Written statement to Parliament

UK Chairmanship of the Voluntary Principles

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds has updated parliament on the UK Chairmanship of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds:

Tomorrow the UK takes on the Chairmanship of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for one year. The Voluntary Principles provide guidance to extractive companies, operating in fragile and conflict affected areas, on effective risk management and on mitigating the risk that the security around their operations might contribute to human rights abuses or exacerbate conflict.

The Voluntary Principles support our conflict prevention objectives, in line with the Government’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy, and help us to meet our commitment to supporting UK extractive companies do business overseas in complex and fragile environments. The Voluntary Principles also fall within the UK’s Business and Human Rights Action Plan, as one way of helping companies to abide by their responsibility to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The Voluntary Principles initiative consists of eight governments, 23 extractive companies and nine civil society organisations. It provides a space for discussion of security and human rights challenges in the extractive sector, and is a useful mechanism for sharing best practice and learning lessons.

We have three priorities for our Chairmanship. Firstly, we want to expand government membership, particularly governments of fragile and conflict affected countries, where it can be difficult for UK extractive companies to do business. The more governments that join the Voluntary Principles, the easier it is for UK companies, operating in complex environments, to manage their human rights impact, which in turn reduces the risk of violence and conflict. We will encourage greater government membership through lobbying at Ministerial and official level, and supporting roundtables, workshops and other events to promote the Voluntary Principles and raise awareness of the initiative.

Secondly, we will work to strengthen corporate implementation of the Voluntary Principles. We will seek to more effectively engage local communities on the Voluntary Principles, to ensure that their voices are heard on the issues which directly affect them. We will also support project work to strengthen implementation of the Voluntary Principles on the ground, for example human rights training for public security, and capacity building for both civil society and governments to enable them to engage more effectively in Voluntary Principles dialogue with other stakeholders.

Thirdly we want to strengthen the accountability and transparency of the initiative, to bring the Voluntary Principles more into line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This will include efforts to encourage greater public reporting on implementation, and support for peer review initiatives to learn lessons and improve processes.

We will work closely with other Voluntary Principles participants, and through our network of overseas missions, to deliver these objectives. Our Chairmanship is an important opportunity for us to play a leading role in strengthening the initiative to ensure it remains a credible and effective mechanism for managing security and human rights risks in the extractive sector.

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Published 27 March 2014