Human rights issues have featured prominently on the UK policy agenda, as detailed in previous blog posts.  We present a round-up of recent policy developments here.

On May 18 the Queen of England delivered her speech at the State Opening of Parliament, outlining the Government’s program of legislation and policies for the coming parliamentary year.  The speech included a proposed Bill of Rights that would reform and modernize the UK’s human rights framework. 

The bill was presented as a political reaction to discontent domestically with the UK’s Human Rights Act 1988 (HRA) and the European Convention on Human Rights (‎ECHR).  The HRA codifies the ECHR, which is the chief source of internationally recognized, legally enforceable human rights protection standards among the Council of Europe’s 47 member states, into domestic UK law and sets out human rights in a series of articles commonly referred to as “the Convention Rights.”  These are civil and political rights (“classic” human rights such as right to life, freedom from torture, freedom of expression, privacy, and the right to property). 

It is unclear whether the proposed bill would raise or lower the standard of human rights protection in the UK—and whether horizontal obligations would be imposed on business.  In regard to the latter, the UK government has taken a lead in global business and human rights matters, having been one of the first countries to deploy a business and human rights action plan back in 2013.  The plan established a road map for implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and articulated the government’s expectations of business to ensure that they respect human rights wherever they operate.

Finally, we have opined at length on the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA), which requires commercial organizations over a certain size to disclose what actions, if any, they had taken to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their businesses and supply chains.  On 23 May, a private members’ bill was introduced to parliament proposing changes to the MSA which, if adopted, would extend the MSA regime significantly by:

  1. adding public bodies into the list of organizations that must produce a slavery and human trafficking statement;
  2. requiring the statement to be included in the entity’s annual report;  
  3. requiring public contracting authorities to exclude organisations that have failed to produce a report; and
  4. requiring the Secretary of State to publish a list of organisations that are required to publish a statement.

We note that this is a private bill which has not been introduced by the government, meaning that there is no certainty it will become law.