An end in sight to UK company abuses overseas?

You could be forgiven for missing news today on a report from Parliament’s prestigious Joint Committee on Human Rights on the impact of British business on human rights overseas. It is covered in the Financial Times, and there was a very early interview with the Chair of the Committee on the Today Programme (Andrew Dismore MP at about 6.15am), but little else.

The report hasn’t grabbed headlines that stories of sweatshops making goods for high street retailers or British companies polluting communities overseas sometimes do, but it is actually a very significant step on the road to getting such abuses stopped.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights commissioned a major inquiry into the human rights impacts of UK companies in spring this year and has heard evidence from a range of individuals and organisations including the TUC, the CBI, the UN and the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE) of which Amnesty is a member. CORE’s evidence included examples of how Bangladeshis are paid less than a living wage making clothes for Tesco, Asda and Primark; and communities in the Niger Delta being forced to endure Shell’s hazardous gas flaring despite a ban.

Some who have worked trying to expose such abuses for many years may have tired of ever getting the Government to recognise that it should act to stop this behaviour. Amnesty and our CORE colleagues are delighted that the Committee recognised that some British companies have a “woeful” human rights record overseas, and that it has recommended to the Government that it push for a new international agreement on business and human rights, and that it set up a Commission here at home to monitor UK business conduct overseas.

This is a great achievement. Now we simply need to ramp up the pressure to get the Government to act on these recommendations.

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