Tesco and ASOS are among more than 30 retail businesses and investors have called for a new UK law to prevent human rights abuse.
Some 36 household names – including Primark and John Lewis – have issued a joint statement calling for fresh human rights and environmental due diligence law.
A legal review by Blackstone Chambers found that fast fashion brand Boohoo could have been held liable for rights abuses in its Leicester supply chain, under proposed legislation.
In a joint statement, companies including Microsoft and Twinnings, said: “Such a requirement to prevent abuse of human rights and environmental harm in global operations and value chains would deliver on the government’s commitments to the levelling up agenda and to the transition to a net zero economy.”
Justice for victims
The statement said businesses need to face consequences strong enough to ensure they abide by rules and that victims can have access to justice.
Thulsi Narayanasamy from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said voluntary initiatives to encourage businesses to respect workers’ rights had failed.
“It speaks volumes that leading businesses and investors themselves are uniting to call for a level playing field and a clear regulatory environment to ensure that the rights of the most vulnerable are respected. We want to see this requirement backed up by strong liability provisions that will hold companies legally accountable if they fail to prevent abuses,” Narayanasamy added.
European countries are adopting new HREDD laws, such as the corporate duty of vigilance law in France and legislation under development elsewhere on the continent.
The European Union is set to table a new initiative later this year, that will apply to all UK firms operating in the single market.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and Corporate Justice Coalition commissioned a legal review into Boohoo’s liability under proposed legislation.
Overseeing the review, Timothy Otty QC and Naina Patel of Blackstone Chambers, said the online retailer could have been found liable for breaches of the guiding principles “under mandatory human rights due diligence/UK ‘failure to prevent’ legislation in the form of the BIICL Model Legal Provision, had such legislation been in place during the relevant period of time.”
“Of course, it is difficult to speculate as to whether Boohoo might have behaved differently had such legislation been in place,” they added.
Power to protect workers
“However, Boohoo’s story is a compelling example of a situation in which such legislation might have made a difference, either by encouraging appropriate action to be taken earlier or by providing a means of redress for those affected by the allegations found to be substantially true.”
Bosses are calling for a new law based on the duties to prevent tax evasion and bribery found in the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and the Bribery Act 2010.
Simon Platts, responsible sourcing director at ASOS, said such legislation “has the power to protect workers and deliver positive benefits for people around the world by driving up standards and making companies legally responsible for identifying and stamping out human rights and environmental risks, wherever they occur.”