Time For Construction To Step Up To Its Human Rights Responsibilities?


Developments continue apace in human rights responsibilities for businesses. A UN Working Group has published its first draft treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations regarding human rights (the Zero Draft). Those in the construction sector face particular challenges in safeguarding rights to life, health and safety. Large-scale international projects, delivered to tight timescales and using complex, widespread supply chains, exacerbate the risk of human rights violations, worker exploitation and environmental damage. The construction industry is thus, unsurprisingly, subject to ever-increasing scrutiny in this area. This article examines the key proposals of the Zero Draft and considers their practical implications for construction businesses. The Zero Draft would require signatory governments to implement a series of laws aimed at ensuring businesses respect human rights. Of particular significance are the proposals for civil and criminal liability for corporations that commit human rights violations - whether directly or indirectly - and for concrete legal requirements to carry out due diligence as to potential impacts on human rights. The business and human rights landscape

The impact of corporate behaviour on human rights has shot up the global legislative and policy-making agenda in recent years. This is largely thanks to the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the UNGPs), which impose non-binding duties upon businesses to respect human rights through their own actions and to avoid complicity in violations by those in their supply chain. Governments' expectations of corporations in this field are evident from the introduction of legislation imposing binding obligations, such as the UK Modern Slavery Act, France's Due Diligence Law and the Modern Slavery Bill under consideration in Australia.

The construction industry faces particular challenges in this field. Both domestic and international projects involve multiple contracts and complex supply chains. This complexity and the widespread use of sub-contractors makes it difficult to achieve transparency across the entirety of a project's supply chain. The scale of many international infrastructure projects, remote locations and reliance upon migrant and temporary workers create acute risks of human rights violations. For instance, spills from pipelines and infrastructure operated by major energy companies have given rise to claims by affected populations alleging that the operator's negligence caused environmental and human rights violations. Against this backdrop, many supply contracts now include provisions requiring respect for human rights.

Background to the Zero Draft

Negotiations at UN level for a comprehensive, legally binding international treaty are thus receiving significant attention across the business...

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