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Human Rights Due Diligence

Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and human rights due diligence (HRDD) is now widely recognized as an efficient way to put this principle into practice.

HRDD is generally understood as a means by which companies can identify, prevent, mitigate and account for the negative human rights impacts of their activities or those linked to their business relationships. These business relationships often involve subsidiaries, subcontractors, suppliers and a variety of economic transactions.
Passing laws requiring European companies to implement due diligence would have multiple benefits, including improving companies’ risks assessment and management, helping state authorities meet their duty to protect human rights, and improving access to justice for victims of corporate abuse, in and outside Europe.

State of play / EU activity

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) enshrined HRDD as the operational principle to put the companies’ responsibility to respect human rights into practice. The concept of due diligence is also a well-known risk management tool for business enterprises and financial institutions. In fact, due diligence was recognized as a set of useful practical steps to address companies’ human rights and environmental impacts and promote responsible business behaviour, long before the adoption of the UNGPs. HRDD has also been included in international standards such as the OECD Guidelines, the Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, etc.

Although HRDD as such is not currently a legal obligation for companies, due diligence or some of its elements (reporting, impacts assessment, etc.) are already incorporated into national and international legal frameworks. Governments make use of due diligence when asking companies to comply with already established legal principles in areas analogous or directly relevant to human rights, such as labour rights, environmental and consumer protection, or the fight against corruption.

Some States go one step further by directly embedding human rights due diligence into law. One example is the French devoir du vigilance bill (the due of vigilance bill), recently adopted by the French National Assembly. The law will oblige companies to design and put in place a “vigilance plan” to prevent the negative human rights impacts of their activities, both at home and abroad. Another example of this trend towards corporate due diligence regulation in Europe is the Transparency in Supply Chains Clause from the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act. The provision requires business domiciled or making business in UK to report on the measures they take to prevent slavery or human trafficking from taking place in their supply chains.

EU law also contains different legislative tools embedding elements of due diligence in the aforementioned areas (labour, environment, consumer and anti-corruption). It has taken important steps towards the development of corporate human rights due diligence, for instance with the adoption of the EU Timber Regulation (creating due diligence obligations for timber importers) and the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (setting companies’ disclosure obligations on human rights risks and measures).

Unfortunately, the EU and its Member States are yet to establish an obligation for European companies to prevent or respond for adverse human rights impacts of their operations outside the EU. Some on-going processes like the negotiations to adopt a Conflict Minerals Regulation represent important opportunities to listen to civil society calls for increased corporate accountability, and to make business enterprises meet international human rights law standards.

The current developments inside and outside the EU (US Dodd-Frank act, for instance) create a unique momentum for EU institutions to honour their human rights commitments.

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Key issues

    • Corporate responsibility to respect human rights

    • State duty to protect human rights

    • Corporate accountability
    • Responsible supply chains
    • Duty of care
    • Risk management
    • UN Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights

Latest articles

News / Dec 2, 2019

Over 100 civil society organisations demand human rights and environmental due diligence legislation

News / Feb 4, 2019

Commission’s Reflection Paper on Sustainable Europe lacks determination on Responsible Business Conduct

News / Dec 4, 2017

ECCJ makes key proposals concerning parent companies’ duty of care and collective redress to the Commission and the Parliament

News / Nov 15, 2017

Swiss Parliamentarian Committee calls for legal action on Human Rights Due Diligence

News / Oct 5, 2017

Modern slavery: top companies fail to name supply chain risks

News / Aug 23, 2017

A critical assessment of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (2017 update)

News / Mar 24, 2017

Last hurdle overcome for landmark legislation: French Corporate duty of vigilance law gets green light from Constitutional Council

News / Mar 14, 2017

Joint statement in support of the French corporate duty of vigilance law

News / Mar 7, 2017

Human Rights & Business EU Parliament Event: Highlights and live-stream recording

Publication / Feb 23, 2017

French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law: FAQ

News / Feb 23, 2017

French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law: FAQ

News / Feb 21, 2017

France adopts corporate duty of vigilance law

News / Jan 11, 2017

Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the US release Business and Human Rights National Action Plans

News / Dec 15, 2016

Update: European and US National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights

News / Nov 23, 2016

EU Action Plan on SDGs overlooks human rights risks of corporate activity

News / Nov 17, 2016

Chemical Challenge Gap Analysis: Electronics industry

News / Nov 2, 2016

UN Treaty Talks Day 5: Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated

News / Oct 28, 2016

UN Treaty Talks Day 3 and 4: From business as usual to enhanced corporate responsibility for human rights

News / Oct 25, 2016

UN Treaty talks Day 1: The EU is in the room, but is that enough?

