The promotion of the UK’s prosperity and the promotion and protection of human rights are mutually supportive priorities at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy. Sustainable trade is vital for our economy, supports UK jobs and promotes long-term British and global growth. Trade is most sustainable in markets characterised by good governance, the rule of law, transparency and responsible business conduct, including the protection of, and respect for, human rights.
Respect for human rights makes states better able to trade globally, furthering their economic development. It is also in the interests of companies. As well as the moral imperative, there is a strong business case for adopting human rights and conflict-sensitive best practice. It reduces the risks and associated costs of reputational damage, disruption and litigation, and increases security within the supply chain. In addition, there is a growing demand among investors for more ethically conscious business practice, and among consumers for products and services from companies that behave responsibly.
The UK is prepared to engage with all states on the links between business and human rights, including those whose record on human rights is poor. We will continue to raise our concerns about human rights wherever and whenever they arise, including those countries with which we are seeking closer commercial ties.
Our commitment to promoting responsible business engagement is not new. Global debate about the responsibilities of business in relation to human rights has been gathering pace since the mid-1990s. A number of international initiatives have been adopted during this period, which have created guidelines for businesses. The UK has actively participated or led on several of these, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for extractive industries. As a member of the OECD we have been equally committed to promoting the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises with businesses (see below).