House of Lords to debate groundbreaking Bill that puts people and the planet before profit

London, 10th May | Today, the House of Lords will debate a Bill which protects people and the planet. Baroness Young of Hornsey, a crossbench Peer and leading human rights advocate, introduced in November a proposal for the UK’s first law requiring companies to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence.

The second reading of the Bill comes at a good time, following swiftly after the European Parliament’s approval of a similar law that would leave the UK falling behind if it doesn’t act quickly to tackle forced labour and slavery. Titled the Commercial Organisations and Public Authorities Duty (Human Rights and Environment) Bill, the Bill is being led by Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, a patron of Anti-Slavery International.

The 2022 Global Estimates on Modern Slavery estimate that 17.3 million people are in forced labour in the private sector. Nine years on from the Modern Slavery Act (2015), this Bill would address the shortfalls of existing legislation by compelling companies to take meaningful steps to address modern slavery and the risk thereof in their operations and would hold them accountable for their failure to prevent harm.

Modern slavery doesn’t exist in a vacuum and instead is part of a continuum of exploitation and intersects with human rights and worker rights violations. It’s important that legislation covers the wide range of environmental and human rights that companies must be responsible for respecting. The Bill would also protect the human rights of other rightsholder groups, such as indigenous and forest peoples, human rights, land and environmental defenders, women and workers. Indigenous and forest peoples who defend their human rights and the environment from harmful corporate activities taking place on their lands increasingly face criminalisation, intimidation, violence and murder.

Key provisions of the Bill include:

  • Compel businesses and other organisations to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence to identify, address, prevent, mitigate and remedy harms in their operations and value chains.
  • Hold companies accountable for a failure to prevent abuses through liability provisions.
  • Help to level the playing field between businesses, bringing them all up to the same standard of practice and providing clarity and certainty on legal obligations.
  • Enable victims of abuses, including modern slavery, to access justice through the courts of the home country of the lead company in a supply chain.

There have been growing calls for such legislation, with over 50 MPs and Peers from eight parties signing a pledge supporting a new law in the UK on business, human rights and the environment to protect people and the planet from abuse. Additionally, more than 150  businesses and investors back a statement calling for such a law.

Baroness Young of Hornsey is positive about the Bill’s potential impact, highlighting its groundbreaking nature for the UK Parliament: “This legislation has the opportunity to positively impact the lives of millions of people globally. For too long, the protection of people and the environment has been seen as contrary to business interests. Now is the time for legislation that effectively drives better business practices. This is the law that businesses and members of the public are calling for.”

International human rights experts also support the developments in the House of Lords. Robert McCorquodale, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights says, “There is an increasing development of legislation requiring businesses to undertake mandatory human rights due diligence and with sanctions for lack of compliance. Many of these developments will affect UK businesses, without there being UK legislation. Such legislation is part of the smart mix of measures that governments should take to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

Sian Lea, Business and Human Rights Manager at Anti-Slavery International, expressed her enthusiasm about the law progressing through Parliament: “We want to see a world free from forced labour, and it is exciting to witness legislation that would take us one step closer to being debated today in the House of Lords. Due diligence laws can have an incredible global impact on the millions of people in the supply chains of businesses selling in the UK. The EU has already taken action. But the UK has an opportunity to once again become a global leader in ending modern slavery and ensuring access to remedy and justice.”


Notes to Editor:

For more information or media inquiries, please contact:

Jess Turner, Communications Manager at Anti-Slavery International // +44 (0)7789 936 383

About Anti-Slavery International:

Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest human rights organisation. We exist to ensure all people, everywhere, are free from slavery. Since 1839, we have challenged slavery in all its forms and helped to make slavery illegal in every nation around the world. Today, we challenge modern forms of slavery wherever they exist by tackling the root causes of slavery and creating lasting freedom for all.

About Corporate Justice Coalition:

Corporate Justice Coalition is the UK’s long-standing corporate accountability network with more than 60 members spanning NGOs, trade unions and law firms.

About Baroness Young of Hornsey:

Baroness Lola Young has contributed to numerous debates, reviews, roundtables and conferences on the subject of modern slavery and transparency in supply chain legislation, and environmental sustainability and due diligence policy development. She has worked with key figures in the fashion, construction and consumer goods industries, as well as with parliamentarians in the UK and internationally.

About the Bill:

This Bill sets the core elements of legislation to place a duty on commercial organisations and public authorities to prevent human rights and environmental harms, including an obligation to conduct and publish human rights and environmental due diligence assessments on their own operations, subsidiaries, and value chains. The Bill makes provisions for civil liability, penalties, and a criminal offence for failures to comply with the duty.

This Bill seeks to ensure, amongst other things:

  • Establishing Legal Safeguards: Making provisions for the prevention of human rights and environmental harms within the operations of commercial organisations and public authorities and throughout their value chains, and enforcing the corporate responsibility to respect human rights,
  • Enhancing Corporate Accountability: Holding commercial organisations accountable for a failure to prevent harm through liability provisions and assisting victims in having clarity about their access to justice and remedy in the United Kingdom (“UK”),
  • Alignment with International Standards: Bringing the UK law more into line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct (“OECD Guidelines”), and the International Labour Organization (“ILO”) Multinational Enterprises Guidelines.

A full briefing from the House of Lords Library can be found here.

Policy Background

There has been growing support from policymakers, businesses, investors, and the public for legislation that holds businesses accountable for respecting human rights and environmental standards in their value chains. Many countries, including the EU, are already taking action to incorporate human rights and environmental due diligence into their legal frameworks, which will have an impact on UK business. To maintain a level playing field for UK businesses globally, the UK must keep pace with these international developments.

Establishing a duty to prevent human rights and environmental abuses was recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report named Human Rights and Business 2017: Promoting Responsibility and Ensuring Accountability.” Several companies also indicated they would prefer clear legal guidance to operate in a more transparent market with best practices.

Additional Resources:

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