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: an announcement by the International Criminal Court regarding the potential for the prosecution of crimes based on environmental harm and land grabs; the lifting of sanctions on Burma and the end of the Burma Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment; and new attention to the operational and reputational risks associated with global shipping.
- On September 15, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) announced that it would consider the prosecution of crimes committed in connection with acts of environmental destruction, exploitation of natural resources, and illegal dispossession of land. This explicit expansion of the ICC’s focus was announced in a policy paper on case selection and prioritization. Attention by the ICC to land grabs and act of environmental destruction could lead to the prosecution of corporate executives when companies are linked to the seizure and/or contamination of land resources.
- On September 14, during a visit by Burma’s State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President Obama announced the U.S. Government’s intent to lift all remaining sanctions against Burma and to restore the country’s trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (“GSP”). The removal of sanctions will end the Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma which have been applicable to certain U.S. companies investing in Burma since they were enacted in 2012 as part of an initial easing of sanctions.
- On September 13, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre released its latest corporate legal accountability bulletin. The latest bulletin focuses on litigation against companies tied to acts of forced labor and human trafficking, especially in the context of corporate supply chains. The bulletin highlights cases in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom and, while noting that a number of the cases have been dismissed, suggests that these cases represent a “strong signal to companies that there is increasing liability risk of failing to exercise due diligence on modern slavery issues in their supply chains.”
- Legal Business magazine and the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills recently published a report on human rights that included a survey of 275 general counsels and senior lawyers. Of the companies surveyed, 84% of those with more than $10 billion in annual revenue reported that they had adopted human rights policies, and 46% of respondents stated that they had encountered human rights clauses in commercial contracts. Survey respondents also indicated that they had made specific changes in the management of business operations due to human rights concerns, with 51% stating that they had made changes with regard to their corporate supply chains.
- In late August, Hanjin Shipping, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, filed for bankruptcy. With the company’s assets frozen, global supply chains have faced significant disruptions in the last few weeks with many ships unable to unload as port workers fear going unpaid. This bankruptcy has highlighted global reliance on international shipping: nearly 80% of the world’s goods and commodities travel by ship. This past June, authorities in the United Kingdom detained an oil supply vessel in Aberdeen harbor for failure to pay crew wages. These recent events have caused many companies to focus more attention on the operational and reputational risks associated with the shipment of the goods in their supply chains.
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