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Responding department: Ministry of Foreign Affairs / National Contact Point for the OECD

Note: All the information given below was provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, except for the answer to question 5.2, which was submitted by the French OECD National Contact Point.

This response was originally submitted in French.  Unofficial English translation provided by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

What department or departments have significant responsibility for business and human rights within your government?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Has your government undertaken new business & human rights initiatives or strengthened existing ones since the endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles in June 2011?

Yes

Other actions

[Reporting requirements:] The provisions on transparency obligations derive from the Act of 12 July 2010, which added provisions to Article L.226-102-1 of the Commercial Code to make it an obligation for companies to publish 42 pieces of labour, social and environmental information (including human rights information) in the report submitted by the board of directors or the management board, as applicable, to the general meeting. This information must be checked beforehand by an independent third-party body, which is tasked with issuing an opinion about its accuracy. This opinion must also be published in the report. The independent third-party body performs its duties in accordance with the procedures set out in the Decree of 24 April 2012 (Articles R.225-104 et seqq. of the Commercial Code) and in the Order of 13 May 2013. The information must refer not only to the company established on national territory, but also to its subsidiaries located abroad, where applicable.

[Bill on mandatory due diligence:] On 23 June 2014, the national parliament passed the Bill on the guidance and programming of development and international solidarity policy. Article 5 of the Bill sets out that, within the framework of the corporate social responsibility requirement, firms shall establish risk management procedures intended to identify, prevent or mitigate social, health and environmental risks and human rights abuses that may derive from their activities in partner countries. France encourages companies headquartered on its territory that have operations abroad to implement the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council. France, therefore, pays particular attention to the establishment of due diligence mechanisms in multinational enterprises in order to identify, prevent or mitigate human rights abuses.

Has your government adopted a National Action Plan on business and human rights as encouraged by the UN Human Rights Council and UN Working Group on business & human rights, or will it do so in the future?

A National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights is being drafted to complement the National Action Plan on Corporate Social Responsibility, as required by the European Commission. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights to give an opinion, which was delivered in October 2013. The opinion included a number of recommendations. Since then, these recommendations have been undergoing interministerial review and will eventually serve as the basis for the French Action Plan.

If your government has adopted a National Action Plan or is planning on adopting one, please highlight whether it makes reference to international human rights standards and whether it was developed in consultation with affected stakeholders.

The Action Plan on Business and Human Rights will, of course, refer to international standards on human rights issues; France has signed up to these instruments.

It will be subject to in-depth consultations with all stakeholders, who have already been heard. In particular, it will be subject to the work undertaken by the multi-stakeholder Corporate Social Responsibility Platform set up by the Prime Minister in June 2013, which has already commenced discussions on these subjects and will, therefore, be called upon to give its views about the Action Plan in terms of both corporate social responsibility and human rights.

Access to remedy: What steps have been taken to develop new judicial or administrative remedies or to reduce barriers to existing remedies for victims?

Legal aid

Legal for EU and non-EU foreigners and for French people is subject to means-testing, as provided for by law. In addition, non-EU foreigners must meet the condition of habitual and regular residence.

However, an exception to the residence condition for obtaining legal aid is foreseen in any case that appears worthy of special attention in view of the subject of the dispute or the probable costs of the proceedings.

Moreover, an exception to the means-testing condition imposed on legal aid applicants may exceptionally be granted to people who do not meet the conditions of ordinary law when their case appears worthy of special attention in view of the subject of the dispute or the probable costs of the proceedings or, in cross-border disputes, if they can provide proof of not being able to meet the expenses owing to the difference in the cost of living between France and the Member State where they have their domicile or their habitual residence.

Thus, more precisely, the granting of legal aid to victims of human rights violations committed by companies or their subsidiaries located outside the State in which they were incorporated or have their registered office is not automatic. Nevertheless, legal aid offices have broad discretionary powers to grant legal aid in view of the victims’ situation.

Civil action for compensation for damage caused by an offence

A civil action for compensation for damage caused by an offence can be brought by anyone who has personally suffered injury directly caused by the offence. Any natural or legal person governed by public or private law who claims to have been injured by an offence may, by filing a complaint, sue for damages, not only before the criminal courts called upon to rule on the offence, but also before the investigating judge.

