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Stronger laws needed 'to protect workers from exploitation at home and abroad'

British companies should have legal duties imposed on them to ensure that overseas workers in their supply chains are not having their human rights abused, a Parliamentary report has urged.

A probe by the Joi nt Committee on Human Rights said stronger laws need to be introduced to protect employees from exploitation both at home and abroad.

The committee said a criminal offence of failing to prevent human rights abuses should be brought-in similar to legislation regarding turning a blind eye to bribery.

UK-based parent companies should face prosecution if human rights abuses occur in their supply chains abroad, the study demanded.

Citing evidence of abuse of workers in Britain in areas like failing to pay the minimum wage, the committee said the Government must ensure all EU human rights protections are incorporated into UK law after Brexit.

Protections provided by the Gangmasters And Labour Abuse Authority need to be extended to other other industries, such as construction, according to the probe.

The committee also called for local authorities to be given new powers to close down business premises where workers have been exploited through underpayment, lack of contracts, or poor health and safety standards.

Chairwoman of the committee Harriet Harman said: "No one wants to be wearing clothes made by child labour, or slave labour. UK companies need to have high standards abroad as well as here at home and they must ensure that there are not human rights abuses in their supply chain.

"More can be done by the UK Government to ensure that human rights are respected by UK companies in their operations outside the UK. The Government must toughen up the law with a new legal duty on businesses to respect human rights when they are operating abroad. Victims of human rights abuses must have access to the courts. And the Government should ensure that when it buys on our behalf it doesn't do so from suppliers who are abusing human rights.

"All too often, cases were brought to our attention where people were making the products we use every day in conditions that are simply not acceptable. In the UK, this can mean pay below the minimum wage and dangerous working conditions; in other countries it can mean virtual slavery and long-term damage to the natural environment."

The committee also called for tribunal fees to be reduced.

Ms Harman said: "The Government must further enable victims to seek justice. Excessive charges for access to a tribunal is an often insurmountable barrier. We are talking about exploited workers entering a complex system for the first time. They need support, not charges that they cannot afford to pay."

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