Asos, Primark Among 36 U.K. Businesses Calling for Tighter Labor, Environmental Laws

Today, 36 U.K.-based businesses rallied for lawmakers to tighten due diligence on human rights and environmental gray areas.

Asos, Primark, Tesco and the British Retail Consortium are among the organizations “calling on U.K. government to urgently introduce a new U.K. law to hold companies to account when they fail to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harms,” per a joint statement.

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While the U.K. was early in drafting measures in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Human Rights, which saw its 10-year anniversary this month, some business and civil society leaders are saying not enough has been achieved under voluntary approaches. Further, the body argues existing laws (like the Modern Slavery Act) are “not fit for purpose” to prevent forced labor abuses and modern slavery, according to a statement.

The businesses are pushing for a new law that mandates companies of all sizes and sectors, financial organizations and the public sector undertake “combined” “human rights and environmental due diligence” across their supply chains. For example, the environment bill (presently in a ping-pong of revisions as it looks to get passed before the U.N. climate summit, or COP26) includes deforestation but does not make a “comprehensive” tie-in on human rights, according to the group.

“A new law would also ensure the U.K. is in step with other countries introducing new corporate accountability laws incorporating mandatory due diligence. As the EU moves forward with its proposal to place new due diligence obligations on all companies operating in the Single Market, the absence of strong U.K. domestic legislation means that the U.K. will immediately fall behind the EU on human rights and environmental protections,” read the statement, which went on to say a “confusing patchwork of regulations and an uncertain landscape for businesses” is the fate under current means.

Expressing excitement for the businesses leading the charge, Simon Platts, responsible sourcing director at Asos (a business urging the call-to-action) believes such legislation “has the power to protect workers and deliver positive benefits for people around the world” by making companies legally responsible for “stamping out human rights and environmental risks” across borders.

With news of Asos’ chief executive officer Nick Beighton stepping down earlier this month amid supply chain woes, the focus on profitability — and becoming a 4 billion pound business within the next four years — will remain key, the company noted. Still, the business conflates profitability alongside its advocacy, referencing its fifth published statement condemning modern slavery this past April.

To a larger degree, world leaders are feeling the strain to get things passed as climate comes into focus at global summits.

In the U.S., the Biden Administration is racing to deliver on its $2 trillion green promises, especially on legislation for emissions reduction ahead of COP26.

Mark Dearn, director of the Corporate Justice Coalition, said it plainly: “As other countries press ahead with the new laws with legal liability that are urgently needed to keep step with the changing nature of business, the U.K. government can’t keep burying its head in the sand by saying that voluntary commitments are all that’s required.” Dearn added that, “Businesses and investors want this, people and the planet need it, and the Government must step up and take action.”

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