The protection of human rights from corporate abuse is one of today’s most complex and pivotal challenges. The EU took an important step in this regard when it endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in 2011. More than six years later, the implementation of the Principles is nevertheless far from satisfactory.
The adoption of measures to identify and prevent adverse human rights impacts in the context of global corporate structures and supply chains remains highly insufficient. While thirteen EU Member States have adopted National Action Plans (NAPs) so far, they are overly vague, and generally neglect the issue of Access to Justice altogether. The failure by Member States and the EU to adequately address the implementation of the UNGP’s Third Pillar has alarming consequences for victims of human rights abuses resulting from the behaviour of European companies.
Whist the current state of affairs presents pressing gaps, there are also important opportunities lying ahead. ECCJ has identified the most promising ones, and has taken the opportunity to address concrete recommendations to the EU institutions. Last 20 November, ECCJ published an Open Letter addressed to Commissioner of Justice Věra Jourová regarding these matters. ECCJ’s coordinator Jerome Chaplier was also invited to speak at a Public Hearing on Corporate Social Responsibility held by the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament the day after. In both occasions ECCJ highlighted that Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) legislation and judicial collective redress currently represent the most relevant avenues to improve human rights protection and access to justice in the context of business operations.
- Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD): HRDD is a well-acknowledged tool providing a blueprint and incentives for business to respect human rights across their operations and supply chains. It provides a basis for translating the corporate responsibility to respect human rights into a legal obligation, under civil/tort law, to adhere to a standard of reasonable care when performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others (also known as duty of care). HRDD legislation would extend the scope of this duty of care to a company's subsidiaries and business partners. Current developments taking place at State level (such as in France, the Netherlands or Switzerland) show that there is a clear momentum for this development. The time is ripe for the EU to adopt binding legislation that would level the playing field for all companies operating in different EU States.
- Collective Redress: Very frequently, victims of companies’ adverse impacts face great power imbalance when they try to seek judicial remedy. Collective redress - or class action - is a procedural tool allowing a group of persons harmed by the same illegal practices to request cessation of that practice and/or obtain compensation. This mechanism can make an essential difference in terms of access to legal remedies when a company’s misconduct affects many different people in a similar way, as it allows the powerlessness of individual claimants to be counter-balanced by allowing them to divide the financial risks and costs, and bring resources together. The EU should facilitate access to justice through harmonizing rules on collective redress across Member States, and make this mechanism available for all victims of mass harm situations whose rights, as protected by EU treaties, have been affected.
Read the Full Open Letter sent to Commissioner Vera Jourová and her cabinet.
Read the Full intervention by ECCJ coordinator Jerome Chaplier at the Public Hearing on Corporate Social Responsibility.