Memorandum submitted by Oxfam GB
1.1 Oxfam GB welcomes the opportunity to
submit evidence for consideration by the Joint Committee on Business
and Human Rights' in its Inquiry into Business and Human Rights.
Our submission generally reflects the interests and concerns of
Oxfam International, to which Oxfam GB is affiliated, and which
is also supporting a separate submission to this inquiry prepared
by the Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School.
1.2 Oxfam GB's purpose is to work with others
to overcome global poverty and suffering. We seek to do so by
working on three fronts: responding to humanitarian emergencies;
developing programmes and solutions that empower people to work
their way out of poverty, and campaigning to achieve lasting change.
1.3 Oxfam believes that everyone has:
The right to life and security.
The right to a sustainable livelihood.
The right to basic social services.
We work at all levels from global to local,
including national governments, global institutions, as well as
with local communities and individuals, with the aim of ensuring
that people's rights are fulfilled and protected.
1.4 For more than 20 years, Oxfam GB
has been concerned about the interaction between business and
human rights, and has been advocating in support of public policy
frameworks that regulate business activities to ensure that they
do not undermine human rights.
1.5 We have also analysed a number of business
sectors and proposed changes in company policies and practices
either to address negative impacts on people's rights, and/or
to promote the fulfilment of people's rights, for example, through
the development of new business models. This work has covered
the extractives, retail, pharmaceutical, coffee and fast-moving
consumer goods sectors. Most recently, Oxfam has been examining
the role and responsibilities of business in tackling climate
1.6 This submission focuses on a number
of issues on which Oxfam is working that are relevant to the topic
of this inquiry.
2. CLIMATE CHANGE
2.1 The impacts of climate change are already
undermining, and will increasingly undermine, millions of people's
rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter and culture.ii
Climate change will affect everyone but the human costs will be
borne overwhelmingly by the world's poorest peopleprecisely
those least responsible for causing it. Oxfam believes that creating
and implementing progressive public policy on climate change is
core but government cannot act without support and action from
the private sector, both in reducing emissions and in implementing
effective adaptation strategies, particularly in developing countries.
2.2 Oxfam's recent paper"The
right to survive in a changing climate"estimates that,
driven by upward trends in the number of climate-related disasters
and human vulnerability to them, by 2015 the average number
of people affected each year by climate-related disasters could
increase by over 50% to 375 million.iii People's vulnerability
is inextricably linked with poverty and their (in)ability to realise
their rights. In rich countries, an average of 23 people
die in any given disaster, in least-developed countries, the average
is 1,052 due, for example, to the reality that poor people
live in poorly constructed homes, often on land more exposed to
hazards such as floods, droughts, or landslides, and in areas
without effective health services or infrastructure.
2.3 Oxfam believes that the primary responsibility
for tackling climate change lies with industrialised countries,
which must take urgent action to:
stop harmingby cutting greenhouse
gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020; and
start helpingby accepting their
obligations to pay for adaptation in the developing worldat
least $50 billion a year.
So far, industrialised-country action has been
nowhere near what is required, with the result that hundreds of
millions of lives and livelihoods from now and into the future
are at risk. It will be essential for the Copenhagen Climate Change
Conference in December 2009 to agree an adequate and fair
global deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.
2.4 Companies can play a critical role in
ensuring that human rights are not undermined by the impacts of
climate change by using their considerable political influence
to encourage and support governments to create and implement a
successful post-2012 deal. In May 2009, the World Business
Summit on Climate Change will provide a key opportunity for companies
to call for bold action in the international climate change negotiations,
and to support the formation and implementation of the progressive
policies needed to make this possible.
2.5 In addition, all companies have a responsibility
to ensure that they respect people's rights in the context of
climate change by:
setting ambitious targets to cut their
own absolute emissions;
ensuring that their mitigation or adaptation
projects do not undermine people's rights, either due to the technologies
they use, or due to implementing them without consulting affected
refraining from lobbying to block effective
regulation or agreements that aim to tackle climate change.
2.6 Companies aiming to promote human rights
call on governments to show leadership
in setting adequate emissions targets;
create and disseminate technologies to
reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, such as renewable energy systems
and energy-efficient appliances;
create appropriate, affordable and accessible
technologies for adaptation, such as small-scale irrigation, drought-tolerant
seeds, medicines, weather-related insurance, as relevant; and
contribute to building community resiliencecompanies
that source and sell globally should ensure that vulnerable communities
integral to their supply chainssuch as farmers, workers
and consumersbuild their resilience to climate-change impacts.
