Under international law, victims of human rights and environmental abuses are entitled to an effective remedy. However, when affected by business-related impacts, victims outside Europe face multiple barriers that prevent them from gaining access to judicial remedy.
Access to Justice
This happens both in victims' home State, where the abuse occurred, and in the European States where multinational enterprises are established. The EU and its Member States have failed to fulfil their duty to ensure human rights protection for those harmed by business activities. Impunity prevails, having a considerable impact on the effective exercise of human rights worldwide.
State of play – EU activity
European companies’ involvement in human rights and environmental violations is not marginal. Corporate activities have major implications for individuals and communities across the world. Between 2005 and 2013, more than half of the companies listed on the UK FTSE 100, French CAC 40 and German DAX 30 stock exchanges indexes were identified in concerns or allegations regarding human rights abuses.
When such violations occur, it is vital that companies are held to account and affected people and communities are able to seek redress. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which articulate the State duty to ensure effective remedies for victims of human rights violations.
However the third pillar on access to remedies has received the least attention and much remains to be done. Research has shown that the existence of legal, procedural and institutional barriers still prevents victims of corporate abuses from gaining access to an effective remedy in home countries.
Improved access to remedy contributes to a culture of respect for human rights and the environment. It leads to better corporate practice. It allows addressing concrete cases and putting an end to widespread impunity that leaves victims powerless. Therefore it is urgent that the EU and its Member States stop avoiding the discussion and take action to overcome the challenges faced by victims in pursuing redress through EU courts. Policy measures should address the following barriers to remedy: financial constraints and restrictive procedural burdens associated with pursuing remedies through the courts; the absence of a clear human rights due diligence standard in civil justice systems, and laws providing for the reversal of the burden of proof and/or establishing common standards for the disclosure of evidence; lack of clarity regarding the application of EU rules on private international law.
Addressing these obstacles within the EU should come with an engagement to actively participate in further normative developments at international level, such as the UN process to develop a legally binding instrument on business and human rights, initiated in the UN Human Rights Council. The UNGPs implementation and the participation in negotiations on a binding instrument on Business and Human Rights are complementary and both are essential pathways to achieving greater protection against business-related human rights violations across the globe.
- Access to judicial remedies
- Collective redress
- Access to evidence
- Brussels I / Rome II regulations
- Duty of Care
- Parent company liability
- UN Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights