.

  If foreign complainants choose this route, they can already access the UK courts in certain circumstances. There is an existing legal framework to allow the UK domiciled parent to be sued in the UK in appropriate circumstances. Further, there is legal precedent applicable to certain cases which might be relied upon to sue the foreign subsidiary in the UK courts.

  In saying this, BP is not passing judgment on the efficacy or otherwise of the judicial systems of the countries in which we operate—nor would it be appropriate for us to do so.

  Additionally there are other mechanisms that allow the complainant to access other, non-local mechanisms for the consideration of redress:

    — The VPs, in addition to providing a framework for understanding and managing the issue of human rights as it relates to the provision of security services, includes a detailed reporting requirement and a mechanism by which concerns over company performance can be raised by other VPs members, mediated and resolved.

    — There are already existing mechanisms such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinationals, which have country based National Contact Points who in effect have the ability to hear and publish findings (which are albeit non binding).

  With regards to company level policies, English law already mandates consideration of issues such as human rights to be factored into decision making. The recently amended UK Companies Act has expanded the fiduciary duties of directors to consider the impact of their company's operations on the community and the environment of which human rights would be one consideration, particularly for a multi-national like BP which operates globally in a range of different socio-economic environments. The Companies Act also requires additional reporting on non-financial risks.

  In discussing a way forward on this I believe it imperative that we should not pre-empt the outcome of the work of John Ruggie who has so far developed the framework of "protect, respect, redress" which has gained fairly widespread support. The next stage is to make more explicit the expectations of governments, companies and civil society under this framework. Only after Ruggie builds consensus on the companies' role in respecting human rights, should we move to consider the need for a globally consistent set of rules or standards and the appropriate framework for compliance.

  In the absence of such a consensus, there is the risk of a multiplicity of new country based business and human rights related standards and adjudication systems. This should be avoided since it will have the consequence of complicating the business environment and creating potentially inconsistent, country specific guidelines.

  Moving forward, BP offers the following thoughts on the debate on national mechanisms for redress, and more broadly on business and human rights:

    — BP is broadly supportive of the concept of a non-judicial, independent body which uses the Ruggie output as a framework—but with a mandate to clarify and promote appropriate standards, create greater coherence amongst government agencies and evaluate the effectiveness of existing initiatives. However, we feel strongly that, in the UK, the courts are best placed to fairly and effectively adjudicate human rights claims given their knowledge and experience of interpreting the law and procedure which might apply.

    — We need to preserve the momentum created through the VPs. No doubt, there are still issues about governance, the voluntary nature of the VPs and how VP members report performance: but at base, the initiative is trying to guide and support companies in identifying and mitigating the potential human rights impacts of their security arrangements. Additional UK Government support to enhance this effort should be an essential part of the way forward on this debate.

    — Ultimately any new standard must be pragmatic—allowing business to be successful while at the same time to be a force for positive change in the countries we operate. Ongoing consultation With business on this issue will be essential to developing such a pragmatic and practical approach.

  I hope these additional points are helpful to your Inquiry, before which I was pleased to appear as a witness earlier in the summer.

127   In referring to redress, I am agreeing with John Ruggie's conceptualisation of redress to include "compensation, restitution, guarantees of non-repetition, changes in relevant law and public apologies". Back

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