3. ACCESS TO
3.1 While governments have the primary responsibility
for ensuring people's right to access to health care services,
the role of the pharmaceutical industry in providing a critical
element of health careaccess to affordable essential medicinescarries
its own responsibilities.
3.2 According to the UN Special Rapporteur
on the Right to Health: "almost 2 billion people lack
access to essential medicines. Improving access to existing medicines
could save 10 million lives each year, four million of them
in Africa and South-East Asia. Access to medicines is characterised
by profound global inequity. 15% of the world's population consumes
over 90% of the world's pharmaceuticals, by value".iv
3.3 In many developing countries, health
insurance coverage is virtually non-existent for poor people,
making medicines the largest household expense after food. In
Brazil, for example, the cost of medicines absorbs up to 82.5%
of out-of-pocket expenses for the poorest people.v In addition
global investment in research and development for treatment of
diseases that primarily affect developing countries is seriously
insufficient.vi A critical reason for the lack of availability
of suitable drugs that meet the needs of poor people is the minimal
resources that the pharmaceutical research-based industry allocate
to research in this area.
3.4 This situation is exacerbated by a global
intellectual property regime that grants 20 year patents
to reward the results of research and development (R&D) by
pharmaceutical companies, effectively giving companies the freedom
to set prices. This also delays the entry of generic medicines
into markets upon which many governments and households depend.vii
Despite agreement at the World Trade Organisation that developing
countries have the right to use safeguards in intellectual property
rules in order to protect public health, the few attempts to use
these safeguards to reduce the prices of medicines have been at
the expense of attracting huge pressure from the US and EU governments,
and the drug companies themselves.viii
3.5 Companies should implement flexible
intellectual property and pricing policies that properly reflect
the needs and the purchasing power of the poor. They should also
contribute to and collaborate in R&D to address the dearth
of dedicated products for diseases that predominantly affect developing
countries, and develop drug formulations that are applicable and
usable in the developing world. Although there has been some welcome
progress on R&D and reducing prices by some companies, most
notably GSK who announced in February that it will cut the price
of all its medicine to the world's poorest 52 countries,
the pharmaceutical industry has generally much further to go to
fulfill its responsibilities to ensure people's right to affordable
4. ENSURING RIGHTS
4.1 Oxfam's "Trading Away Our Rights"
campaignx highlighted that companies often fail to take responsibility
for the impact of their activities on the rights of people involved
along their supply and distribution/retail chains. Our research
with partners in 12 countries, involved interviews with hundreds
of women workers and many farm and factory managers, supply chain
agents, retail and brand company staff, unions and government
officials. It revealed how retailers (supermarkets and department
stores) and clothing brands are using their power in supply chains
systematically to push many costs and risks of business on to
producers, who in turn pass them on to working women.
4.2 For many producers, faced with fluctuating
orders and falling prices, the solution is to hire workers on
short-term contracts, set excessive targets, and sub-contract
to sub-standard, unseen producers. Pressured to meet tight turnaround
times, they demand that workers put in long hours to meet shipping
deadlines. And to minimise resistance, they hire workers who are
less likely to join trade unions (young women, often migrants
and immigrants) and they intimidate or sack those who do stand
up for their rights.
4.3 Oxfam believes that it is the responsibility
of companiesretailers and brandsto make respect
for labour rights integral to their supply-chain business strategies,
especially by addressing the impacts of their own sourcing and
purchasing practices on the way that producers hire and treat
their workers. In addition, producers and suppliers worldwide
have a responsibility to provide decent jobs for their employees,
including respect for workers' right to join trade unions and
bargain collectively, and to eliminate discrimination against
4.4 There are examples of companies that
are taking some steps to improve working conditions in their supply
chains. For example, in 2007, fashion retailer New Look began
working with one of its biggest suppliers in Bangladesh to investigate
ways to improve working conditions, for example by providing better
estimates of future orders, to enable the factory to plan more
effectively. After 18 months, the take-home pay of the lowest-paid
workers in the factory, mainly women, had increased by 24%. As
a result, the average value of the lowest paid workers' monthly
package in July was more than 2.17 times the minimum wage,
although this still falls significantly short of living wage estimates.
