icon_arrow_1_down icon_arrow_1_left icon_arrow_1_right icon_arrow_1_up icon_arrow_2_down icon_arrow_2_left icon_arrow_2_right icon_arrow_2_up icon_facebook icon_linkedin icon_mail icon_mail_hover icon_partners icon_play icon_priority_1 icon_priority_2 icon_priority_3 icon_priority_4 icon_search_hover icon_search_normal icon_tick icon_twitter

Business & Human Rights

The amount of power and influence corporations exercise, in and outside of Europe, is not yet balanced by a robust framework outlining rules to make business accountable for how it affects human rights and the environment.

Cases of serious corporate-related environmental and human rights abuses make the news regularly. From the sourcing of conflict minerals , to banks financing megaprojects causing irreparable damage to indigenous communities, to the use of slave labour in the production of food sold in leading EU supermarkets - no sector is excluded from the corporate list of shame.
States have a duty to protect against business-related HR abuses. However civil society, academics, legal experts and international organisations have long highlighted significant gaps in the current legal framework, which contribute to corporations being able to act with impunity. Companies’ ability to evade responsibility is greater when they operate in developing countries where the legal system is frail or corrupt, and victims have little chance to access justice. Addressing these gaps at national, European and international levels must be a priority for the European Union and its Member States.

State of play

In 2011, the European Union (EU) and its Member States pledged full support to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The UNGPs build on international human rights law and articulate both the States’ duty to protect human rights and ensure effective remedy for victims of violations, as well as the companies’ duty to respect human rights. At the time, it was hoped that this would mark the beginning of an ambitious EU agenda on business and human rights, which would address the many challenges faced by those negatively affected by the activity of EU companies.

Over the past years the EU has made repeated commitments to make business and human rights issue part of its political agenda. The 2011 European Commission (EC) Communication on Corporate Social Responsibility (currently under revision) represented a relevant step forward in this sense. It defined Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society, identifying human rights as an issue that needs to be addressed by enterprises in order to meet that responsibility. With this definition, the EC moved away from the voluntary-only aspect of prior communications to a “smart-mix” of voluntary and regulatory measures.

In October 2011, the European Union became the first region worldwide to call on its governments to develop specific National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement the UNGPs, and committed to also developing an EU Strategy in this sense. Seven European countries have published a NAP so far, and several others have on-going drafting processes. The Member States who published NAPs are (in order of publication): UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden. The European Commission has not yet published the EU Strategy, promised in 2011. The 2015 “Trade for all” EC Communication emphasized the need to reinforce corporate responsibility and due diligence, including through legislative measures, with a special focus on the respect of human rights and the environment, throughout company value chains.

The EU Council’s EU Action Plan on Human Rights Democracy 2015-2019, has called for strengthening the business and human rights agenda and thorough UNGPs implementation by the EU and Member States.The Council of Europe has also released a set of recommendations on business and human rights, for its members to better fulfil States’ international human rights obligations, including through more effective implementation of theUNGPs.

But despite these encouraging developments, implementation remains weak and the main EU focus still remains on a voluntary approach to corporate responsibility. Several NAPs have been released, and several others being developed, but all the plans lack teeth. They do not sufficiently explore regulatory options to ensure adequate human rights protections or access to remedy.

We still do not have an EU Strategy on business and human rights, as the EC has thus far only published a state of play document:  a technical and descriptive document, which, despite being a useful contribution to the policy debate, lacks a clear identification of policy priorities. At both EU and Member State level, a lack of top level political will can be observed and serious challenges reside in ensuring decision-makers demonstrate leadership in the matter of business and human rights. The EU and MS are hiding behind each other, blaming inaction on the division on competences, continuing to prefer a business-driven, non-prescriptive approach to corporate responsibility, which brings the fight against impunity to a stalemate.

The area of business and human rights touches on several policy areas: trade and investment, justice, company law, development, corporate governance, procurement, external policy, internal market. Therefore, adopting a holistic approach, together with policy coherence and mainstreaming are two key issues.  

While both domestic and European reforms are needed, it is crucial that the EU and Member States also engage in good faith in global normative processes related to business and human rights. In particular, governments should participate in the UN Inter-Governmental Working Group developing a legally binding instrument on business and human rights, and support its efforts to bridge gaps in the global protection of human rights.

