At Traidcraft, we have just launched the Justice Campaign, which calls for the next UK government to put in place mechanisms to hold UK businesses operating in developing countries to account for any harm they cause abroad.
Human rights violations globally have risen 70% since 2008. Specific business-related human rights violations include rural and indigenous communities being forcibly displaced from their land, the use of trafficked workers and modern-day slaves, and the use of unsafe suppliers, as highlighted by the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.
Victims of such abuses face numerous barriers when trying to get justice. Poor business decisions and practices that lead to abuse are not challenged, but instead repeated. This risks perpetuating a ‘race to the bottom.’
Over the years, Traidcraft has engaged with mainstream UK businesses when consulting on responsible sourcing guideline and through membership of the Ethical Trading Initiative. We have been delighted when retailers, brands and suppliers have taken steps to improve the lives of workers and farmers. The UK government has actively encouraged such improvements. But, while welcoming these steps, we are concerned that the limitations of this ‘voluntary’ approach are now becoming clear.
Many businesses tell us that though they would like to improve their supply chain impacts they are unable to. Perhaps they only purchase a small proportion of a supplier’s output. Or they are concerned improvements within the supply chain might hike prices. A level playing field is needed. Companies with better business practices have nothing to fear and much to gain if competitors are required to stop exploitation and abuse of people overseas.
Seventy-eight per cent of the public and 71% of MPs agree that British companies in developing countries should be held to account for any harm they cause to workers or communities in those countries. Traidcraft is calling on all political parties to consider how to enable access to justice for people who have suffered at the hands of British companies. Only then will international trade be truly just.
Fiona Gooch is senior policy adviser at Traidcraft