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UK Action Plan on Business and Human Rights

Volume 567: debated on Wednesday 4 September 2013

I have today laid before the House a copy of the UK Government paper “Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” (CM 8695).

The action plan is the UK’s national implementation plan for the UN guiding principles, which were endorsed in the Human Rights Council in June 2011. In it we make clear the Government’s duty to protect and promote human rights in the business context, outline our commitments to encourage good business practice by UK companies both domestically and internationally, and provide advice to UK companies to help them understand and manage human rights risk as part of their commercial activities.

It is clear that personal freedoms contribute to economic development. Liberties which we take for granted—democracy, good governance, the rule of law, protection of property rights and an open, free and active civil society—create fertile conditions for private sector-led growth. The absence of these fundamental principles can deny peoples their dignity and respect, contribute to political instability and conflict, and limit prospects for prosperity and economic growth.

Promoting trade is vital for our economy and prosperity. Building Britain’s prosperity by increasing exports and investment, opening markets, ensuring access to resources and promoting sustainable growth is one of this Government’s primary objectives. But as British business expands overseas, so too does our responsibility to ensure that our commercial success does not come at a cost to the human rights of others.

We strongly believe that the promotion of business and respect for human rights go hand in hand. In the past, the UK has actively participated or led on several international initiatives which have created guidelines for businesses, including the voluntary principles on security and human rights for extractive industries and as a member of the OECD we have been equally committed to promoting the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises with businesses. This action plan is a continuance of our commitment. We want British companies to succeed, but in a way consistent with our values. We will engage with British companies to raise awareness of their responsibility to adopt best practice guidelines, and to promote the business case for good corporate behaviour—it helps create jobs, contributes to market sustainability and has potential to generate long-term growth—and to work closely with UK companies who already see the business case for the business and human rights agenda to act as advocates to promote change, both domestically and internationally.

With this action plan, the UK becomes the first country to launch a national implementation plan for the UN guiding principles. It is our commitment to the value of human rights in pursuit of a prosperous Britain. We shall push for the international community to follow our lead and for UK businesses to work with us in taking this proactive action protect human rights and improve the lives of millions.