UK Foreign Secretary William Hague launches the UK’s action plan on business and human rights

9 September, 2013

On September 4, the UK 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.

The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Business Secretary Vince Cable hosted the launch event with guests from businesses and civil society organisations, including Professor John Ruggie, the former UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights and author of the UN Guiding Principles.

The action plan Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, clearly sets out the Government’s commitment to protecting human rights and its expectations of UK companies in this area. It was created in 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. It is hoped that UK government and business will work together to implement the action plan and that other countries will follow suit.

Mr Hague said that doing business while respecting human rights was “good for people, for prosperity and for the UK”. He told guests at the Institute of Directors in London “we believe firmly that the promotion of business and respect for human rights should go hand in hand.”

Tackling human trafficking in business supply chains in the UK and overseas is a key aspect of the initiative. As part of our series of conferences on business and human rights, we will be holding a roundtable discussion in October to raise awareness of human trafficking and labour exploitation in the context of business. This meeting is being held in association with the FCO and will draw on the UN Guiding Principles for best practice and consider practical ways forward in order to tackle human trafficking.

Wilton Park has organised a number of conferences focusing on business and human rights in support of the UN’s action to elaborate international standards in this area. At the outset of Professor Ruggie’s UN mandate in 2005, he joined our conference on Business and human rights: advancing the agenda with representatives of the corporate sector, government, the UN, legal experts and interested non-governmental organisations. Participants explored the basic issues involved, including what defines a company’s ‘sphere of influence’, and who this includes as well as concepts of ‘complicity’.

Six years later, Professor Ruggie published draft Guiding Principles to implement the UN framework which detailed the duty of states to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need for appropriate remedies, both judicial and non-judicial, when gaps exist and violations occur. Our conference on The UN framework on business and human rights, held in January 2011, brought together government, business and civil society representatives to ‘road test’ the principles before their discussion by the UN’s Human Rights Council some months later. One year after the Guiding Principles were endorsed by the Human Rights Council, in June 2012, our discussions focused on putting the Guiding Principles into effect Business and human rights: implementing the Guiding Principles one year on. In November 2012, Burma/Myanmar, business and human rights: setting responsible standards for business, sought to identify how the Guiding Principles could enable businesses to promote responsible investment in a country undergoing rapid change, and operate in a manner consistent with international human rights standards.

 

Further information

Conference on Business and human rights: advancing the agenda

Conference on The UN framework for business and human rights

Conference on Combating human trafficking: business and human rights

Conference on Business and human rights: implementing the Guiding Principles one year on

Conference on Burma/Myanmar, business and human rights: setting standards for responsible business

 

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