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9 Mär 2021

Heidi Hautala

Commentary: Due diligence legislation needed so there can be a level playing field between companies

Mars, Nestle, Barry Callebaut, Mondelez and other multinational chocolate companies are facing a lawsuit in the US in which eight children, now young adults, claim that they were used as slave labour on cocoa plantations in Cote d’Ivoire. They call for justice. 

But, the same companies are in the forefront calling for mandatory human rights and environment due diligence legislation in the EU. Is this a paradox? No, these companies know that years of using voluntary certificates and labels do not allow them to tell that there is no child labour or deforestation in the chocolate we in Europe consume.

Due diligence legislation does not shift the responsibility from states to companies. States have an obligation to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Business enterprises are required to respect human rights.

They must acquire the necessary capacity to do their due diligence in the manner which is reasonable to expect from them. By consulting key stakeholders in their business environment companies  become aware of the most important human rights and environment risks in their entire value chain. Only very few companies remunerate their top executives for responsible business conduct. It should be the other way round. This must change!

Due diligence legislation is needed so that there can be a level playing field between companies. As long as we turn a blind eye to human rights violations in corporate value chains, we factually reward those who escape their responsibilities. It should be the other way round. Through setting a legal standard we give responsible and sustainable companies a business advantage. Instead of race to the bottom, there should be a race to the top!