Furthermore, workers were working 46% fewer overtime hours than
before. Unsurprisingly, workers are keen to continue working at
the factory, and labour turnover is far lower than the average
in the Bangladesh garment factory. New Look is now working to
extend this approach to other suppliers.xi
4.5 Although, this and similar efforts have
improved the working conditions of workers in some factories,
individual voluntary company initiatives are insufficient to secure
workers' rights across the board. The frequent failure of national
governments to fulfill their duty to protect workers' rights in
law and in practice, and to enforce international labour standards,
allows irresponsible companies to continually undermine human
4.6 When companies actively seek to source
from micro-enterprises and co-operatives in their supply chains,
this has the potential to help large numbers of people realise
their right to a sustainable livelihood. This potential is most
likely to be realised where companies, often working with others,
including governments, transfer the necessary skills, expertise
and technology, and offer fair prices and other terms that will
equitably share the value that is created.
4.7 For example, many hotels in the Caribbean
import large quantities of fresh produce from the United States,
while local farmers struggle to make a living. With support from
Oxfam, a group of co-operatives in St Lucia has become a trusted
supplier of fresh produce for hotels and restaurants, including
the Sandals' and Virgin Holidays' resorts. Sandals' costs have
fallen as a result of the initiative, and it benefits from customer
satisfaction with an authentic Caribbean dining experience. Oxfam
GB plans to support measures to scale up this model to other islands
as a means of promoting the right to a sustainable livelihood.xii
5. PROPOSAL TO
UK COMMISSION ON
5.1 As stated by the UN Special Representative,
and as illustrated in the examples above, conflicts between business
activities and the realisation of human rights are perpetuated
by a series of governance gaps in our globalised world. In considering
how best to address these gaps, Oxfam urges the Committee to focus
on what steps the UK government can take to ensure the protection
and encourage the promotion of human rights by UK companies operating
at home and overseas.
5.2 In this regard, the CORE Coalition's
proposal to establish a UK Commission on Business, Human Rights
and the Environment is garnering considerable interest and support
among civil society groups, think tanks, academics and lawyers.
Oxfam commends this proposal to the Committee for serious consideration
in its Inquiry.
i See www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/policy/private_sector
ii Oxfam (2008) Climate Wrongs and Human Rights:
Putting people at the heart of climate-change policy, Oxford:
iii Oxfam (2009) The Right to Survive in a Changing
Climate, Background Paper, Oxford: Oxfam.
iv P Hunt (2007) "Human Rights Guidelines
for Pharmaceutical Companies in relation to Access to Medicines".
Draft for Consultation Prepared by the UN Special Rapporteur on
the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable
Standard of Physical and Mental Health. See: www.ohchr.org/english/issues/health/right/index
v M A Dominguez Uga and I Soares Santos (2007)
"An Analysis Of Equity In Brazilian Health System Financing",
Health Affairs 26 (4): 1017.
vi Only US $1 out of every US $100,000 spent
worldwide on biomedical research and product development goes
into R&D to combat neglected tropical diseases (HIV/AIDS,
TB and malaria are not included). Over 1 billion peopleone
sixth of the world's populationsuffer from one or more
neglected tropical diseases.
vii Generic medicines are typically between 20 to
90% cheaper than originator drugs. European Generics Medicines
Association at www.egagenerics.com/gen-basics.htm
viii Oxfam (2006) "Patents versus Patients:
Five years after the Doha Declaration", Oxfam Briefing Paper
No. 95, Oxford: Oxfam.
ix See Oxfam (2007), Investing for Life: Meeting
Poor People's Needs for Access to Medicines through Responsible
Business Practices, Oxford: Oxfam.
See "GSK breaks industry ranks to improve access
to medicines", Oxfam Press Release, 16 February 2009. www.oxfam.org.uk/applications/blogs/pressoffice/?p=3735&newsblog
x Oxfam (2004) Trading Away Our Rights: Women
working in global supply chains, Oxford: Oxfam.
xi New Look (2008) "New Look's Commitment
to Ethical Trade",
R Hurst, M Buttle, and J Sandards (2009) Getting
Smarter: Ethical Trading in the Downturn, available from http://www.impacttlimited.com/resources/getting-smarter-ethical-trading-in-the-downturn/
xii See www.oxfam.org.uk/donate/edp/st_lucia
for more information.