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23 Feb 2021

Human Rights Watch

Germany: MPs Should Strengthen Proposed Supply Chain Law

The German government’s proposed law governing companies’ obligations to respect human rights in supply chains is a step in the right direction but needs improving in key areas, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliament should explicitly require companies to assess and address human rights risks on an ongoing and systematic basis along the whole supply chain, including suppliers several steps down...

"[I]f this law is to prevent the worst abuses in global supply chains, companies need to systematically assess and address risks with suppliers who are several steps away, and not just in exceptional cases where NGOs or media ring the alarm bell." ...

The recent government compromise proposal comes at the last possible moment for the law to be adopted by this parliament, with national elections scheduled for September 2021...

The draft law is expected to be adopted by the cabinet in March and then presented to parliament. While the law has a good chance of being adopted because the governing coalition holds a majority of seats in parliament, the parliamentary debate promises to be fierce. Some CDU politicians have argued for no law or a weaker law, whereas members from the Greens and the parties on the left have called for far stronger requirements...

Parliament members should strengthen the law by taking the following measures:

  • Clarify that companies have to conduct ongoing and systematic human rights due diligence along the whole supply chain, including indirect suppliers;
  • Extend the scope of the law to all companies above 250 employees or a €20 million balance sheet total – defined as large companies in German law, and to small and medium-sized companies if they are active in industries with particularly high risks for people or the environment;
  • Strengthen provisions governing civil liability for persistent or irreversible human rights, labor rights, or environmental harm caused by, or substantially contributed to, by a company through its own operations or its supply chain; and
  • Spell out obligations regarding environmental due diligence, including on climate change.

“Parliament has a key role to play now in turning this into an effective law“, Kippenberg said. “What is needed is a robust law that helps respect the rights of the most vulnerable people.”