The importance of human rights due diligence for businesses: International Criminal Court asked to investigate allegations of land grabbing in Cambodia

On 7 October 2014 a communication was filed with the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) asking the Prosecutor to investigate the alleged commission of crimes against humanity pursuant to a State policy of systematic and widespread ‘land grabbing’ in Cambodia (the “Communication”). The Communication argues that the alleged policy of land grabbing involved crimes of forcible transfer, murder, illegal imprisonment, other inhumane acts and persecution.

The Communication follows recent complaints brought against companies for alleged involvement in illegal land grabs in Cambodia, including via litigation in the English courts and the National Contact Point mechanism established in connection with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. This trend highlights the importance for businesses to conduct thorough due diligence to identify the risk of being involved in or linked to human rights abuses or national or international crimes when investing in or working with suppliers in emerging markets and high risk countries.

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Recent developments in US legislation on modern slavery

The recent introduction of the Federal Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Bill (H.R. 4842) on 11 June 2014 (the “Bill”) is the U.S. government’s latest initiative in developing its approach towards human rights protections in business. The Bill builds on the California Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act, which came into force in January 2012 and only applies to retailers and manufacturers doing business in California. Under the Bill, all companies with worldwide annual gross receipts exceeding $100 million, and which are currently required to file annual reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, are to disclose what measures, if any, they have taken to identify and address conditions of forced labour, slavery, human trafficking and the worst forms of child labour[1] within their supply chains,[2] whether within the US or abroad. These reporting obligations are designed to encourage the adoption of internal policies and processes by exposing businesses to scrutiny. They also incentivise businesses by empowering consumer groups with greater information on companies’ human rights behaviour. In addition to complementing existing US legislation prohibiting human trafficking and forced labour in relation to federal procurement contracts, the Bill is consistent with other initiatives around the world to curb forced labour.

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