Talking politics

September 22, 2014

In a guest blog, Marilyn Croser, Director of CORE, the UK NGO network on corporate accountability, reflects on the political party conference season.

This week I was at the Labour Party conference for a fringe meeting that the CORE Coalition organised on business and human rights.

CORE is a network of charities, campaigning groups, academics, trade unions and legal experts working together to improve corporate accountability. Traidcraft is one of CORE’s leading member organisations.

We aim to reduce business-related human rights and environmental abuses by ensuring companies can be held to account for their impacts at home and abroad, and guarantee access to justice for people adversely affected by corporate activity.

The corporate presence at party conferences is highly visible and it can be difficult not to become cynical about the corporate influence on UK politics. I spent much of the afternoon before the fringe event in the Fujitsu stand at the exhibition area, which had been set up as a meeting space.  On the way out of the conference hall I was given a canvas bag sponsored by ‘Gatwick Obviously’, the campaign for a second runway at Gatwick airport.

But of course, business is part of society and should be able to talk to the political parties. Fringe meetings are one way for others to join that conversation. It was great to have ordinary party members attend our fringe and put questions to senior parliamentarians about what Labour would do on business and human rights.

The meeting was chaired by Louise Haigh, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the Sheffield Heeley constituency. Louise was ideally placed to do this, as the former coordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Corporate Responsibility.

Speakers included the Shadow Foreign Office minister Kerry McCarthy MP and Richard Howitt MEP, the European Parliament’s Rapporteur on corporate social responsibility. We also heard from Steve Waygood of Aviva Investors and Peter Frankental of Amnesty International UK.

CORE has just released a series of recommendations for UK political action on corporate accountability and sustainability. We want to engage politicians from all parties in a discussion on what government needs to do to ensure British companies operate to high standards overseas.

We’re calling on the next government to take the following actions:

  • Require companies to report on the taxes they are paying around the world
  • Make human rights central to international investment agreements and stop private investors being able to sue governments for introducing policies – such as public health protections – that they claim could damage their profits
  • Support the introduction of a new EU law to compel companies to source natural resources (such as rare minerals used in mobile phones) responsibly
  • Require all large companies to report on social, environmental and human rights issues in their supply chains
  • Make sure that people in developing countries can access justice in the UK when they are harmed by the activities of a UK company. (This is the issue which Traidcraft is actively campaigning on.)

Discussion at the Labour Conference fringe meeting covered everything from export credits to conflict minerals, sustainability reporting to access to justice, modern slavery to trade delegations. It was a reminder of the way that business now interacts with every area of government. This is why we need a coherent, coordinated approach across departments on business and human rights issues.

Our next event is at Liberal Democrat conference with Jenny Willott MP, Louise Rouse from Share Action, the movement for responsible investment, and Alistair Dutton, Director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF). If you are there, why not come and join us?

I’m looking forward to continuing the discussions.