UNGPs implementation and participation in negotiations on a binding instrument on business and human rights should be regarded as complementary as both are essential pathways to achieving greater protection against business-related human rights abuses across the globe. It is high time the EU and its Member States fully acknowledge the severity of the problem and the urgent need to make tangible changes in policies and legislations in this regard, in particular areas concerning human rights and environmental protection from corporate abuse, access to justice and remedy for victims, embedding human rights due diligence in law, improving corporate transparency, enhancing the global legal framework and ensuring policy coherence, and developing robust EU and Member States Action Plans on business and human rights

Show more

Key issues

    • UNGPs implementation
    • Corporate accountability
    • National Action Plans
    • Corporate responsibility to respect human rights
    • UN Treaty
    • Corporate Social Responsibility

Latest articles

News / Jun 30, 2017

Getting Non-Financial Reporting Right: EU Commission Guidelines Clarify Expectations Towards Business

News / May 2, 2017

Video explains how non-financial reporting can improve corporate accountability

News / Apr 11, 2017

EU Fundamental Rights Agency publishes Opinion on access to remedy

News / Mar 24, 2017

Last hurdle overcome for landmark legislation: French Corporate duty of vigilance law gets green light from Constitutional Council

News / Mar 14, 2017

Joint statement in support of the French corporate duty of vigilance law

News / Mar 8, 2017

International Women's Day 2017: Time for atonement, not celebration

News / Mar 7, 2017

Human Rights & Business EU Parliament Event: Highlights and live-stream recording

Publication / Feb 23, 2017

French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law: FAQ

News / Feb 23, 2017

French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law: FAQ

News / Feb 21, 2017

France adopts corporate duty of vigilance law

News / Jan 11, 2017

Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the US release Business and Human Rights National Action Plans

News / Dec 15, 2016

Update: European and US National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights

News / Nov 23, 2016

EU Action Plan on SDGs overlooks human rights risks of corporate activity

Publication / Nov 17, 2016

Fragile! Handle with Care: Multinationals and Conflict

News / Nov 17, 2016

Chemical Challenge Gap Analysis: Electronics industry

News / Nov 16, 2016

The People of Ecuador versus Chevron: Sherpa asks ICC to implement jurisdiction extension

News / Nov 15, 2016

French company Lafarge sued for financing ISIS

News / Nov 2, 2016

UN Treaty Talks Day 5: Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated

News / Oct 28, 2016

UN Treaty Talks Day 3 and 4: From business as usual to enhanced corporate responsibility for human rights

News / Oct 26, 2016

One step closer to the sender: Container with dirty air has arrived in Antwerp

Publication / Oct 26, 2016

Making sense of CETA

News / Oct 25, 2016

UN Treaty talks Day 1: The EU is in the room, but is that enough?

News / Oct 25, 2016

European Parliament votes for stronger corporate accountability

News / Oct 24, 2016

Corporate accountability: Is the EU ready to listen?

News / Oct 24, 2016

#StopCorporateAbuse: Why we need rights for people and rules for business

News / Oct 24, 2016

Maersk maintains beaching mantra and chooses to ignore facts revealed by Danwatch

Media / Oct 21, 2016

Corporate accountability: Is the EU ready to listen?

News / Oct 17, 2016

Investigative journalists catch Maersk red-handed in Alang

News / Oct 13, 2016

Devoir de vigilance des multinationales : majoritairement opposé au texte

News / Oct 12, 2016

Access to justice for victims of corporate abuse: Extraterritorial jurisdiction in civil litigation

News / Oct 10, 2016

Swiss quality must include the protection of human rights and the environment

News / Oct 5, 2016

Rights for people, Rules for business! Sign the petition!

Publication / Oct 3, 2016

Legal Seminar Report – UN Treaty

News / Sep 16, 2016

New paper published on the efforts behind a UN Treaty on business and human rights

News / Sep 16, 2016

Contribution to the Italian Action Plan on Business and Human Rights

News / Sep 15, 2016

Swiss Commodity Traders Flood Africa with Toxic Fuel

Publication / Sep 15, 2016

Dirty Diesel: How Swiss Traders Flood Africa with Toxic Fuels

News / Aug 19, 2016

Côte d’Ivoire: Trafigura unrepentant 10 years after toxic waste dump

News / Aug 4, 2016

Draft available for Italian National Action Plan for UNGPs' implementation

News / Jul 27, 2016

Creating Sustainable Companies Summit - September 2016

News / Jul 19, 2016

Reminder: do not mix private money and public goals

News / Jul 18, 2016

Tribune de Geneve: the Swiss want more corporate accountability (FR)

News / Jul 18, 2016

Uruguay scores major international win against big tobacco

News / Jul 15, 2016

Europe needs a Strong Safety Net

News / Jul 7, 2016

ECCJ 2016 AGM: what’s next for the corporate accountability movement?

