19 April 2022
Business and Human Rights

I can assure you that HM Government is committed to promoting the protection and respect of human rights in business, both at home and abroad.  

The UK was the first country to create a National Action Plan to implement the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), widely regarded as the authoritative international framework to steer practical action by governments and businesses worldwide on this important and pressing agenda.  

This plan sets out what is expected in regard to the conduct of UK businesses, including compliance with relevant laws and respect for human rights; treating the risk of causing human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue; adopting appropriate due diligence policies; and consulting those who could potentially be affected. HMG expects all UK businesses to respect human rights throughout their operations, in line with the UNGPs, including in regard to their supply chains.  

The UK has engaged with the UN Working Group looking at proposals for a new international treaty on business and human rights since 2015 through to the seventh session, which took place on 25-29 October 2021. As things stand, the landmark UNGPs remain the clearest, the global and legally sound framework for putting respect by businesses for human rights on governments’ respective national agendas. I know it is doing all it can to support their implementation worldwide. 

HMG is also taking a number of steps, through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to ensure no British organisation, public or private, unwittingly or otherwise, is complicit, through their supply chains, in human rights violations. Section 54 of the Act established the UK as the first country in the world to require businesses (with a turnover of £36m or more) to report annually on steps taken to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.  

In March 2021, HMG launched the modern slavery statement registry to radically enhance transparency by bringing together modern slavery statements on a single platform. As of 13 December, over 6,740 modern slavery statements covering over 22,400 organisations have been submitted to the registry on a voluntary basis. 

To improve the quality of reporting and compliance even further, ministers have committed to introduce a package of measures to strengthen Section 54. This includes the introduction of financial penalties for non-compliance and a requirement for organisations to publish their statements on the Government’s modern slavery statement registry which will enable Government to monitor and drive compliance with the legislation. I am assured that HMG will continue to develop its approach in line with the 2015 Act. 

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Department of International Trade also produce guidance to assist businesses in exercising such due diligence in countries where particular concerns around human rights exist.  

As President and host of COP26, the UK has taken a leading role in efforts to protect our environment.  At COP26, the UK led the way on securing agreement from 141 world leaders to work together to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 under the Glasgow Leader's Declaration on Forests and Land Use. Signatory countries account for over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, including first-time commitments from Brazil and China. At home, HMG has introduced world-leading due diligence legislation through the Environment Act to tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains. 

In light of the full range of action across Government outlined above, I do not, as you suggest, think that a new Business, Human Rights and Environment law is required.