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27 Jan 2021

Richard Gardiner for EURACTIVE

Opinion: Proposed EU due diligence law fosters hope for stronger relationship between business, people & planet

"Hope for a new settlement between companies, people and the environment in the EU", 27 January 2021

Talk of a green, equitable recovery from the pandemic is all-consuming. While Joe Biden in the U.S. is also promising to ‘build back better’, 2021 presents a chance for the EU to do just that with a new law, one that could fundamentally reshape the often-toxic relationship between powerful, unaccountable corporations and people and our planet...

...As the EU seeks to lead the world’s post-pandemic recovery and the fight against climate breakdown, we need to fundamentally change the relationship that companies have with people and our planet. It is no longer acceptable for companies to declare their own houses are in order if their supply chains are harming people and wrecking the environment.

That is the animating principle behind a new law being debated in Brussels this week. The European Commission is currently consulting on new corporate due diligence rules, following a campaign by NGOs.

The law would require companies to conduct due diligence down their supply chains, to the people and raw materials they profit from. They would no longer be able to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses – the forced clearances off land, intimidation, and violence – or to ignore the pollution and emissions which are accelerating climate breakdown.

It would also give victims of abuse the right to take European companies to court if they fail to live up to their obligations. While many of these abuses occur in countries where the perpetrator is not based and therefore may not be easily prosecuted under domestic laws, this firmly places the burden of proof on all companies to demonstrate they took adequate steps to prevent harm, not the other way round.

Finally, the law would mandate that companies engage with local communities to listen to concerns, giving them a chance to prevent environmental and human rights abuses before they happen.

In the short-term, the political outlook is positive. There is an emerging political consensus which supports these principles, with growing support across the three institutions. Of course, we can expect some entrenched corporations to resist. But fundamentally, the only way for businesses to remain profitable is to respect people and the finite resources of our planet...

Part of the following timelines

European Parliament adopts key report with recommendations to EU Commission on mandatory due diligence & corporate accountability

Towards an EU mandatory due diligence & corporate accountability law