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16 Mar 2021

France's Duty of Vigilance Law

The 2017 French law on the corporate duty of vigilance places a due diligence duty on large French companies and requires them to publish an annual "vigilance plan." An unofficial English translation of the law is available here and a compilation of resources and analysis as well as an overview of legal actions – both lawsuits and notices – that have been brought under the law to date can be found below.

Scope of the Law

The Law applies to French companies with more than 5000 employees in the company's direct or indirect French-based subsidiaries and with more than 10,000 employees if including direct and indirect subsidiaries globally.

Vigilance Plan

The company's vigilance plan must establish effective measures to identify risks and prevent severe impacts on human rights and the environment resulting from the company's own activities, and the activities of companies it controls directly or indirectly (i.e. subsidiaries as defined by French corporate law), and its subcontractors and suppliers with whom the company has an established commercial relationship, when the activities are linked to this relationship. Measures include risk mapping, tailored actions to mitigate risks or prevent severe impacts, an alert mechanism, and a system to monitor the effectiveness of measures implemented.

Enforcement, Sanctions & Liability

The law provides for a formal notice mechanism to order the company to comply with its vigilance obligations. In case of non-compliance, a court can order the company to comply with its vigilance obligations. This includes ordering the company to develop a vigilance plan when such a plan is missing, or to improve its vigilance measures when these are inadequate. A court may impose a penalty for each day of non-compliance.

The law also provides for civil liability. Under the law, harmed individuals can bring a civil lawsuit (based on French tort law) to seek damages resulting from a company's failure to comply with its vigilance obligations, where compliance would have prevented the harm.

Lawsuits & Formal Notices

Since the law was adopted in 2017 four lawsuits have been filed and four formal notices have been sent by NGOs to companies. Resources on these legal actions can be found below.

Total lawsuit (re oil pipeline operations in Uganda)

In October 2019, six NGOs filed a lawsuit against oil company Total for allegedly failing to comply with the law on oil extraction and pipeline operations in Uganda and Tanzania.

Total lawsuit (re climate change in France)

In January 2020, French NGOs and local authorities filed a lawsuit against Total in an attempt to force the company to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

EDF lawsuit (re wind project in Mexico)

In October 2020, Unión Hidalgo and NGOs filed a lawsuit to challenge EDF’s planned wind farm project in Mexico, alleging that it violates the rights of the local indigenous community, including their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

Casino lawsuit (re deforestation and land grabs)

In March 2021, Amazon indigenous communities & an international NGO coalition filed a lawsuit against supermarket Casino Group over alleged links to deforestation & land grabs.

Formal Notices

Teleperformance

In July 2019, French NGOs and a trade union served formal notice on Teleperformance, a global call center company, alleging that the company has not properly appreciated the risks regarding workers' rights in its vigilance plan and has failed to engage with stakeholders in the development of the plan as required under French law.

XPO Logistics Europe

In October 2019, an alliance of unions served formal notice on XPO Logistics Europe, a global transport company, alleging that XPO’s current vigilance plan does not fulfil the mandatory requirements set out by the law, and that the company failed to consult unions in relation to the plan.

Suez

In July 2020, NGOs served formal notice on Suez, a utilities company, requesting it to modify its vigilance plan to include detailed and adequate measures to mitigate and prevent human rights risks linked to its subsidiary in Chile, following a 2019 oil spill and sanitary crisis in the city of Osorno.

Casino Group

In September 2020, NGOs and Indigenous groups from Colombia and Brazil served formal notice on Casino Group, calling on the supermarket to take all necessary measures to exclude beef linked to deforestation and land grabbing in Indigenous territories from its supply chains in Brazil and Colombia.

Resources

Key additional resources on the French vigilance law and its implementation, including websites, reports, analysis and commentaries.

Duty of vigilance radar

This website, by NGOs Sherpa and CCFD-Terre Solidaire with support from the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, identifies companies covered by the law and provides access to their vigilance plans.

France's Law on the Corporate Duty of Vigilance: A Practical and Multidimensional Analysis

This legal publication provides in-depth analysis of the law, including articles from academics, lawyers, NGOs and international companies committed to implementing socially responsible practices.

Analysis on first legal cases filed under enforcement mechanism set out in Duty of Vigilance law

This article by lawyers Stéphane Brabant and Elsa Savourey outlines the latest developments under the law and challenges concerning the law's enforcement mechanism.

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