6 years after Rana Plaza, civil society still waits for corporate accountability rules

Six years after the collapse of a factory building killed over 1000 workers in Bangladesh, civil society continues to demand the adoption of binding rules to ensure respect for human rights in the course of global business operations. Today, 24 of April, civil society in Belgium has urged the government to adopt mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence legislation to prevent more scandals like Rana Plaza and to guarantee access to justice for victims of corporate abuses.

ECCJ has joined about 30 civil society organisations, including environmental NGOs, human rights organisations, and unions, in an open letter sent to the government today. Organisations presented the launch of the campaign at a public event in the commercial centre of Brussels.

The letter stresses that, according to a recent independent study, Belgium is lagging behind its neighbouring countries in enabling a policy framework that makes companies pursue more responsible supply chains.

According to the research, the Belgian National Action Plan (NAP) cannot achieve this purpose. The plan lacks a forward-looking approach and is entirely based on voluntary and incentive-driven measures. Meanwhile, a more recent study shows that the majority of Belgium-based companies fail to take respect for human rights and labour conditions in their supply chains seriously. The study comes to confirm that voluntary measures alone are insufficient to drive a real change in companies’ conduct.

For these reasons, CSOs are urging the government to adopt legislation that requires companies to ensure respect for human rights and the environment throughout their global business operations, including in the activities of their subsidiaries abroad and their suppliers. The law should also hold companies liable when they fail to respect these obligations. People affected by the adverse impacts resulting from the business operations of companies based in Belgium should have access to the Belgian courts, even if the harm occurred in a foreign country.

A growing trend towards due diligence and corporate liability

Calls for legislation requiring companies to ensure respect for human rights throughout their global business operations and guaranteeing access to justice for victims are multiplying around Europe. With their campaign launched today, Belgian civil society joins similar calls in Finland, UK, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, and many other countries.

A European campaign which calls for rights for people and rules for business has also collected more than 550.000 signatures in less than three months. The petition demands the end of corporate privileges under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism (called ISDS) and the adoption of binding rules at national, European and international levels.