United States: Five On Friday – Five Recent Developments That We've Been Watching Closely

Last Updated: June 10 2016
Article by Sarah A. Altschuller

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: new guidance for boards of directors on business and human rights; the launch of the Responsible Sourcing Tool; the release of the 2016 Global Slavery Index; and a new code of conduct in Europe by which American Internet companies have committed to taking actions to combat illegal hate speech.

  • On May 13, the U.K. Equality and Human Rights Commission, a independent statutory body, released Business and Human Rights: a Five-Step Guide for Company Boards. While prepared specifically for the boards of companies in the United Kingdom, the steps set forth in the guidance are relevant to all corporate leaders seeking to operate consistently with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Specifically, the steps state that a board should ensure that a company: (1) embeds the responsibility to respect human rights into its culture, knowledge and practices; (2) identifies and understands its salient, or most severe, risks to human rights; (3) systematically addresses its salient, or most severe, risks to human rights and provides for remedy when needed; (4) engages with stakeholders to inform its approach to addressing human rights risks, and (5) reports on its salient, or most severe, human rights risks and meets regulatory reporting requirements. The development of the guide was facilitated by Shift.
  • On May 16, the U.S. State Department released the Responsible Sourcing Tool, a website with guidance and resources intended to help federal contractors and other companies assess and understand and address the risks of human trafficking in corporate supply chains.  The Tool includes guidance on the development of strong management systems to identify and combat human trafficking, including information on how best to assess suppliers' policies and practices and on the screening of labor recruiters. The preparation of the Tool was a joint effort by the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Verité, Made in a Free World, and the Aspen Institute.
  • On May 31, the Walk Free Foundation released the 2016 Global Slavery Index.  The report estimates that 45.8 million people are enslaved globally, a 28% increase over previous estimates. The total number includes people subject to forced labor, human trafficking, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation. At the time of the report's release, the Chairman of the Walk Free Foundation stated that "[l]eaders of the world's major economies must bring the power of business to the issue, by requiring a focus on supply chain transparency" and issued a call to governments "to enact laws, at least as strong as the U.K. Modern Slavery Act... to ensure organizations are held to account for modern slavery in their supply chains."
  • On May 31, four American companies, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube (owned by Google) agreed on a Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online with the European Commission. Pursuant to the Code, the companies agree to review the majority of valid notifications regarding illegal hate speech within 24 hours and to remove or disable access to the content, if necessary. The companies also agreed to endeavor to strengthen partnerships with civil society organization in order to encourage the flagging of content that promotes incitement to violence and hateful conduct at scales. The Code has been criticized by several advocacy groups who question the propriety of private companies making determinations with regard to the validity of certain forms of speech.
  • On June 1, in the consolidated case In re Chiquita Brands International, Inc., the District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied motions to dismiss filed by seven current and former executives of Chiquita Brands International. Plaintiffs in the case allege that individuals within the company knew, or should have known, that the company's material support for the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia ("AUC"), a paramilitary organization, would lead to the death or torture of their family members. The court found that the plaintiffs had plead sufficient facts to bring claims under the Torture Victims Protection Action against the individual defendants, while dismissing claims brought pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute and state law. In March 2007, Chiquita admitted that it had provided payments to the AUC, stating that it had done so in order to ensure the protection of Chiquita employees and banana plantations in Colombia.

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