By Max Clarke

UK companies should be accountable for human rights abuses carried out abroad, the UN has ruled.

The UN Committee that monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to which UK is a signatory, urged the UK to adopt measures to ensure that UK companies do not abuse human rights when operating in other countries.

"From the dumping of toxic waste to the uprooting of indigenous peoples, UK companies sometimes engage in activities overseas that cause huge damage to health and livelihoods, with little prospect of being held to account,” commented Peter Frankental, business and human rights expert at Amnesty International.

"Now the UN has caught up with the UK's failings and is requiring the government to end the double standards that UK companies operate to.”

In a two-day hearing from 23-24 August, the UK was questioned on its compliance with the provisions of the Convention. Members of the Committee probed the UK on why it does not do more to give effect to its obligation under international law to ensure that companies acting outside the UK respect human rights.

The Committee criticised the UK for the introduction of a legislative bill (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill) which, if passed, would restrict the rights of foreign claimants to seek access to justice in the UK courts against transnational corporations.

"This is a hugely significant finding by the UN,” continued Frankental, “because it accuses the UK of not living up to its obligations under international law, and it requires the government to take regulatory measures to ensure that UK companies respect human rights across their global operations and that UK courts offer access to justice for those harmed."

Amnesty International presented evidence of the deficiencies in the UK government's framework of laws and policies that regulate the human rights performance of UK companies abroad. These deficiencies also adversely affect the ability of victims of corporate abuses to gain access to justice in the UK through civil litigation. The UN has concluded that the UK is in breach of its commitments under international law.

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