The victim may sue for damages:

  • in principal proceedings: when the public prosecutor has decided not to prosecute or when a decision is taken not to investigate a complaint, the victim of a crime or offence may directly institute criminal proceedings by applying to the chief investigating judge;
  • in incidental proceedings: when the public prosecutor has initiated criminal proceedings (by opening a judicial investigation or by prosecuting the perpetrator before the criminal courts), the victim always has the option to be joined as a civil party.

With the framework of a judicial investigation, a victim who has been joined as a civil party has a certain number of rights:

  • The right to file a writ petition or request its cancellation.
  • In the most serious cases (crimes, personal injury, damage to property accompanied by personal injury), the investigating judge will inform the civil party about the progress of the investigation every six months.
  • The right to appeal against decisions made against his or her civil interests.

A victim who has been joined as a civil party may, furthermore, be assisted by a lawyer and, where applicable, be entitled to legal aid.

When a victim has not been joined as a civil party, he or she can still take action against the perpetrator of the offence, before the civil courts, to seek compensation for the damage that he or she has suffered. More information (in French) is available here: [link]

Access to remedy: What steps have been taken to develop new non-judicial remedies, improve existing mechanisms, and reduce barriers for victims?

National Contact Points for the OECD

From its creation in 2001 to May 2104, 22 specific instances were referred to the National Contact Point: 14 were submitted by trade unions, five by NGOs, one by NGOs and a trade union and one by the United Nations, and there was one referral seeking the opinion of the Minister of Foreign Trade. The National Contact Point was consulted on ten cases by other National Contact Points.

From June 2013 to May 2014, the National Contact Point received three new referrals:

FINNISH MULTINATIONAL IN FRANCE: A specific instance received in April 2014. The National Contact Point reviewed its admissibility and then conducted an initial evaluation of it. [Update – The communiqué on admissibility was published on 10 September 2014: [link]]

FRENCH MULTINATIONAL IN GABON: A specific instance received in April 2014. This case is mentioned in this activity report (the referral was rejected in June 2014 because it was inadmissible, and the National Contact Point communiqué was published on 30 July 2014). National Contact Point communiqué: [link].

EIFFAGE ENERGIE: A specific instance received in October 2013 and closed in March 2014 following the initial evaluation (see below).

From June 2013 to May 2014, the National Contact Point closed a further four referrals and followed up several others:

EIFFAGE ENERGIE – France, 2013/2014

REFERRAL SEEKING THE OPINION OF THE NATIONAL CONTACT POINT FOLLOWING THE RANA PLAZA TRAGEDY IN BANGLADESH, May-December 2013, follow-up in progress “Rapport du PCN sur la mise en œuvre des Principes directeurs de l’OCDE dans la filière textile-habillement” (National Contact Point Report on the implementation of the OECD Guidelines in the textile and clothing sector). Available on our website: [link] and follow-up communiqué: [link].

SOCAPALM – Cameroon, 2010/2013, follow-up in progress [Update – Follow-up communiqué: [link]]

MICHELIN – India, 2012/2013, follow-up in progress [Update – Follow-up communiqué: [link]]

The French National Contact point revised its Rules of Procedure in 2012 to incorporate the revision of the Guidelines, then in March 2014. In particular, these revisions enabled improvements to be made to the processing and follow-up of referrals (timeframe, consultation of experts) and to the communication of referral processing (initial evaluation, follow-up).

Access to remedy: For companies headquartered in your country or their subsidiaries, has your government taken steps to enhance accountability for human rights impacts abroad?

Last 23 June, the national parliament passed the Bill on the orientation and programming of development and international solidarity policy. Article 5 of the Act sets out that, within the framework of the corporate social responsibility requirement, firms shall establish risk management procedures in order to identify, prevent or mitigate social, health and environmental risks and human rights abuses that may derive from their activities in partner countries. France encourages companies headquartered on its territory that have operations abroad to implement the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council. France, therefore, pays particular attention to the establishment of due diligence mechanisms in multinational enterprises in order to identify, prevent or mitigate human rights abuses.