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UK first to launch action plan on business and human rights

The UK yesterday launched its action plan on business and human rights, becoming the first country to set out guidance to companies on integrating human rights into their operations.

Yesterday the Foreign Secretary William Hague and Business Secretary Vince Cable will host a launch event with guests from businesses and civil society organisations. Guest speakers will also included Marcela Manubens, Global VP for Social Impact, Unilever, and Professor John Ruggie, the former UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights and author of the UN Guiding Principles.

Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ makes clear the Government’s commitment to protect human rights and sets out the clear expectations for UK companies in this area. The plan is the UK’s response to the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights, a globally-recognised framework which outlines the roles of states and businesses in protecting human rights in business situations.

It also builds on recent changes to the Companies Act, with new regulations coming into force on 1 October, which will require large companies to report non-financial information including disclosures on human rights where such information is necessary for an understanding of the business.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

Doing business with respect for human rights matters. It’s good for people, for prosperity and for the UK.

We believe firmly that the promotion of business and respect for human rights should go hand in hand.

That’s why the UK is showing leadership in helping companies to understand it and pushing other states to follow suit.

We now call on business to work with us to implement the action plan and I hope other countries across the world will follow our lead.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

A stronger economy depends on investors, employees and the wider public having trust and confidence in the way companies conduct themselves both at home and abroad.

We know that British businesses already recognise the importance of protecting human rights, but that they need clear expectations and support from Government in order to consistently factor this into their operations.

Today’s action plan will provide British businesses with the tools to conduct responsible business in the UK, in overseas operations and within their supply chains.

Peter Frankental, Economic Relations Programme Director on behalf of Amnesty International UK, said:

Amnesty International welcomes the UK Government’s Action Plan on Business and Human Rights as a significant step towards applying international standards to companies operating from the UK. This not only sends strong signals to all parts of the UK government to address business impacts on human rights, but also sets an example to other governments.

Marcela Manubens, Global VP for Social Impact, Unilever said:

Unilever is committed to the highest standards of corporate behaviour in the UK and internationally. We welcome the Government’s action in producing this initiative on business and human rights. It is important for industry that the Government communicates clearly its expectations of companies and the support it can give.

The action plan sets out the Government’s plans to do the following:

  • implement UK Government obligations to protect against human rights abuse within UK jurisdiction involving business enterprises;
  • support UK businesses to meet their responsibility to respect human rights throughout their operations both at home and abroad;
  • support access to effective remedy for victims of human rights abuse involving business enterprises within UK jurisdiction
  • promote understanding of how addressing human rights risks and impacts can help build business success;
  • promote international adherence to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including for States to assume fully their duties to protect human rights and assure remedy within their jurisdiction
  • ensure policy consistency across the UK Government on the UNGPs.

The action plan also sets out the Government’s expectations of businesses which are:

  • comply with all applicable laws and respect internationally recognised human rights, wherever they operate
  • seek ways to honour the principles of internationally recognised human rights when faced with conflicting requirements
  • treat as a legal compliance issue the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses wherever they operate
  • adopt appropriate due diligence policies to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights risks, and commit to monitoring and evaluating implementation;
  • consult people who may potentially be affected at all stages of project design and implementation, for example taking into account language and other potential barriers to effective engagement
  • emphasise the importance of behaviour in line with the UN Guiding Principles to their supply chains in the UK and overseas
  • adopt or participate in effective grievance mechanisms which are transparent, equitable and predictable
  • be transparent about policies, activities and impacts, and report on human rights issues and risks as appropriate as part of their annual reports.

Further information

Written Ministerial Statement on the business and human rights action plan

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