Traidcraft Exchange’s priorities for the 2017 UK election

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Traidcraft Exchange priorities for the next Government on trade, development and corporate accountability.

The General Election comes at a critical time in UK history. It offers an opportunity for all parties to affirm the UK’s position in the world and to commit to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For these to be achieved, action by the next UK Government on trade and corporate accountability will be critical. Trade is a vital engine for development but needs to be shaped to make sure that the benefits reach those who need it most. Companies are crucial actors in creating jobs and wealth, but steps need to be taken to make sure they play a positive role in society, that risks and rewards are fairly shared in international supply chains and that robust mechanisms are in place to hold companies to account if they cause harm.

There are three areas where the next Government has a timely opportunity to demonstrate the UK’s continued commitment to play its global role in supporting international development.

1. Make sure Brexit is fair to developing countries

Following the triggering of Article 50 the next Government is in a unique position to develop an independent UK trade policy that supports development and job creation around the world.  A gold standard trade policy for development would include:

  • A commitment to develop a ground-breaking non-reciprocal market access scheme for economically vulnerable countries instead of rushed and ill-thought-through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs);
  • A commitment to conduct comprehensive impact assessments for all proposed FTAs with richer countries to ensure there are no unintended consequences for developing countries;
  • A commitment to review investment agreements to balance the privileges of investors with rights for national Governments and communities;
  • A commitment to a full and meaningful role for parliament in developing trade negotiating positions, scrutinising impact assessments, as well as debating and voting on final deal

2. Make sure UK supermarkets play fair

Farmers and workers in the food sector should get a fair share of the profits of trade. The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) was set up with cross-party support to ensure that UK supermarkets purchase fairly from their direct suppliers. However, unfair risk and cost is continuing to be passed onto suppliers in the UK and abroad. The performance of the GCA has recently been reviewed, and the next Government should commit to extend its remit to support greater fairness and stability in the whole groceries supply chain.

3. Update the law to enable prosecution of corporate crimes

Between 2004 and 2014 the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre[2] received 303 allegations of serious harms – including deaths, serious injuries and severe pollution – made against 127 UK companies, including a number of repeat offenders. But gaps in the UK’s criminal law framework lead to serious corporate crimes not being investigated and human rights abuses going unpunished. This is especially true where the victims are resident in developing countries where the rule of law may be weak or developing. The Ministry of Justice has recently taken evidence on how to better tackle corporate economic crime. Building on the findings of this work, the next Government should commit to reforming the ‘identification doctrine’ which makes it difficult to attribute liability in large and complex companies, create a new offence of ‘failure to prevent’ corporate crimes and extend the Corporate Manslaughter Act to have extraterritorial application.

To find out more please contact Liz May, Director of Policy

Tom Wills