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21st May 2022

NGO reveals German firms fail to meet UN human rights rule

  • Some of the biggest German companies, such as Deutsche Post DHL, RWE, Allianz, Deutsche Bank, or Volkswagen lack effective policies or fail to show how they prevent human rights abuses (Photo: EUobserver)

A new report published on Monday (4 November) revealed that 90 percent of the 20 largest German companies failed to present fairly and clearly how they manage the human rights risks of their workers and suppliers.

After looking at their policy commitments, the existence of grievance and remedy mechanisms, and how they monitor and evaluate human rights risks and impacts, the study found that none of Germany's largest companies met the basic human rights standards set up by the German action plan on human rights and business - based on UN guidance.

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"These findings lay bare the need for government-mandated human rights due diligence in Germany and internationally to raise the floor of corporate behaviour," said Phil Bloomer, the executive director of the NGO Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

"Workers and communities that suffer corporate harm can't afford to wait," he added.

According to the report, some of the biggest German companies, such as Deutsche Post DHL, RWE, Allianz, Deutsche Bank, or Volkswagen lack effective measures or fail to show how they prevent human rights abuses, while Siemens performed the best on this matter.

All 20 companies have made a public commitment to respecting human rights in general. But only 13 of them extend this commitment to workers' rights and expect the same from suppliers.

Additionally, only three companies, Bayer, Metro, and Thyssenkrupp, have a commitment to remedy for victims of abuse that they cause or contribute to - the latter two merely with a focus on workers.

Minimum standards

The legal system in Germany has instruments that are primarily focused on the protection of human rights.

However, the UN encouraged states to go one step further, adopting a national action plan on business and human rights as a way to reach consensus for the very first international framework on human rights in the context of business.

"The responsibility of business to respect human rights applies to all enterprises regardless of their size, sector, operational context, ownership, and structure," the UN said.

However, the scale and complexity of their business models can indirectly enable human rights abuses to happen, making them "complicit" according to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights.

"German companies have the resources and capacity to lead the way in respect for human rights. However, these results paint a disappointing picture," Bloomer said.

The action plan, adopted by Germany in 2016, set targets by 2020 for at least 50 percent of German companies with more than 500 employees, obliging them to introduce effective human rights protections.

However, the results of the research suggest that the wider group of companies being assessed by the German government are likely to fail to meet this target.

If the targets are missed, the German government has committed to pushing for "EU-wide regulation", said the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

EU legislation?

Earlier this month, 88 NGOs complained that the current EU legislation falls short of adequately addressing human and labour rights abuses in supply chains.

"There are still no cross-sectoral laws in the EU requiring companies and financial institutions to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for human rights abuses and environmental damage of their operations, subsidiaries or value chains," the NGOs said in a statement.

The absence of such legislation makes it very difficult for companies to be held legally accountable when they neglect their responsibility to respect human rights.

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