Companies Act becomes law, but Brown needs to go further to achieve targets

Leading campaign groups today (1 October) welcomed the Companies Act (that becomes law on October 1), but called on Gordon Brown to make sure that the act is the first step to further reforms on the government’s thinking on business, poverty and the environment.

The Act represents the biggest shake up in company law in 150 years and will for the first time require the largest listed companies to report on their social and environmental impacts, as well as obliging company directors to take stock of their business activities' effects on employees, communities and the environment.

But campaigners are concerned that the legislation lacks the teeth to make business live up to their obligations, and fails to ensure that they can be held to account for violating human rights and their impact on the environment and the wider society.

"This gets us closer to the goal of corporate accountability" said Jenny Ricks, corporates campaigner at ActionAid "But it's a first step. Corporate accountability is still seen as an add-on to the functioning of the economy. If the government is to live up to its commitment to fighting poverty and climate change, we need to make sure that ethical business practices become central to trade, investment and development policy – and that strategy is joined up across government."

Despite promises from government to draw up guidance for directors on how comply with new reporting rules; companies haven’t been given any official help to meet the Act’s requirements. The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition has stepped in and created a set of guidelines for businesses to help them comply with the new requirements. These will be launched in the coming weeks.

The CORE Coalition’s Hannah Ellis said: “We’re happy to step in and offer up some help to directors so that they can work with to the new requirements. It is a little worrying though, that while we have here a first step to making business more accountable, the government hasn’t delivered the guidance to go with it.”

  • Download Act Now! - A campaigner's guide to the Companies Act (PDF) or if you want a hard copy of the guide please email business@amnesty.org.uk /li>
  • Find out more about Amnesty's work on business and human rights /li>

Media contacts:
Hannah Ellis, The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition: +44 (0) 7952 876929
John Coventry, ActionAid UK: +44 (0) 207 561 7633 / 07734 581 738

Notes

1. The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition ( www.corporate-responsibility.org is the UK’s most active voice on corporate accountability, supported by over 130 organisations, including campaigning organisations, faith-based groups, community organisations, academic institutions and trade unions. The Trade Justice Movement ( www.tjm.org.uk is a coalition of over 80 UK organisations campaigning for fundamental changes to the unjust rules and institutions governing international trade, so that trade is made to work for the benefit of poor people and the environment. Member organisations that together have over 9 million individuals members include development and aid agencies, Fairtrade bodies and companies, environmental organisations, trade unions, student and faith groups.

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