STUC 2023 Fringe – Procuring Human Rights Home and Abroad

UNISON has joined forces with human rights and corporate accountability campaigners to fight for a new law on Human Rights in Business to protect workers and the environment.

Companies can sue governments if they enact policies to improve workers’ rights or protect the environment that impact on potential profits. At the same time there is no law that allows workers to sue companies if they are responsible for Human Rights abuses, or destroy local environments, in the pursuit of profits.

Companies operating in Scotland can abuse workers, treat them as slaves, and have no responsibility for their well-being.

At a fringe meeting at the STUC Congress in Dundee, Gemma Freedman, UNISON International Officer, Evie Clark of the Corporate Justice Coalition (which includes UNISON), and Chris Law MP for Dundee West, gave examples of modern slavery in the supply chain of major companies.

They explained how a law which forced those companies to employ ‘due diligence,’ making them responsible for ensuring that human and workers’ rights and the environment were respected in their supply chains, would transform the lives of workers across the world.

Gemma explained, that to ensure goods were produced as cheaply as possible, companies employed union-busting strategies to ensure they kept labour costs as low as possible.
Public agencies, councils, universities, health boards, governments, were also guilty of not checking their supply chains. One Australian owned company in Sri Lanka, that supplies rubber gloves to the NHS, was guilty of multiple abuses and had attacked trade unionists repeatedly. Therefore, the public sector also needs to be covered by legislation.

The Corporate Justice Coalition is calling on MPs to pass a Human Rights in Business Act and asks UNISON members to sign their petition in support Corporate Justice Coalition | Protecting Rights. Ending Corporate Abuse.<>

UNISON Scotland supports this but members attending the fringe meeting pointed out that there were steps that the Scottish Government should take now to ensure that modern slavery and human rights abuses did not take place in any of the services or goods that are procured by public bodies in Scotland, including in social care and the NHS.

Stephen Smellie
Depute Convener