News / Jul 1, 2016

ECCJ Anniversary Corporate Accountability Forum

News / Jun 16, 2016

Business & Human Rights: The world is still waiting for action

Media / Jun 16, 2016

Business and human rights: The world is still waiting for action

News / Jun 10, 2016

Time for action: 5 Years of UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights

Media / Apr 28, 2016

Three years after Rana Plaza progress remains modest

News / Apr 27, 2016

Time to address challenges to human rights protection

News / Mar 11, 2016

New Council of Europe Recommendation on Human Rights and Business

News / Mar 3, 2016

Duty of care of transnational corporations: waiting no longer acceptable

News / Dec 18, 2015

Sherpa takes Samsung to court

News / Nov 23, 2015

French Senate rejects duty of care law: a vote in favour of maintaining corporate impunity

News / Nov 20, 2015

ECCJ meets with EU Parliament Greens Group

News / Nov 17, 2015

The Better Regulation Agenda and what it means for Corporate Accountability

News / Nov 13, 2015

GUE/NGL EU Parliament Event on UN Treaty on Business & Human Rights

News / Nov 12, 2015

New assessment of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights

News / Oct 23, 2015

Sherpa launches petition for official investigation into Auchan’s role at Rana Plaza

News / Oct 19, 2015

Swiss National Contact Point Accepts BWI Complaint against FIFA

News / Oct 1, 2015

Who will benefit from the Capital Markets Union?

News / Sep 25, 2015

Event Summary: Towards a legally binding instrument on Business & Human Rights

News / Sep 24, 2015

Bangladesh: Government inspectors continue to enjoy immunity

News / Sep 3, 2015

UN binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights: ECCJ report

News / Aug 10, 2015

Cambodia: 60,000 new victims of government land grabbing

News / Jul 17, 2015

Make Fruit Fair petition launched to stop unfair trading practices

News / Jul 8, 2015

UN Treaty on Business & Human Rights negotiations Day 2

News / Jul 7, 2015

UN Treaty on Business & Human Rights negotiations Day 1

News / Jul 3, 2015

Business and Human Rights: Coherent action needed at national, regional and international level

News / Jun 30, 2015

Liberia: ‘Back in business’ after Ebola outbreak?

News / Jun 17, 2015

Due diligence at the heart of ECCJ General Assembly 2015

News / Jun 17, 2015

How do we get the EU to back global binding rules for business and human rights?

News / Jun 15, 2015

Company Responses to Human Rights Reports: An Empirical Analysis

News / Jun 15, 2015

The Potential of National Action Plans to Implement Human Rights Norms

News / Jun 3, 2015

Dutch and German development banks failed to comply with environmental and human rights standards in Panama

News / May 21, 2015

Water contamination near Glencore copper mine in Peru:

News / May 18, 2015

Civil society groups form ‘Better Regulation’ Watchdog

News / May 7, 2015

Making Financing for Development more Accountable

News / Mar 19, 2015

Recommendations for the EU Garment Flagship Initiative

News / Mar 5, 2015

European Forum on CSR: Old feuds are haunting the European Corporate Social Responsibility debate and stifling progress

News / Mar 3, 2015

Environmental Justice Atlas available

News / Feb 27, 2015

NGO mobilisation ahead of negotiations on corporate accountability treaty

News / Feb 13, 2015

Loi sur le devoir de vigilance des multinationales

News / Feb 11, 2015

MEP Richard Howitt opening speech at EC 2015 CSR Forum

News / Feb 9, 2015

ECCJ encourage l’Assemblée Nationale française à adopter la loi sur le devoir de vigilance de entreprises

News / Feb 9, 2015

ECCJ calls the French Parliament to adopt law on parent company duty of vigilance

News / Feb 2, 2015

Putting the rights of people at the heart of the new EU strategy on CSR

News / Jan 27, 2015

European PR firms whitewashing brutal regimes - report

News / Jan 20, 2015

Over sixty per cent of EU lobbyists represent corporate interests

News / Jan 12, 2015

EU governments’ fixation with private sector could compromise commitment to people in poverty

News / Dec 16, 2014

Review of the European Corporate Social Responsibility strategy (update)

News / Dec 16, 2014

Forum on Business and Human Rights: time for the EU to walk the talk

News / Dec 10, 2014

Dirty profits: How companies gain billions at the expense of people and the environment

News / Dec 9, 2014

Conflict Minerals Campaign Updates: Stop the EU from supporting a deadly trade

Publication / May 16, 2013

Assessment of the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive

Publication / Dec 3, 2012

How to use the UNGPs in company research and advocacy

Publication / Nov 30, 2012

Human Rights Due Diligence: The Role of States
Load more

Contact us

ECCJ Secretariat
Rue d’Edimbourg 26
1050 Brussels - Belgium


Telephone number: +32 (0) 2 893 10 26