It’s Friday and time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.
This week’s post includes: the first reports published pursuant to the requirements of the U.K. Modern Slavery Act; an overview of social and environmental shareholder proposals filed for the 2016 proxy season; and a new effort to benchmark technology companies on their policies and practices with regard to forced labor in their supply chains.
- Companies with financial years ending on March 31, 2016 are the first companies required to publish a statement pursuant to the U.K. Modern Slavery Act. Companies are expected to publish their statement “as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of their financial year” and are encouraged to do so within six months. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is maintaining a registry of corporate statements published pursuant to the Act.
- Know the Chain recently released the list of 20 information and communications technology (“ICT”) companies that it will include in its first sector-level benchmarking of corporate policies and practices to address forced labor in supply chains. The selected companies include Apple, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. Know the Chain also released the methodology that will inform the benchmarking effort. Indicators included in the methodology include whether companies have processes in place to assess the risks of forced labor associated with specific commodities and regions, and whether companies integrate forced labor standards into supply contracts. The results of the initial benchmarking effort will be released in June. Future benchmarking efforts will focus on the food and beverage and apparel sectors.
- On March 2, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation on human rights and business that is intended to promote the effective implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Specifically, Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)3 provides guidance regarding the actions that European Union member states should take to prevent and remedy human rights violations by companies and calls on states to adopt “measures to induce business to respect human rights.” Notably, the recommendation states that member states “should apply such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to ensure that human rights abuses caused by business enterprises within their jurisdiction give rise to civil liability under their respective laws.”
- In early March, As You Sow, the Sustainable Investments Institute, and Proxy Impact released their latest Proxy Preview, which provides an overview of the 370 non-binding shareholder proposals concerned with social and environmental issues that had been filed by investors for the 2016 proxy season as of mid-February. Of the 370 proposals, 42 focus specifically on human rights-related concerns. Issues focused on by investors include corporate implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles, risk assessments related to human trafficking and forced labor, and investments in areas of conflict including contested areas of Israel and Palestinian territory.
- On March 24, North Carolina enacted a law blocking municipal-level non-discrimination provisions intended to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) people throughout the state. Many members of the business community have since protested the legislation, including the CEOs and senior executives of more than 100 companies who signed on to a letter drafted by the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC. The letter observed that “such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business.“