In the ten years since its creation, ECCJ has become a pivotal force in the movement towards better corporate accountability in Europe. Over time, ECCJ’s strength remained its ability to bring different voices and experiences together under a common vision. A vision of a sustainable world in which corporations’ drive for profit is balanced by the interest of society at large, and where priority is given to human, social and environmental rights.
To celebrate this important milestone, ECCJ founders, Steering Group (SG) members, and former and current Secretariat staff helped us tell ECCJ’s story, from the first meetings to what’s still waiting ahead:
Back to the beginning: how did ECCJ get started?
Joris Oldenziel (ECCJ founder and former SG member): The MVO Platform (NL) had been working on corporate responsibility and corporate accountability for several years before ECCJ was created. We were collaborating increasingly with national platforms in other countries, especially with CORE (UK) and CorA (DE). And we felt a growing need to coordinate among each others, first of all in terms of sharing practices and strategies, but also in having a common approach to lobbying at European Union (EU) level.
Paul de Clerck (ECCJ founder and SG member): In 2005 I started working at Friends of the Earth Europe in Brussels. One of the first discussions that I got engaged in was the European Commission’s (EC) approach to CSR. At that point, the NGOs involved in the EC’s multi-stakeholder Forum on CSR were disappointed with the process. The EC was basically ignoring civil society’s calls for regulatory actions. We realized we need to start a European network, which would be active in Brussels and work on corporate accountability issues at EU level.
Diversity of voices and strength in numbers: what were ECCJ’s early years like?
Joris Oldenziel: Overall, there was quite a lot of interest to join, so in this sense it was easy to develop the network, surface ideas and start having the first discussions. But, of course, as things progressed, there were a lot of growing issues that needed to be resolved and discussed. For example, I remember we had a lot of discussions about the name. We started with Corporate Accountability Platform Europe (CAPE), but after a lot of meetings and discussions we compromised on ECCJ, because ‘corporate justice’ worked in most languages and was accepted by all members.
Yolaine Delaygues (former ECCJ Network Development and Communications Officer): It’s easy to imagine that such a diverse coalition means members have various views on some issues. ECCJ mixes environmental NGOs with human rights organisations, national platforms, and several other different members. There is a diversity of views and approaches that brings both strength and disagreement. But a compromise was always reached. Having a Secretariat played an important role in that.
Ruth Casals (former ECCJ Coordinator): From the start, there was a lot of motivation from everybody involved. I was personally very motivated. We were creating something new and there were many challenges. ECCJ was a new actor despite being associated with well-known organisations. Being known and respected was a challenge. Explaining to both EU institutions and civil society what we wanted was another one. ECCJ had to build its own personality.
Ten years fighting for better corporate accountability: what were ECCJ’s biggest achievements?
Ruth Casals: In 2006 the EC was talking about voluntary measures as a basis for CSR in Europe. Today we have at least achieved a ‘smart mix’ principle. I believe that ECCJ’s role in this has been pivotal. For example, the coalition was born as a response to the first CSR approach presented by the EC, so the initial tone was critical. We then organised a big event in the EU Parliament (EP), together with MEP Richard Howitt, to put ECCJ and its proposals on the map. It was a multi-stakeholder event with a good presence from the EP, Council and EC. This event marked a before and after our relationship with the institutions. It created dialogue.
Paul de Clerck: I think the EC’s adoption of a ‘smart mix’ approach led to the biggest success for ECCJ so far, which is the Non-Financial Reporting (NFR) Directive - one of ECCJ’s three core issues from the beginning.
Jerome Chaplier (ECCJ Coordinator): The adoption of the NFR Directive in 2014 offers the best illustration of what our coalition can deliver when working together: robust legal proposals developed by members and experts, and shared with EU decision-makers; relentless advocacy through events, meetings, reports; alliances with other groups such as trade unions and investors; and most important, a high degree of coordination as a network, allowing us to speak with one voice around the EU and in Brussels. This is essential for the complex EU decision-making processes. Without a doubt, ECCJ had a crucial role in making this landmark reform happen.
Filip Gregor (ECCJ SG member): ECCJ was instrumental for the corporate accountability movement by being in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. In 2008, the EC was open to shift its thinking due to developments at UN level and the repercussions of the financial crisis. ECCJ was able to present concrete proposals on behalf of European civil society and generate the advocacy pressure that was needed.
Marilyn Croser (ECCJ SG member): We see a growing acceptation of the concept of human rights due diligence (HRDD), acceptation of the idea that there needs to be mandatory HRDD, I don’t think this would have happened without ECCJ. The engagement of EU decision-makers in the business and human rights agenda has really been driven by ECCJ and ECCJ’s collaborations with partner organisations.
Still a long way to go: what are ECCJ’s current challenges and future prospects?
Paul de Clerck: On paper there might still be a ‘smart mix’ commitment from the EC, but in reality I don’t think that exists anymore. ECCJ should focus more on what is happening at national level, especially in France, and build European pressure for a level playing field. We should also look at what is happening outside the EU, like the UN Treaty opportunity: an area where there is a political process, but we need to put pressure on EU governments to start playing a constructive role.
Filip Gregor: A big challenge is that people consider adverse business impacts something natural that can’t be changed. We need a new narrative, explaining that such impacts are not only unacceptable, but have nothing to do with economical prosperity.
Marilyn Croser: Something that remains a challenge for all civil society organisations is the EU Better Regulation agenda, and the power it gives to corporations. I think ECCJ is in a very good place to have a positive impact in this area.
Jerome Chaplier: After make mandatory corporate reporting a priority, it took our coalition seven years to achieve this goal. I believe that ECCJ and its allies are advancing towards the next landmark reform: establishing mandatory HRDD laws that will change the way companies address their risks and impacts, and force business to address the human rights violations in their supply chains. I look forward to celebrating this victory before ECCJ turns 15!