Thursday

4th Mar 2021

MEPs seek to hold firms liable for supply-chain abuses

  • Deforestation. Only a third of EU companies carry out human rights or environmental due diligence checks in their supply chain (Photo: crustmania)

MEPs on the legal affairs committee are calling on the European Commission to urgently propose a new law that holds companies accountable for human rights or environmental abuses that happen across their supply chains.

"Now is the right time to set the gold standard for doing business," said MEP Lara Wolters from the Socialists and Democrats.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"In the EU we buy clothes, food and phones in the knowledge that they are safe to use, but we do not know if they were produced without any harm to the environment or human rights," she added, warning that voluntary schemes have proven to be insufficient.

Only a third of EU companies carry out human rights or environmental due diligence checks in their supply chain.

However, around 70 percent of European businesses are in favour of EU-wide corporate accountability laws.

MEPs want all companies functioning in the EU internal market, including those established outside the EU, to identify and solve potential issues that can violate human rights (such as trade union and labour rights) or contribute to climate change across their whole value chain - while providing access to legal remedies for victims.

Additionally, MEPs called for an outright ban on all imports linked to severe human rights violations - such as forced or child labour.

The report, which was approved on Wednesday (27 January) with strong cross-party support, will be voted on in the March plenary.

Civil society groups welcomed the initiative, arguing that decades of voluntary "corporate social responsibility" initiatives have failed to solve problems, such as child labour and deforestation, which remains systemic to many sectors.

"Workers at the lowest rung of global supply chains often risk their lives and limbs in hazardous working conditions as companies ruthlessly pursue a race to the bottom," said Lotte Leicht from Human Right Watch.

"Binding EU law governing companies' human rights and environmental due diligence obligations is urgently needed to protect workers and their communities," she added.

Richard Gardiner from NGO Global Witness, said that forcing corporations to listen to local communities' concerns can "prevent environmental and human rights abuses before they happen".

Intense lobbying

From forced Uyghur labour to the Amazon deforestation through oil pollution in Nigeria, "the objective of this text is to make multinational companies legally responsible for violations committed throughout their supply chains and end their impunity," said the co-president of the Left in the parliament, MEP Manon Aubry - warning that this proposal is facing intense lobbying.

BusinessEurope, one of the most powerful corporate lobby groups in Brussels, wrote to members of the committee last week urging them to vote against the report.

In a letter, they argue that "it is impossible to manage all the risks related to a company's business relationship along the whole value chain".

However, members of the Nordic Business Network for Human Rights, such as IKEA, Vestas or Lego, said this initiative has the potential to "turn commitments into action, and promote a human rights culture within companies across the value chain".

The commission is expected to put forward a legislative proposal on corporate accountability in the first half of the year.

NGOs expose rights abuses in EU supermarket supply chains

A new report from Oxfam reveals that many of the people producing the food on sale in European supermarkets are victims of poverty pay, harsh working conditions, gender discrimination, and human rights abuses.

Opinion

EU corporate due diligence: new rules, or businesses rule?

The Brussels rumour mill has it that the EU Commission is being pressured to put forward a weaker proposal than what civil society organisations, trade unions, and the European Economic and Social Committee say is needed.

EU environment chief concerned by deforestation in Brazil

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas hinted on Thursday that biofuel development is contributing to deforestation in Brazil, even as the commission's own recently proposed climate package aims to see a massive increase in the use of the controversial fuels.

Opinion

Deforestation and the failure of EU self-regulation

As climate protests grow, Brazil's forests disappear at the rate of two football pitches a minute, and a summer of European heat raises the temperature, will new pledges from the EU on deforestation make the cut?

Analysis

Relief in EPP group, as Orbán's party finally leaves

The debate over Fidesz had become an unbearable political burden on EPP - but it also represented a core dilemma for many centre-right, mainstream parties struggling to deal with their populist challengers.

EPP group moves forward to suspend Orban's Fidesz

MEPs are scheduled to vote on Wednesday to change the rules of procedure of the centre-right European People's Party parliamentary group to allow the suspension of a member party.

News in Brief

  1. Northern Irish paramilitaries pressure UK and EU on Brexit
  2. Man injures 8 people with axe in Sweden in possible terrorist act
  3. France bans far-right vigilante group
  4. EU dismayed as Lukashenko jails doctor over his diagnosis
  5. Brussels proposes EU-wide 'disabled status' card by 2023
  6. Czechs seek outside help to treat Covid-19 patients
  7. German intelligence to spy on far-right AfD party
  8. Russia belittles latest EU and US sanctions

Coronavirus

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  2. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week
  3. Relief in EPP group, as Orbán's party finally leaves
  4. EU capitals water down MEPs' ambition in climate law
  5. The EU's perverse agenda in Bosnia
  6. US joins EU sanctions on Russia in show of unity
  7. EU needs to 'raise price' for attacking democracy, MEPs say
  8. EU Parliament to hold Frontex probe behind closed doors

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us