News / Oct 25, 2016

European Parliament votes for stronger corporate accountability

News / Oct 24, 2016

Corporate accountability: Is the EU ready to listen?

Media / Oct 21, 2016

Corporate accountability: Is the EU ready to listen?

News / Oct 13, 2016

Devoir de vigilance des multinationales : majoritairement opposé au texte

News / Oct 10, 2016

Swiss quality must include the protection of human rights and the environment

News / Oct 5, 2016

EU Commission publishes responses to Non-Financial Reporting consultations

News / Sep 16, 2016

Contribution to the Italian Action Plan on Business and Human Rights

News / Sep 16, 2016

New paper published on the efforts behind a UN Treaty on business and human rights

News / Aug 19, 2016

Côte d’Ivoire: Trafigura unrepentant 10 years after toxic waste dump

News / Aug 4, 2016

Draft available for Italian National Action Plan for UNGPs' implementation

News / Jul 19, 2016

Reminder: do not mix private money and public goals

News / Jul 7, 2016

ECCJ 2016 AGM: what’s next for the corporate accountability movement?

News / Jun 16, 2016

Business & Human Rights: The world is still waiting for action

Media / Jun 16, 2016

Business and human rights: The world is still waiting for action

Media / Apr 28, 2016

Three years after Rana Plaza progress remains modest

Case Study / Mar 15, 2016

EU companies didn't conduct due diligence in Egypt dredging project

Case Study / Mar 8, 2016

Activist Berta Cáceres assassinated in Honduras

News / Mar 3, 2016

Duty of care of transnational corporations: waiting no longer acceptable

Case Study / Jan 1, 2016

Activist Rigoberto Lima assassinated in Guatemala

News / Dec 11, 2015

Modern Slavery Act could be 'game-changer' on supply chain transparency

News / Nov 23, 2015

French Senate rejects duty of care law: a vote in favour of maintaining corporate impunity

News / Nov 17, 2015

The Better Regulation Agenda and what it means for Corporate Accountability

News / Jul 3, 2015

Business and Human Rights: Coherent action needed at national, regional and international level

News / Jun 17, 2015

Due diligence at the heart of ECCJ General Assembly 2015

Case Study / Jun 3, 2015

EU development banks failed to comply with human rights standards in Panama

News / Jun 3, 2015

Dutch and German development banks failed to comply with environmental and human rights standards in Panama

News / May 27, 2015

Rana Plaza: a call for mandatory Due Diligence

News / May 21, 2015

European parliament votes for strong conflict mineral regulation

Case Study / Apr 20, 2015

Fire in Pakistani factory kills over 260 workers

News / Mar 19, 2015

Recommendations for the EU Garment Flagship Initiative

News / Mar 13, 2015

Call for action: stop the trade in conflict minerals

News / Mar 5, 2015

European Forum on CSR: Old feuds are haunting the European Corporate Social Responsibility debate and stifling progress

News / Feb 27, 2015

NGO mobilisation ahead of negotiations on corporate accountability treaty

News / Feb 13, 2015

Loi sur le devoir de vigilance des multinationales

News / Feb 11, 2015

MEP Richard Howitt opening speech at EC 2015 CSR Forum

News / Feb 9, 2015

ECCJ calls the French Parliament to adopt law on parent company duty of vigilance

News / Feb 9, 2015

ECCJ encourage l’Assemblée Nationale française à adopter la loi sur le devoir de vigilance de entreprises

News / Feb 2, 2015

Putting the rights of people at the heart of the new EU strategy on CSR

News / Dec 16, 2014

Review of the European Corporate Social Responsibility strategy (update)

News / Dec 9, 2014

Conflict Minerals Campaign Updates: Stop the EU from supporting a deadly trade

Case Study / Mar 7, 2014

Human rights violations in the Cambodian garment sector

Publication / Dec 3, 2012

How to use the UNGPs in company research and advocacy

Publication / Nov 30, 2012

Human Rights Due Diligence: The Role of States
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