The business of human rights… why the government’s got it wrong

Over on my other blog, I’ve written a dry-ish piece on human rights and business that reminds me of a film from late 2004: The Corporation.

The film’s central idea was that if corporations were people they’d be psychopaths. Without dismissing that, I felt it distanced we humans from any problems. After all, corporations are human constructs operating to rules we’ve made. So the Company Law Reform Bill, which rewrites those rules, is a golden opportunity to help create responsible corporations.

Where it goes wrong is in further prioritising shareholder’s interests without balancing their interests with those of others. Directors already have a legal duty to put shareholders first in everything they do, but it’s widely acknowledged that they don’t always do that. But my experience of management with shareholders on its back, is that profit is put before all else. Shareholders are investors and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they’re focussed on financial returns.

Amnesty International points out that globalisation means that British corporations often find themselves operating in environments where human rights are not respected and the environment barely protected. They’ve joined forces with CORE, the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, to campaign to amend the Bill in three key areas. The amendments would compel companies to report against a comprehensive set of key social, environmental and economic indicators. Directors’ duties would be expanded to include a specific duty of care for both communities and the environment. Finally, communities adversely affected by the actions of UK corporations abroad would be given some rights to seek redress in British courts.

So far 181 MPs have signed an early day motion in support and it looks like the government may have to incorporate some of CORE’s suggestions. It’s time to write to your MP asking them to support this campaign to create responsible corporations.

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