MAC: Mines and Communities

UN tells UK: ensure your mining companies respect human rights

Published by MAC on 2011-09-06
Source: Statement (2011-09-05)

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has now added the UK to the list of countries, about which concerns have been raised following reports of "adverse effects of operations by transnational corporations registered in the State party".

CERD demands that the British government adopt regulatory measures "to ensure that UK companies respect human rights across their global operations and that UK courts offer access to justice for those harmed". (Other countries so instructed include Canada, the USA and Norway).

A background report submitted to CERD, and on which the committee made its judgment,  highlighted the predominant role of mining companies in the abuse of rights; particularly with regard to indigenous peoples.

The companies name-checked in the report include ones regularly featured on the Mines & Communities site, such as Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Xstrata and (of course) Vedanta, as well as some smaller outfits. See http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/docs/ngos/UKERIP_UK_CERD79.doc

In welcoming the UN decision, Amnesty International UK said:

"From the dumping of toxic waste to the uprooting of indigenous peoples, UK companies sometimes engage in activities overseas that cause huge damage to health and livelihoods, with little prospect of being held to account".

UK Government Should Make UK Companies Responsible for Human Rights Abuses Abroad, Says UN

Amnesty International UK Press Release

5 September 2011

"This is a hugely significant finding by the UN, because it accuses the UK of not living up to its obligations under international law"

Amnesty International welcomes a call from the UN to make UK companies accountable for human rights abuses which take place abroad. The UN Committee that monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to which UK is a signatory, urged the UK to adopt measures to ensure that UK companies do not abuse human rights when operating in other countries.

In a two day hearing from 23-24 August, the UK was questioned on its compliance with the provisions of the Convention. Members of the Committee probed the UK on why it does not do more to give effect to its obligation under international law to ensure that companies acting outside the UK respect human rights.

The Committee criticised the UK for the introduction of a legislative Bill (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill) which, if passed, would restrict the rights of foreign claimants to seek access to justice in the UK courts against transnational corporations.

Amnesty International's expert on business and human rights, Peter Frankental, said:

"From the dumping of toxic waste to the uprooting of indigenous peoples, UK companies sometimes engage in activities overseas that cause huge damage to health and livelihoods, with little prospect of being held to account.

"Now the UN has caught up with the UK's failings and is requiring the government to end the double standards that UK companies operate to.

"This is a hugely significant finding by the UN, because it accuses the UK of not living up to its obligations under international law, and it requires the government to take regulatory measures to ensure that UK companies respect human rights across their global operations and that UK courts offer access to justice for those harmed".

Amnesty International presented evidence of the deficiencies in the UK government's framework of laws and policies that regulate the human rights performance of UK companies abroad. These deficiencies also adversely affect the ability of victims of corporate abuses to gain access to justice in the UK through civil litigation. The UN has concluded that the UK is in breach of its commitments under international law.

Peter Frankental, said:

"The root of the problem is that the UK places too much emphasis on voluntary approaches to improve the behaviour of its companies when operating abroad.

"This is fine for those companies that are willing to toe the line, but it doesn't address the behaviour of the laggards who think they can get away with operating to unacceptable standards.

"The UN Committee's findings are a wake-up call to the UK to change its approach".

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Notes to editors:

The concerns and recommendations of the Committee are set out in paragraph 29 of the following document: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/docs/UK_COBs_CERD79.pdf

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