Overwhelming public support for EU law to hold companies liable for human rights violations and environmental harms
October 13th, 2021
by AK Europa, European Coalition for Corporate Justice, Friends of the Earth Europe, Global Witness, and SumOfUs

Brussels, October 13 – Over 80 percent of citizens from across multiple EU countries want strong laws to hold companies liable for overseas human rights and environmental violations. People affected by such corporate driven abuses must be allowed to take the companies responsible to court in Europe, according to a YouGov poll released today.

The results – from nine EU countries including Spain, Germany and Slovenia – come ahead of the European Commission’s expected announcement of a new human rights and environmental due diligence law, which would apply to the value chains of all companies that operate in the EU.

The survey found that:

  • 87% of citizens agreed that companies should be legally obliged to not get involved in human rights violations – such as forced labour or land grabbing
  • 86% agreed that companies should be legally obliged not to contribute to environmental harms – such as air pollution or destruction of biodiversity – outside the EU
  • 86% agreed that when companies do cause or contribute to human rights violations and environmental crimes around the world, they should be legally liable
  • When told examples of environmental and human rights abuses outside the EU, 84% agreed that victims should be allowed to take the companies responsible to court in the country in which they are based
  • There was consistently high support from across the 9 EU countries polled – from the Czech Republic and Slovenia, to Spain and the Netherlands

Claudia Saller, director of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice said: “The fact that more than four out of five Europeans in the 9 countries polled see the need to hold companies accountable for trampling on human rights and destroying the environment should be a wake up call for Europe’s decision-makers. It is crucial that the European Commission and national governments establish ambitious laws that live up to those expectations. Citizens want to see justice.”

Jill McArdle, corporate accountability campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Citizens have spoken: they clearly believe that ending corporate impunity and improving access to courts for victims of corporate abuses must be a priority for the EU. This sends a clear signal to governments and European Institutions not to cave in to business lobbies who are lurking to weaken proposed new laws and escape their legal responsibilities.”

Richard Gardiner, senior corporate accountability campaigner at Global Witness, said “There’s no time to wait. As the climate crisis worsens, 2020 was the deadliest year on record for human and environmental rights defenders, with 220 people murdered for standing up to corporate power. The world is crying out for big corporations to finally be held accountable, instead of continuing to clear land for logging and mining and the graves of those who stand in their way.”

The European Commission is expected to announce a draft law on ‘Sustainable Corporate Governance’ in the final quarter of 2021. [2] In a petition earlier this year, half a million citizens and over 200 organisations called on the EU for this law to have teeth [3] while business organisations are lobbying fiercely against it [4]. 

Civil society organisations are calling on the Commission to make sure the law ensures that:

  • Companies are held civilly, administratively, and criminally liable for human rights violations and environmental harms resulting from the activities of their subsidiaries and other companies in their value chains
  • Victims of corporate human rights violations and environmental harms in third countries have better access to justice in the EU [5]
  • Companies’ obligation to respect the climate and the environment is integrated alongside respect for human rights [6]

Director: Claudia Saller, claudia.saller@corporatejustice.org

Communications Officer: Iva Petkovic, iva.petkovic@corporatejustice.org

For breaking news and comment on EU affairs: https://twitter.com/ECCJcorpjust


[1] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 16906 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th – 29th September 2021. The survey was carried out online in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain. The figures have been weighted and are representative of adults (aged 18+).

A full breakdown of the questions, answers and responses is available here: https://bit.ly/pollBizHR

Free-to-use infographics from YouGov are available here: https://bit.ly/pollBizHR

[2] European Commission: Sustainable Corporate Governance roadmap: https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12548-Sustainable-corporate-governance

[3] https://friendsoftheearth.eu/press-release/hold-business-accountable 

[4] See report “Off the hook”: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/publication/how-business-lobbies-against-liability-for-human-rights-and-environmental-abuses/ 

[5] See report “Suing Goliath”: https://corporatejustice.org/publications/suing-goliath

[6] See policy paper: https://corporatejustice.org/publications/putting-environment-in-due-diligence/

Top article photo by K. Vadino 2021.