Whether it is workers who produce clothes for the European market under inhumane working conditions in Southeast Asia, the Brazilian village community whose subsistence is destroyed by a transnational mining project, European arms being exported abroad or Philippine farmers suffering from poisoning of pesticides produced in Germany or Switzerland: current national and international laws do not sufficiently protect their rights from the impact from business enterprises based in Germany, the EU or beyond.
Businesses’ conduct, whether by action or omission, can cause, contribute to or be linked with a variety of human rights abuses in their own operations or their business relationships, including global value chains. ECCHR views it as essential that companies be legally obliged to adequately address human rights risks – and for them to be held accountable for possible damages.
Ten years after the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were adopted, there is a broad recognition that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. However, in practice, it is clear that this voluntary approach has not yielded the necessary results. Consequently, a growing number of European countries have adopted or are considering legislation mandating human rights due diligence, among them France and Germany. Requiring all companies in all sectors to address the human rights risks they cause, contribute or are directly linked to can ensure robust, resilient and sustainable value chains and investments.
On the UN level, an intergovernmental working group has been established to draft a treaty to embed the idea of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence into a legal obligation.
ECCHR is working with institutions and other NGOs to push human rights due diligence legislation in Germany, the EU and the UN. This political advocacy is based on the expertise by ECCHR’s legal casework. Time and again, we see that the effects of legal interventions are limited due to the lack of adequate laws.
Companies should be forced to ask: how can we contribute to the textile supplier in Bangladesh respecting labor rights? Or: how can we ensure indigenous groups are guaranteed their rights before building a wind park or opening a mine? Abusing the law must be sanctioned, for example with fines. Furthermore, the law must enable those whose human rights have been violated to enforce those rights in court.
Third-party (social) audits and certifications can play a key role in supporting risk analysis, but must uphold human rights due diligence standards themselves. Careless or incorrect certificates should not enable companies to ignore or cover up deficiencies like child labor, sexual violence or trade union repression.