Let me begin by assuring you that HM Government (HMG) is committed to promoting the protection and respect of human rights in business, both at home and abroad.
The UK was the first country to create a National Action Plan to implement the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), widely regarded as the authoritative international framework to steer practical action by governments and businesses worldwide on this important and pressing agenda.
This plan sets out what is expected in regard to the conduct of UK businesses, including compliance with relevant laws and respect for human rights; treating the risk of causing human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue; adopting appropriate due diligence policies; and consulting those who could potentially be affected. HMG expects all UK businesses to respect human rights throughout their operations, in line with the UNGPs, including in regard to their supply chains.
HMG is also taking a number of steps, through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to ensure no British organisation, public or private, unwittingly or otherwise, is complicit, through their supply chains, in human rights violations. Section 54 of the Act established the UK as the first country in the world to require businesses (with a turnover of £36m or more) to report annually on steps taken to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Department of Business and Trade also produce guidance to assist businesses in exercising such due diligence in countries where particular concerns around human rights exist.
As President and host of COP26, the UK has led the way on securing agreement from 141 world leaders to work together to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 under the Glasgow Leader's Declaration on Forests and Land Use. Signatory countries account for over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, including first-time commitments from Brazil and China.
Domestically, HMG has introduced world-leading due diligence legislation through the Environment Act to tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains. This will make it illegal for larger businesses in the UK to use key forest risk commodities produced on land illegally occupied or used. Businesses in scope will also be required to undertake a due diligence exercise on their supply chains, and to publicly report on this exercise every year, or risk fines and other civil sanctions. These provisions will be implemented through secondary legislation. This is an issue I will continue to monitor closely.
In light of the full range of action across Government outlined above, I do not, as you suggest, think that a new Business, Human Rights and Environment law is required.
The UK's Presidency of the G7 in 2021 and the resulting commitments from G7 members to tackle forced labour in global supply chains clearly demonstrates our country's commitment to ending modern slavery.