Improvements to Companies Bill: Corporate accountability gradually becoming a reality

Changes to the Companies Bill, announced by the Government in the House of Commons could improve the accountability of UK companies, campaigners said today. But Amnesty International, together with other members of the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition and the Trade Justice Movement, said that although the new moves were welcome, much more is needed to ensure people’s human rights and the environment are protected from corporate abuses.

The Companies Bill will now require some public companies to report on their social and environmental impacts and on employee and supplier issues. In addition, company directors will have a duty not only to maximise profit but also to consider the impacts of their business on people and the environment. These changes follow a huge public campaign involving thousands of people, including Amnesty members, other NGOs, trade unions and faith groups.

The Government yesterday gave a commitment to review, within two years, whether or not voluntary reporting standards had resulted in meaningful reports and to consult with NGOs as well as business in this assessment. If not, the Government has undertaken to use the powers it will have within the Bill to introduce mandatory reporting standards.

Amnesty International believes the Bill will not go far enough to ensure UK companies always behave responsibly. The organisation will continue to campaign for strengthening of the social and environmental provisions of the Companies Bill as it enters the House of Lords later this month.

Amnesty International said:

“Amnesty International welcomes the new legislation outlined in the Companies Bill – this is a step towards ensuring British companies are properly held to account and do not continue to operate at the expense of people and the environment. However, the UK still has a long way to go if it wants to truly be a world leader in responsible business.”

Whilst Amnesty International welcomes the Government’s amendment to the Bill to include suppliers in the reporting requirements, its members will continue to campaign for further strengthening of the Bill, including provisions that would require companies to comprehensively report on their environmental and social impact and company directors to be legally accountable for these impacts, and for the Government to examine barriers which prevent UK companies from being liable for abuses committed overseas [1].

Notes

1. A comprehensive summary of all the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition and the Trade Justice Movement proposals for reforming the Companies Bill, ‘Companies Bill: Making Corporate Irresponsibility History’ is available at www.tjm.org.uk/corporates/briefingOct06.pdf .

2. Amnesty International UK is a founding member of the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition ( www.corporate-responsibility.org , 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 nine million individual members include development and aid agencies, fair trade bodies and companies, environmental organisations, trade unions, student and faith groups.

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