Bill launched today to change big business behaviour

 A broad coalition of human rights, environment and development agencies are launching a private members Bill today, to demand greater social and environmental accountability from business. The bill is being tabled by Linda Perham, MP, and is backed by Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, the New Economics Foundation, Save the Children and CAFOD. The legislation has been drafted as a response to the failure of the voluntary approach to corporate responsibility, the approach advocated by most business lobby groups and the government. In October 2000 Tony Blair challenged the UK's top 350 companies to produce social and environmental reports by the end of 2001. However, according to the government's own figures, three quarters have ignored Blair's challenge. Even those who do report on these issues have, in many cases, disregarded the key social and environmental issues that will have an impact on sustainable development. Opinion polls suggest that the public has also turned against the voluntary approach. A recent MORI poll found that 92% of the British public believe "multinational companies should meet the highest human health, animal welfare and environmental standards wherever they are operating". The same poll also found that between 87% and 92% of people think governments should protect the environment, employment conditions and health - even when it conflicts with the interests of multinationals . The Corporate Responsibility Bill would: Make social, financial and environmental reporting (the so-called 'triple bottom line') mandatory; require companies to consult on big projects; place specific duties and liabilities on directors and companies, with respect to social, financial and environmental issues; provide remedies and rights of redress for people negatively impacted by business activities; and establish a new regulatory body to oversee environmental and social standards. The Bill is expected to gain widespread cross-party backing from MPs, 150 of which have already signed an Early Day Motion in support of the principles outlined in the Bill. The government is expected to table a new Company Law Bill some time in the next two years, and the CORE coalition are urging the government to adopt proposals from MP Linda Perham's Bill within UK Company Law. Further pressure on the government is likely to come from the European Parliament which last week voted in favour of producing European-wide legislation for social and environmental reporting. Julian Filochowski, director of CAFOD said: "New laws can help ensure that every company operates in ways that make life better for their workers and customers, and protect the environment in which they operate. The best companies already do this - but many companies are held back because they fear the laggards who just do not care will undercut them. By setting a level playing field for all, a new law would mean all companies had to act responsibly."

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