Civil society campaigns to close the corporate accountability gap!

Economic & Social Rights, Newsletter

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Corporations have long been free to decide how and where to assume responsibility for adverse human rights impacts of their operations.  

It is a well-established fact that corporations, and especially those that have long and complex value chains that extend across borders, operate in a legal gap, with little to no accountability. Companies often dodge responsibility in their value chains, like the sourcing of products made by exploiting workers (as EuroMed Rights recently documented in Huelva, Spain). Or in the end-use of their products, like the Israeli use of JCB excavators to demolish Palestinian homes. 

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights constituted the first real break with the notion that the corporate impact on human rights was largely governed by voluntary principles. They established that all businesses, large and small, had a responsibility to continuously assess and mitigate human rights impacts throughout their activities. However, corporations have not fully implemented the UN principles as they are not legally enforceable. 

Making sure that companies are not violating human rights abroad is a part of each state’s extraterritorial human rights obligations. Therefore, civil society is calling upon both the EU and its member states to ensure strong legal frameworks that can ensure corporate accountability. In a few European countries, including France and Germany, national laws with some due diligence demands are in place, and in many countries, like in Belgium, movements are calling for laws to be implemented. Such laws could, if not compromised, increase access to justice for victims of human rights violations related to European corporations’ business activities. 

Recently, the European Commission released its proposal for a Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence. However, after intense lobbying, the proposed directive has been watered down. It is currently severely limited in scope and, as a result, is not aligned with UN standards. It must be strengthened to achieve real impact. 

Mandatory due diligence laws, at EU or national level, are not replacements for struggles to get states to adhere to treaties – ILO conventions, for example – nor are they the final solution to the accountability gap of corporations. But they serve as progressive steps towards corporate accountability, until universal and more comprehensive frameworks are in place, such as a binding treaty on business and human rights.