UK: Nine in ten people in Britain back tougher rules for business, as new campaign for company law reform is launched

Nine out of ten people in Britain want the Government to bring in enforceable rules to ensure businesses minimise any harm from their operations, especially to poor communities and the environment, according to a new ICM poll published today (3 April).

The Poll, commissioned by the CORE Coalition and the Trade Justice Movement, also reveals voters believe company directors should be legally held to account for their companies’ impact on wider society.

The poll’s publication coincides with the launch of a campaign, backed by groups including ActionAid, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth and War on Want, to improve the Government’s Company Law Reform Bill – the biggest reform of company law for 150 years. The poll highlights public support for the Government to introduce enforceable rules on business in order to help deliver trade justice around the world.

The main results of the poll are:

* 90% of voters think that “the Government should set out enforceable rules to ensure companies are ‘socially responsible’, for example to ensure companies do not damage the environment.”
* 89% of voters think that “multinationals should be legally obliged to publish reports on a range of issues, including how they treat their employees and how they impact on their local communities.”
* 64% think that company directors “should be legally obliged to minimise the effects of their business to ensure that profits do not come at the expense of the wider community.”

Examples of business abuse of communities and the environment which would be better policed if the Company Law Reform Bill, currently before Parliament, was amended, include:

TESCO’S - as Tesco announced record £2billion profits last year, thousands of casual Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights workers picking apples and pears on South African farms for the supermarket report poverty wages, dangerous exposure to pesticides and increasingly insecure employment. It has taken more than two years to persuade Tesco to start addressing the problems.

Tawana Fraser, a worker on one of these farms, said: “I get 378 Rand [32.50] every two weeks. This is less than the minimum wage here. I cannot afford to pay my daughter’s school fees or buy her a uniform.”

SHELL - people in the Niger Delta have suffered devastating health and environmental problems through Shell’s gas flaring and pollution from oil-drilling activities over the last decade. Despite the fact that Shell publicly committed to eliminating gas flaring in the Delta by 2008, harmful activity has actually increased during recent years.

An elderly farmer, working near Goi in Ogoniland, Niger Delta, said to Friends of the Earth in 2005: “At my age I am supposed to have a little rest and these resources which I have established should have fed me. But Shell has finished everything.”

More than 100,000 supporters of the CORE Coalition and the Trade Justice Movement have already written to their MPs, urging them to call on Alun Michael MP, Industry Minister, to amend the Company Law Reform Bill to make company directors legally responsible for the impacts of their businesses on people and the environment. Over the next few weeks, activists will take the campaign to their MPs with local face-to-face lobbying for changes to company law.

Commenting on the findings of the poll, Deborah Doane, CORE Coalition Director, said:

“The UK Government’s voluntary approach to corporate responsibility has left companies to their own devices, failing millions of people around the world. Markets need rules to ensure that companies do not sacrifice people and planet in the name of profits. The British public are clearly in favour of new rules and now is the time for Government to act on this support.”

Glen Tarman, Trade Justice Movement Co-ordinator, said:

“Last year, millions of people supported Make Poverty History with its demand that the UK Government make laws that stop big business profiting at the expense of people and the environment. This year, the Company Law Reform Bill is a specific opportunity for the Government to take concrete action and deliver on its promises to make poverty history and help deliver trade justice. That is why campaigners from across the UK will now start visiting their MPs in the coming weeks to get our message across, with many tens of thousands more contacting their MP. The Government must bring in new laws for trade justice with this Bill.”

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