We seem to be living in an age in which the powerful require legal protection from their victims.
The CBI is applying pressure to the government in the light of legislation proposed by the United Nations to make multinational groups legally liable for human rights, including abuses by their suppliers and customers.
The CBI argue that the rules would give the responsibility under international law for human rights to multi-national corporations. However, the whole point of the legislation is that corporations are more powerful than sovereign nations, and they have frequently abused their power.
Corporations such as BP, Shell, Coca-Cola and Nestle are accused of encouraging abuses of human rights by both governments and security forces of developing countries and their own subsidiaries.
While Amnesty International, Christian Aid and Human Rights Watch, have enthusiastically praised the draft proposals, the CBI called them "ill-judged and unnecessary".
The CBI seems to believe that voluntary codes of conduct drawn up by bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and International Labour Organisation are sufficient. The director of the CBI stated "It is quite wrong to suggest that firms are generally involved in widespread abuse of human rights - where is the evidence?" [see the Blacklist]
The CBI also notes, "You can imagine a demonstration in a difficult part of the world against a company's product that prompts a violent government response and protesters get killed, the company would be seen as complicit." Well if the company is Coca-Cola, and the deaths relate to the murder of trade union reps outside one of the bottling plants that they "don´t control" (Coca-Cola are merely the majority shareholders in the bottling plant) then there is plenty of evidence that they are complicit.
The UN plans would also force firms to pay employees "an adequate standard of living for them and their families". The CBI complains that there is no definition of "adequate", and so the enforced recognition of trade unions could ensue. Obviously that would be a disaster for all of the poor hard working companies who need to earn billions of dollars in profits every year while paying their workers so little that they can barely afford to eat (in particular companies like Coca-Cola and Nestle whose products are almost all based on resources from third world countries).
The CBI said unions could exploit the situation to "name and shame" firms they wanted to attack. Presumably the CBI is worried that companies like Nike could no longer get away with blatantly lying in their advertising by paying a big fine when the lie is discovered (Nike claimed they could guarantee decent treatment for their workers, but in actual fact had done nothing, they just wanted good publicity without having to change their practices. When challenged they pled the 5th amendment claiming that statements made in advertising did not have to be truthful). Perhaps the CBI would like to comment on Nike´s defence.
I am sorry if I seem unsympathetic to the plight of rich multi-nationals who don´t think the law applies to them. These poor wee souls make a fortune in trafficking in the goods and services of developing countries, but are not interested in giving a fair wage for these products.Return to Top