Foreign Office urged not to block new business and human rights treaty

18 September 2019

Britain’s Minister for the United Nations, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, is being urged to give the proposed Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights a fair hearing when it is discussed in Geneva next month.

 

The international development charity, Traidcraft Exchange, has joined forces with unions and NGOs across the UK in calling on the Government not to stifle debate and listen to survivors of multinational corporate wrongdoing in developing countries.

 

“The proposed Treaty provides an important way to ensure that the world’s biggest businesses respect the human rights of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people,” said Tom Wills, Policy Adviser for Traidcraft Exchange.

 

At present it is extremely difficult for a large multinational company to be held to account for human rights violations committed by its subsidiaries.

 

Traidcraft Exchange points to three recent cases which expose the current gap between a company’s moral responsibility and legal liability:

  • British-Dutch multinational Unilever was pursued through the High Court in London for the failure of its Kenyan subsidiary to protect its employees from violence on tea estates. The High Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

  • Canadian multinational Loblaws was taken to the Canadian Supreme Court for failing to ensure the safety of workers in its supply chains, leading to the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Loblaws owed no ‘duty of care’ to its Bangladeshi workforce.

  • Swiss multinational Nestlé and American multinational Cargill were taken to the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, accused of ‘aiding and abetting’ child slavery in Côte d'Ivoire. The Court ruled that the case could proceed but former child slaves can still expect a long wait for justice to be served.

 

Traidcraft Exchange’s new campaign calls on Lord Ahmad, the Minister responsible for negotiations in Geneva, to leave perpetrators of human rights abuses with ‘nowhere to hide’ and will encourage its thousands of supporters to write to him directly, asking him to look again at the Treaty and fund its ongoing development.

 

“Whether it’s Unilever in Kenya, Nestlé and Cargill in Côte d'Ivoire, or Loblaws in Bangladesh corporate crimes should not go unpunished. The absence of an effective international system is letting multinationals get away with human rights abuses,” added Tom Wills.

 

END

 

For more information or to interview Tom Wills please contact Tom Sharman: tom.sharman@traidcraft.org or +44 (0)191 497 6443 or +44 (0)7757 753 318

 

Notes for editors:

  • Traidcraft Exchange is an international development charity which uses the power of trade to bring about lasting solutions to poverty. It runs development programmes in South Asia and Africa, works directly with businesses to improve their supply chains, and does advocacy and campaigning in the UK to promote justice and fairness in international trade. It works closely with specialist fair trade company Traidcraft plc. Traidcraft Exchange is a registered charity, no. 1048752: https://traidcraftexchange.org/

  • ‘Nowhere to hide’ is a new Traidcraft Exchange campaign and can be found here: https://traidcraftexchange.org/nowhere-to-hide

  • More detail on the Unilever, Loblaws, Nestlé and Cargill cases can be found here: https://traidcraftexchange.org/nth-stories

  • The process that may lead to a new Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights was initiated by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014: https://www.ihrb.org/pdf/G1408252.pdf

Tom Sharman