Our Priorities

We advocate for European laws that guarantee corporate accountability and transparency, and ensure justice for victims of corporate malpractice.

The profit-seeking activities of companies have routine adverse impacts on human rights and the environment around the world. Serious breaches of international labour standards result in forced and child labour, or factory fires and collapses; whereas environmental disregard leads to toxic dumping, poisoned rivers and land-grabbing from indigenous custodians.

The right to an effective remedy is an internationally-recognised human right, enshrined in various international and regional human rights instruments. However, for people affected by corporate abuse, the right to effective remedy is often left unrealised.

© Shutterstock / Sk Hasan Ali

The judicial barriers to obtaining an effective remedy for corporate abuse are well-documented, including by European Union agencies. They result in people, typically already some of the world’s most vulnerable – such as migrant workers, indigenous communities and children – left not only harmed, but unable to cover the costs associated with their legal cases.

In ‘host’ countries where corporate abuse often occurs, victims face barriers associated with weak rule of law and corruption. The inability to enforce court decisions is equally significant – even when justice is served, the problem is that there is no way of enforcing it where corporate culprits have their assets. 

When attempting to bring cases against EU-domiciled companies before EU ‘home’ courts for harms committed abroad, victims also face unique procedural and substantive barriers, which are often insurmountable.

This access to remedy deficit is internationally recognised under the Third Pillar of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Rights (UNGPs). Under this authoritative framework, the EU and its member states have an obligation to improve access to judicial remedy for victims of corporate abuse.

State of play in the EU

European companies’ involvement in human rights and environmental violations is not marginal. Whereas a 2018 European Commission study showed just one in three EU companies were performing any means of human rights due diligence, German government monitoring puts the figure even lower. 

ECCJ-commissioned studies show that 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 were identified in concerns or allegations of human rights abuses. 

A European Parliament study reveals that of 20 claims for redress against EU companies brought by foreign plaintiffs for harm committed abroad, just two have resulted in a positive judicial outcome.

Despite this, access to remedies has received little attention and much remains for the EU to fulfil its obligations.

© Shutterstock / Rodrigo S Coelho

What is needed

Improved access to remedy contributes to a culture of respect for human rights and the environment and leads to better corporate practice. It allows addressing concrete cases and putting an end to widespread impunity that leaves people powerless. 

The EU and its Member States must urgently start taking action to overcome the challenges faced by people in pursuing redress in EU courts. 

To overcome barriers to judicial remedy, the following measures should be taken:

  • the introduction of civil liability for harm throughout the corporate global value chain;
  • the reversal of the burden of proof for elements requiring evidence in the possession of the company and/or favourable evidentiary presumptions;
  • the revision of EU rules on private international law as they apply to business and human rights cases;
  • the availability of collective redress measures for all victims of corporate abuse.

This should come with a commitment to actively participate in the UN process to develop a legally binding instrument on business and human rights, initiated through the UN Human Rights Council.