US investors push House of Representatives on forced labour law

House proposal would oblige companies to identify and report risks.

US institutional investors representing over $42bn (€32bn) in assets have written to key figures at the House of Representatives calling on them to back a quick vote on legislation that could force the country’s largest companies to identify forced and child labour, slavery and human trafficking problems in their business supply chains and publish remedial steps.
The investor letter on behalf of 80 named faith-related asset owners and SRI asset managers to John Boehner, House Speaker, and Eric Cantor, Majority Leader, was written by The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and the US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF). It calls on the House’s Financial Services Committee to place proposal HR 2759 at the top of its voting agenda. If passed, HR 2759 requires companies with a minimum $100m in annual worldwide revenues to disclose in their annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission measures to identify and address human rights labour risks and provide material information to shareholders about any investment risk. The letter said: “The signatories believe this innovative and forward-looking bill reflects the realities of the marketplace, which increasingly requires that companies be sensitive tosocial and ethical issues, including human rights, in their operations and global supply chains, and create human rights policies, as well as due diligence processes to evaluate, monitor, and strengthen these policies.”
The investors said the UN Framework for Business and Human Rights endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 had established a “global norm” for corporations to respect human rights and reporting on progress. It said the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 (SB 657), which from the start of this year requires major retail and manufacturers doing business in California to disclose steps to avoid slavery and trafficking in their supply chains, had also underlined its importance for companies and their shareholders.
The investor letter comes at a sensitive time for US companies on the issue of human rights after US computer giant Apple was accused in a lengthy article in the New York Times of sub-contracting to workers operating in harsh conditions through its relationship with Foxconn, the Chinese IT components company. The allegations followed Apple’s own publication of labour and safety incidents at supplier companies worldwide, which has led to calls for the company to be boycotted.