The United Kingdom (UK) Criminal Finances Act (CFA) will enter into force on September 30, 2017, enhancing the ability of law enforcement officers to freeze and seize assets alleged to be connected to gross human rights abuses. All companies that have a presence in the UK (even if headquartered abroad) must comply with the legislation. This Act therefore has significant implications for companies and individuals doing business both inside and outside the UK, especially in areas where human rights violations are common.
Beyond Modern Slavery
To date, much of the UK government’s ability to address human rights abuses in supply chains has centered around the UK Modern Slavery Act. The Criminal Finances Act goes much further than modern slavery to include “gross human rights abuses or violations.”
Assent’s Human Rights Solution facilitates compliance with a variety of human rights regulations. Learn about the solution here.
“Gross human rights abuses” are defined under the UK Criminal Finances Act as (i) prohibited conduct against a protected person (including whistle blowers and human rights defenders, for example), (ii) for prohibited motivations and (iii) involving public officials performing official duties. Prohibited conduct includes the use of cruel, degrading or inhuman acts such as forced labor and human trafficking, among other practices. Companies found to be using these practices in their supply chain could be at risk of enforcement action.
At first glance, the language in the Act appears to focus on safeguarding public officials and protected persons, such as human rights journalists and whistle blowers. However, it also captures activities that are connected to gross human rights abuses. This means conduct seen to be “directing or sponsoring, profiting from, materially assisting, or acting as an agent in connection with the commission of gross human rights abuses.”
For example, companies in the UK selling rings containing conflict diamonds may be seen as profiting from gross human rights abuses through the sale of the ring. Additionally, companies purchasing agricultural goods from producers who have violently seized land and abused local populations may be viewed as materially assisting in gross human rights abuses.
Understanding & Avoiding Enforcement Under the CFA
It is important to note that when a company is accused of being connected to gross human rights abuses, CFA enforcement authorities will make no exemptions or concessions in relation to “reasonable preventative measures” taken by the company as a form of defense before the law.
The CFA serves as a warning to every entity with assets in the UK that those assets are vulnerable to seizure if they are found to be the direct or indirect product of gross human rights abuses. Even if a targeted company eventually avoids seizure, their assets may still have been frozen during the proceedings, creating possible operational, financial, legal and reputational setbacks.
Carrying out Effective Due Diligence
Looking forward, companies should introduce a due diligence program designed to identify human rights violations and work to minimize risk throughout the entire supply chain.
Assent Compliance can support companies in their human rights due diligence efforts through the use of our human trafficking and slavery solution (part of our Human Rights Solution). By automating supply chain surveying and data collection to facilitate compliance with regulations such as the CFA and the UK Modern Slavery Act, Assent gives companies the supply chain information they need to inform strong human rights risk mitigation activities in their business activities.