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8 Sep 2020

Johannes Blankenbach & Saskia Wilks, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Commentary: European companies should stop putting profit over people and planet

As the COVID-19 crisis has brought into stark relief, too many companies still place profit above people and planet – passing the buck at devastating cost to millions of workers and communities around the world. But there are signs this could change.

Last week, 26 companies, business associations, and initiatives made a joint call for EU wide regulation that would mandate all companies to respect human rights and the environment. It is the first pan-European, international as well as cross-sectoral business statement to call for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence...

The scale of human rights allegations against many companies, including European companies, shows why mandatory laws to hold companies to account are pertinent...

Civil society has been clear and outspoken on what key elements such legislation should include to be effective – a binding obligation to respect human rights and the environment across operations, value chains and business relationships, to be integrated into all business practices including purchasing practices; effective sanctions, liability and access to remedy; and the involvement of rights holders at all stages of due diligence and remediation...

As a representative from Ericsson, one of the statement signatories, argued in the European Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights: “[W]hile transparency and disclosure are integral steps of any proper due diligence, this legislation should rather focus on ensuring transparent business practices through effective liability provisions.”

The joint business statement sends an important signal and lends weight to the European Commission, and the German Government’s EU Presidency to move forward and take decisive action on this issue now. The German Government is in a unique position as it prepares to pass key points for German due diligence legislation, which, if robust enough, could provide additional momentum to the EU process. Early movers can only gain as this new statement paves a clear path: towards respect for human rights and the environment as the future license for European and global businesses to operate. Workers and communities across the world have been waiting too long already.