There is an undisputed trend of increased and strengthened human rights and environmental due diligence laws (for example, see our previous Blogs here and here).  A related trend is the rise of import controls to supplement such measures.  For example, the United States’ Customs and Border Protection agency have in recent times increasingly issued Withhold Release Orders to detain shipments of products suspected to be produced, in whole or in part, using forced labour (for example, see our Legal Updates here and here).

The European Commission is now assessing the adoption of action and enforcement instruments to tackle forced labour. Its consideration of such mechanisms coincides with the forthcoming legislative proposals from the European Commission on Sustainable Corporate Governance (SCG), a key element of which includes an obligation for corporations to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD).

A coalition of NGOs, including Anti-Slavery International and the European Coalition for Corporate Justice, have released an NGO position paper raising some key considerations in the development of potential import control measures in tandem with a mandatory corporate HREDD obligation.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: NGOs Set Out Key Considerations for EU Import Controls to Tackle Forced Labour

On June 24, 2021, US Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued a Withhold Release Order (“WRO”) on silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd. (“Hoshine”), a company located in Xinjiang, and its subsidiaries. This WRO is based on information that CBP alleges “reasonably indicates” that Hoshine used forced labor to manufacture silica-based products. As a result, CBP personnel at all US ports of entry have been instructed to immediately begin detaining shipments that contain silica-based products made by Hoshine or materials and goods derived from or produced using those silica-based products. China is by far the world’s largest producer of silicon and silica-based products.

Continue Reading US Customs Issues WRO on Silica-based Products Produced by Xinjiang Manufacturer

Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA 2015) requires large businesses to produce a statement each year setting out the steps they have taken to ensure that their business and supply chains are slavery free, or a statement that they have taken no steps to do this. Legislative reform of some kind has been some time in the offing, particularly since the Government’s response in September last year to the 2019 “Transparency in supply chains consultation” (see our previous Legal Update).

Continue Reading UK Modern Slavery – a Bill to prohibit the “falsification” of slavery and human trafficking statements

The impact of climate change on human rights is considerable and complex.  Air pollution can contaminate the air we breathe; droughts can result in hunger and famine; floods can impact housing and access to potable water.  If it is indeed accepted that climate change has an impact on human rights, then by extension businesses will not be able to prevent adverse human rights impacts unless they integrate climate change into their human rights due diligence processes.

This imperative is being driven among other things by approaching mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation (see our Blog posts here and here) and expanding reporting requirements on environmental and sustainability matters expand (see, for example, our Blog posts here, here and here).


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: The Environmental Dimension – climate change

On June 11, 2021, the German parliament passed the “Law on corporate due diligence in supply chains” (“Supply Chain Law”) (“Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz”). It requires companies to take steps to prevent human rights violations in their supply chains. This builds on the growing momentum for mandatory human rights due diligence (see our previous blog posts here and here).

Continue Reading Business and Human Rights – Germany passes Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence Law

In May 2021, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published a report setting out a series of tools investors can use to identify and address human rights risks, including modern slavery risks, in their portfolio companies.  The report includes a sectoral analysis of modern slavery rights in four sectors – Tourism, Construction, Food and Beverage, and Textile and Footwear – and adds to the growing toolkit of ESG-related resources available to investors (see, for example, our briefing Asset Managers: Mastering Non-Financial Risk – The Evolution of Human Rights Due Diligence).

Continue Reading Business and Human Rights – Analysing modern slavery risks in portfolio companies: practical considerations for investors

There have been two recent developments in the UK which further highlight the litigation risk for  international companies in respect of the activities of  their foreign subsidiaries. The UK is certainly not the only regime where there has been a notable increase in human rights related litigation but a distinct pattern is emerging.

PGI Group (PGI), a group of companies that operate in the agribusiness and renewable energy spaces, and its Malawian subsidiary, Lujeri Tea Estates Ltd (Lujeri), are facing a legal action in the UK High Court in connection with alleged systemic sexual abuse, including rape, sexual assault and discrimination, in Malawi.  Lujeri is a supplier to a number of known UK tea brands, including Typhoo, Yorkshire Tea and Tetley.  It is also a major supplier of macadamia nuts, which are grown in its Malawi orchards.

In the meantime, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Brands sought last month to strike out claims made against them and their subsidiaries by Malawian tobacco farmers, which were filed in the UK High Court last December.

These cases add to the growing list of companies to have faced legal claims in the UK courts in respect of the actions of their foreign subsidiaries (see our previous commentary on Camellia plc, Royal Dutch Shell plc and Vedanta Resources plc).  The cases also highlight the increasing litigation risk dynamic amid the growing trend of human rights and environmental litigation and underline the importance of UK companies taking steps to identify, prevent and mitigated human rights-related risks both in their own operations and also in the operations of their subsidiaries.
Continue Reading Business and Human Rights in the UK – Litigation Risk

In a Report published in April 2021, The Circle, an NGO that champions equal rights and equal opportunities for women and girls, proposed an EU regulation specifically aimed at achieving a living wage for workers in the garment industry. As the fashion industry emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic – which has brought renewed attention to complex supply chains and the conditions of workers in garment factories – Jessica Simor QC, author of the Report, argues the need for a legal framework to protect garment workers from exploitation.

The proposal comes off the back of the EU’s commitment to introduce a mandatory human rights due diligence law, and other initiatives currently progressing at the EU-level, which indicate considerable political will to introduce measures that identify and remediate human rights harms in global supply chains.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: Fashion Focus – A Proposal for New EU Legislation on a Living Wage

The European Coalition for Corporate Justice, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and Initiative Lieferkettengesetz reflect, in a Business and Human Rights Resource Centre Paper entitled “Towards EU Mandatory Due Diligence Legislation”, on insights from past efforts of companies to advance responsible business conduct and monitor their supply chain. Among other things, they caution against relying on “policing” suppliers through social audits and warn that private auditing and certification must not become a synonym for human rights and environmental due diligence. According to the Paper:

Private auditing and certification must not become a surrogate for the human rights and environmental due diligence of companies. Auditing and certification failures are widespread, ranging from garment factory collapses and fires (Rana Plaza, Ali Enterprise, Tazreen) to dam collapses, resulting in thousands of avoidable deaths and injuries. We now know these mechanisms under-identify and under-document risks and impacts, and can serve as a ‘fig leaf’ disguising actual negative impacts. Currently this multi-billion euro compliance industry goes about unchecked and unregulated with various inherent conflicts of interest.”

In this Blog Post, we discuss the future of social auditing, including with respect to emerging human rights due diligence legislation, and practical steps that businesses can take today to position themselves for the future of human rights due diligence.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: Pitfalls Of Social Auditing

The “Find It, Fix It, Prevent It” initiative, which extends to some 56 large investors including M & G, Fidelity International, Schroeder’s and Edentree, seeks to increase the effectiveness of corporate action against modern slavery.

Initially, the “Find It, Fix It, Prevent It” initiative was focused on the hospitality sector, with investors seeking to engage with the largest UK-listed hospitality firms to encourage companies to develop better policies, processes and procedures for tackling modern slavery–and better disclosure. This year, “Find It, Fix It, Prevent It” will look to broaden its engagement with companies to include the construction and materials sector, with plans to commence engagement with targeted companies from the third quarter: the initiative’s activities and future focus are set out in its first annual report. The CCLA estimates that “the construction industry is estimated to contain 18% of the world’s victims of forced labor”. The term “modern slavery” extends to slavery, servitude, human trafficking and forced or compulsory labor (read more on the key indicators of modern slavery here).


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: Investors Call Out “Modern Slavery” and Focus on Hospitality, Construction and Materials Sectors