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 important decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia with regard to a case raising forced labor concerns; the release of the U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent List of Goods Produced by Child Labor and Forced Labor; and the first deadline for disclosures pursuant to the U.K. Modern Slavery Act.
- On September 14, a public consultation period began with regard to a draft two-part guidance document on human rights assurance drafted by the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (“RAFI”). The assurance guidance is intended to facilitate the work of both internal and external assurance providers seeking to evaluate corporate human rights performance. The public consultation period will close on October 31. RAFI released its U.N. Guiding Principles Reporting Framework in February 2015.
- On September 30, the U.S. Department of Labor released the seventh edition of its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor and Forced Labor. The list identified 139 goods from 75 countries that the department “has reason to believe are made by child or forced labor.” Goods identified on the list include timber from Brazil (forced labor), toys from China (child labor and forced labor), carpets from Pakistan (child labor and forced labor), and cotton from Uzbekistan (child labor and forced labor). The list has recently been the focus of renewed attention as the repeal of the consumptive demand exception in the United States is expected to lead to an increased number of petitions seeking to block the import of goods produced with forced labor. The Department of Labor research on forced labor will likely be an important source of information as Customs and Border Protection reviews petitions with regard to specific goods.
- September 30 marked the first unofficial deadline for companies to make disclosures pursuant to the U.K. Modern Slavery Act. Companies with a financial year-end of March 31, 2016 are the first to be required to make disclosures. The Government of the United Kingdom has stated that it encourages companies to make reports within six months of the end of their financial year. Notably, a review of approximately 700 disclosures made to date found that relatively few have complied with some of the Act’s core requirements, including the need for both board approval and the signature of a director or equivalent. A registry of corporate disclosures is being maintained by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and is available here.
- On October 11, Business for Social Responsibility and GlobeScan released the results of their latest “State of Sustainable Business” survey. The final report, which received input from 287 sustainability professionals at more than 150 companies, found that human rights and climate change were identified as the top priorities for corporate sustainability efforts in 2016. Companies reported that they were drafting human rights policies, making public commitments to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and providing training on human rights issues to employees as part of their sustainability efforts. Notably, although human rights was identified as a priority area, the report found that “greater prioritization and attention has not resulted in greater progress” and that the types of activities that companies are undertaking remains relatively unchanged from prior years.
- On October 11, the Supreme Court of British Columbia held that Nevsun Resources Ltd. (“Nevsun”), a mining company, may appropriately be brought to trial in Canadian court for alleged acts of forced labor and other labor abuses at the Bisha Mine in Eritrea. Nevsun had argued that plaintiffs’ claims should be brought in Eritrean court, but the company’s petition to have the case dismissed on the basis of forum non conveniens was dismissed. The case will be watched closely as it proceeds for it raises a number of undecided issues with regard to the potential for extraterritorial liability for human rights abuses in Canadian courts. As the Supreme Court noted, “[n]o civil claims alleging breach of [customary international law] norms…have been advanced successfully in Canada” and the “question of corporate liability” for such claims “has also not been considered or decided[.]”
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