In an increasingly global economy, Michael believes businesses have a critical leadership role to play in how corporate practices affect human rights. Michael believes the United States must lead in encouraging responsible business practices at home and abroad.
Too often American companies fail to live up to their obligation to be morally and socially responsible with their business practices abroad. These practices contribute to wider corruption and harms, including regulators turning a blind eye to abusive labor practices, the illegal detention and killings of activists, and other human rights abuses. We should start with the State Department vigorously applying anti-corruption tools like Global Magnitsky sanctions against foreign officials accused of corruption and robust enforcement by the Department of Justice of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to help prevent corruption from facilitating human rights abuses.
Human rights abuses committed by American companies is an issue we’re only beginning to grapple with in policy terms. Existing standards need to be enforced, clearly, but there are gaps we’ve got to fill too. As a most basic step, we could be helping companies understand how to identify and prevent human rights abuses, and their obligation to address breaches.
Like many of our allies, we should explore what it would mean to hold companies legally liable. Right now, companies have little incentive to address human rights abuses. In many, procurement and compliance might not even talk to each other, so priority is given to monetary costs, not human rights.
But there’s even more to the equation. Integrating human rights compliance into a business model is sound strategy. Companies are part of our societal fabric and can make it stronger through good stewardship of labor, the environment, and the populations they impact. Implementing the UN guiding principles on business and human rights would be a good place to start for some.
Finally, I want the average citizen to be able to raise a complaint or seek justice. The U.S. judicial system could be better structured and resourced to remedy human rights violations by American companies. The government should also support non-judicial paths for cases where that is an appropriate remedy or where jurisdiction becomes an issue.
The U.S. should work through international organizations to ensure that communities have the tools necessary to be informed and represented at the table. Additionally, the U.S. can work with developing countries to improve capacity in providing oversight and when necessary, accountability, to businesses who violate human rights or who are predatory to local communities, including the often-at-risk Indigenous populations.
Corporations exercise significant impact on human rights, climate change, ethical technology use and many other issues that affect our lives. The United States must vigorously enforce existing legal requirements such as anti-bribery laws aimed at stopping foreign corrupt governments, regulations designed to safeguard the environment, export controls on surveillance and similar technology tools that can be exploited by countries with bad human rights records, and not ignore Congressional opposition to weapons sales to countries that would use them against civilians. But that is not enough. I have worked to increase the human rights based framework which corporations must respect by addressing gaps in export controls on surveillance tools working to stop US military sales to countries that have caused indiscriminate civilian deaths. In addition to more transparency requirements in U.S. law, we must work with allies on international guidelines and rules to ensure that companies cannot simply flee to other jurisdictions to carry out bad practices.
One of the most significant impediments to ambitious global climate action has been consistent opposition from fossil fuel industries and leaders of nations that prop them up. We must not only hold these companies to account, but also eliminate the unique role that fossil fuel companies play in undermining human rights and harming indigenous populations. That’s why my Global Climate Mobilization will:
Bernie believes that in order to create a government and economy that works for the many, we will have to take on powerful special interests that dominate our economic and political life. That means holding large corporations accountable for human rights violations and for contributing to the long history of systemic racism and exploitation of the poor. We will develop a movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to economic, social, and environmental justice. We will:
I would direct federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute any U.S. persons or corporations who violate human rights. I would also work with our friends and allies through existing international law and organizations to hold corporations accountable for these abuses. Additionally, I would work with our international partners to define environment crimes against humanity, and would make the prosecution of environmental crimes a priority domestically.
U.S. companies should be required by law to identify and prevent human rights abuses – our business, our economy, should never get in the way of our humanity. Companies should be held fully accountable for any violations of human rights or international law, and victims of such abuse should be able to seek fair justice. Whether it’s about wages, age of laborers, safe working conditions, pollution, trafficking, or other issues, no American should play a role in exploiting people abroad. Our standards and regulations must reflect this.
We should do all we can to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; the Shift Project is doing great work on guiding companies through this process. And our government should support NGOs, local community groups, and advocates across the world that are monitoring the companies’ conduct on human rights issues.
All workers deserve a safe workplace. That starts with making it easy to join a union, putting an end to so-called right-to-work laws, and making sure workers have fair and stable hours. It also means implementing rules that limit workers’ exposure to harmful chemicals, ensuring companies maintain adequate records of workplace injuries, and requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations to receive taxpayer funds.
While international trade deals have worked well for elites and multinational companies, they often leave workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. I’ve fought against trade deals negotiated by corporate interests at the expense of consumers and workers, and I’ve supported provisions that strengthen safety, labor rights, public health, and the environment.
I also fought to implement Sections 1502 and 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act. My Corporate Executive Accountability Act ensures that executives whose companies engage in criminal negligence, including human rights violations, can go to jail, and my Accountable Capitalism Act requires companies to consider the interests of the communities in which they operate.
Additionally, I fought against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Moving these pipelines forward pits hard-working Americans against our environment, public health, and the protection of tribal lands.
And finally, we must end the use of private prisons. I’ve worked to hold private prisons accountable for their violation of health and safety standards and abuse of immigrants in their custody – and these prisons have no place in any part of our criminal justice system.
We need to increase the penalties and standards – both civil and criminal – for companies that are involved in human rights abuses. We also need to ensure that there is clear and accessible jurisdiction in these cases, and people with standing to bring the suit when the direct victims are remote.
Companies should, by law, be required to perform due diligence to ensure that their activities abroad aren’t contributing to or benefiting from any human rights abuses. There should be someone at these companies designated as being responsible for this due diligence, answering personally if the company engages negligently in any human rights abuses. And we should provide significant tax incentives for B-corps in order to promote American values within the business community.
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