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27 Jul 2020

Andrew Green, Devex

In Germany, voluntary monitoring of supply chain abuses 'has failed'

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In Germany, businesses are responsible for monitoring their foreign subsidiaries and contractors for human rights violations on a voluntary basis. But how many actually do it? Just 22%, according to the preliminary results of a survey of larger companies conducted by the Federal Foreign Office.

...Under the coalition agreement, a survey result under 50% should trigger the government to draft legislation making compliance compulsory...

“The German government had committed to working out whether companies implement the standards voluntarily,” said Saskia Wilks, a researcher with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. “It’s obvious and clear that voluntary action has failed”...

“The [legislature] has to take action now,” a Labour and Social Affairs Ministry spokesperson told Devex... Because discussions are only beginning, the... spokesperson said they could not comment on the specifics of the bill currently under discussion. But they emphasized that “it is important that environmental protection and the fight against corruption are also covered whenever human rights are affected” by these things.

Wilks said it was critical that any legislation set clear responsibilities for companies in all sectors to conduct human rights due diligence, that it include liability for harms, and that there be an opportunity for any potential victims to seek redress in German courts.

Many large corporations have lined up behind the calls for legislation... But the Confederation of German Employers' Associations... put out a press release bashing both the survey... and the potential adoption of any legislation...

Wilks said there is room for both German and EU-wide legislation. “It is important for Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the EU Council, to lead on national-level laws,” she said. “That sends an important signal to the EU.”