Examination of Witnesses (Questions 354
TUESDAY 14 JULY 2009
WILLS MP, IAN
LUCAS MP, LORD
Q354 Chairman: Good afternoon everybody;
this is the last of our evidence sessions in the Joint Select
Committee on Human Rights inquiry into business and human rights.
We are joined by an array of talent in front of us, comprising
Michael Wills, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice and Minister
for Human Rights; Ian Lucas, Minister for Business and Regulatory
Reform from the Department for Business, Innovation and skills;
Lord Malloch-Brown, Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, of the
FCO; and the Deputy Head of Human Rights, Democracy and Good Governance
at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Carmel Power. Welcome
to you all. Does anybody want to make any opening statements?
Mr Wills: We were all planning
to say just a few sentences, if we may, Chairman. Can I say first
of all how pleased I am to be here and I am sure I speak for my
colleagues in that.
Q355 Chairman: I hope you feel the
same way when we have finished!
Mr Wills: We will still be pleased
to be here. I just want to say that this is an important area
of work; it is an area of work upon which the Ministry of Justice
had already embarked. Clearly this is an important area for British
businesses and it is also an important area for the promotion
of the human rights culture. Strictly speaking, human rights are
rights enjoyed by individuals against the state but, nevertheless,
we think that there is an important role for businesses to play
in promoting a human rights culture; and particularly if we look
at concepts such as dignity and respect, which underpin all human
rights instruments, we think that business has an important role
to play. Our preliminary work in the exercise that we have embarked
upon with the Department of Health suggests that businesses are
already actively engaged in this process, although they do not
always articulate it in human rights terms. Nevertheless, they
are actively engaged with these issues. There are, of course,
a lot of questions to be asked about the role of business. Some
businesses are very much more conscious of these issues than others,
particularly those that have global operations and deal with human
rights issues overseas, about which I think both of my colleagues
will be talking shortly. In short, we think this is an active
area for investigation; we are glad you are doing it and we want
to play our part in taking this forward.
Ian Lucas: I just want to say
that I am very pleased to be here for my first appearance. In
the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills we believe very
strongly in the positive effect that businesses can have on human
rights across the globe and we want to be supporting businesses
to improve the culture in business and the respect of human rights
within those. We are very keen that all UK businesses take account
of economic, social and environmental impacts in the way that
they conduct business, and that is regardless of the complexities
of globalisation and the complex supply chains nowadays. There
is one particular example I want to mention from the Department,
which is the Companies Act 2006, which will inprove the quality
of company reporting by introducing an expanded business review
to report on environmental/employee/social community issues as
well as other appropriate measures. So that is an indication of
the importance that the Department does give to business and human
rights and I am very pleased to be here.
Lord Malloch-Brown: If I may,
to lay out right awayand thank you for allowing me to join
you todayjust one dividing line in terms of approach to
these issues, which I suspect will run through all of our evidence
today. That is who is responsible for enforcing human rights law.
I just want to make the point that the FCO, which is engaged extensively
internationally in terms of capacity building with states to make
them implement human rights law better, is engaged with a whole
range of actors on different corporate social responsibility issues.
With the US we established the voluntary principles on security
and human rights; with Professor Ruggie we have been doing a lot;
we have the Kimberley Process on diamonds. But behind all of them
lies the assumption that what you are trying to do is to strengthen
a states-based system of human rights enforcement. Obviously there
are those voices which would argue that with corporations operating
now multinationally across borders that somehow, either through
pressure on those corporates directly or through the evolution
of law, the right way of addressing this is to hold corporations
directly responsible to the international community for human
rights enforcement. That has not been our approach and I just
wanted to lay that out straightaway because it is, as I say, in
a sense the conceptual dividing line with which the human rights
community has to struggle in dealing with these issues.
Q356 Chairman: We would like to start
off with the work of the Special Representative and Professor
Ruggie, which you have just introduced. Perhaps we can start with
Michael on this one as the Human Rights Minister. Has the new
Ruggie policy framework had any practical impact on UK Government
policy so far?
Mr Wills: On UK policy?
Q357 Chairman: Yes.
Mr Wills: Not so far. We are actively
engaged with it and the FCO, as you know, are in the lead on this
and I will let Lord Malloch-Brown say a few more words about it.
Obviously we are aware of this; it is informing our thinking and
we are taking forward, as you know, this joint project with the
Department of Health, which is still continuing; and obviously
his work, his thinking on this, will inform that process.
Q358 Chairman: What practical steps
are we taking to try and respond to what he is doing?
Lord Malloch-Brown: We are supporting
all three pillars of his work: the state duty to protect human
rights; the corporate responsibility to be respectful and respect
human rights; and the issue of access to effective remedies. He
is midway in his work and we have seconded a Foreign Office official
to his team to work with him and he is now involved in developing
a set of guiding principles on the corporate responsibility to
respect human rights in a corporation's activities. We are supporting
him in developing that through the secondment of an individual,
through engaging with him in various task force and seminar ways.
As I say, I hope he would think that we were one of the principal
supporting countries of his initiative but, as I say, he is halfway
through and, as Michael said, it is too soon to start incorporating
his work domestically in the UK.
Ian Lucas: I am very supportive
and the Department is very supportive of Professor Ruggie's approach
and we want to see the development of guiding principles for business
taken forward very strongly. We are very anxious and keen to support
Professor Ruggie in any of the work that he carries out.
Q359 Chairman: Lord Malloch-Brown,
one of the issues that are arising in this debate is whether it
is the international community that needs to take regulatory measures
or whether individual states should be taking action. Is the work
of Professor Ruggie obscuring this distinction and particularly
to deal with businesses that are operating in countries with very
weak governance arrangements?
Lord Malloch-Brown: I do not think
he is obscuring it; I think he is wrestling it. As I said in the
opening, I think it is the central dilemma of his work. I do not
want to predict or prejudge where he is going to come down, but
so far all his work has indicated that he believes, like us, that
it is strengthening state capacity rather than trying to introduce
some international dimension to this, which is the best way of
securing national level compliance by corporations.