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Business and human rights: protecting labor and human rights worldwide

Foto: SACOM
Wirtschaft und Menschenrechte

Human rights are often infringed or disregarded when products we use every day are manufactured.  German companies are continually involved in and even profit from human rights violations and environmental damage abroad.

The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which were unanimously approved in the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, requires countries to protect all people from human rights violations, including those of companies.  While some governments have understood that businesses only change their business practices when violations are subject to sanction, the German government continues to rely upon the voluntary efforts of German companies.  In December 2016, the German government released the Business and Human Rights action plan (NAP).  This is a first step to implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, but does not go far enough.  The NAP requires that by 2020 at least 50 percent of all large German businesses with more than 500 employees will have implemented human rights due diligence.  Other countries have taken the lead ahead of Germany in this matter and have without such detours already legislated or are in the course of legislating such laws.

Legislation in other countries

Other countries have taken the lead ahead of Germany and have already created or are in the process of creating a legislated human rights due diligence for companies.  The most prominent example is France: at the beginning of 2017, the French Parliament passed a law requiring large French companies to identify and prevent ecological and human rights risks of their business – this also applies to subsidiaries and global supply chains.

More information about the national action plan “Business and Human Rights”

The UN Treaty Process

Negotiations in the United Nations for a binding treaty on business and human rights are ongoing.  The UN Treaty is to be an internationally binding agreement setting up the same rules for all countries.  The UN Treaty Process would create clear rules for corporations and open the possibility of litigation, even international litigation, to affected parties.  Many industrialized countries – including Germany and the EU – are skeptical about the project.

More information about the UN Treaty Process

Our demands

Binding human rights due diligence for German companies along their entire supply chain must be legally mandated.

Countries are required by international law to protect people from human rights violations, including violations by corporations.  The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which were unanimously approved in the UN Human Rights Council, require countries to take effective measures to prevent and to sanction human rights violations by companies.  In December 2016, the German government released the Business and Human Rights action plan.  This is a first step towards implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, but it does not go far enough.  To effectively protect human rights, the German government should follow France and create legislation requiring human rights due diligence for corporations.

More information about the national action plan "Business and Human Rights".

We need a binding international treaty on business and human rights

To date, only voluntary guiding principles have protected human rights in international corporate activity.  To change this, negotiations in the United Nations for a binding treaty are ongoing.  The UN Treaty Process is intended to develop an international human rights treaty that is binding on all parties, that creates clear rules for corporations, and that opens the possibility of litigation to affected parties.  The German government must actively advocate in these negotiations for a binding treaty.

More information about the UN Treaty Process

Thorough and transparent auditing of the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP)

The NAP contains some positive ideas and welcome announcements; its effectiveness depends, however, on the quality and seriousness of the monitoring under it.  It requires, among other things, that at least half of all companies with more than 500 employees integrate human rights due diligence into their company procedures by 2020.  If this benchmark is not reached, the Federal Government will consider legislative solutions.  The measures of the NAP must be implemented consistently, the auditing under it thorough and transparent.

The content of this web site is the exclusive responsibility of Forum Fairer Handel e.V., the positions presented do not reflect the attitude of the European Union, ENGAGEMENT GLOBAL gGmbH and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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Contact person

Foto Maja Volland
Maja Volland
Tel. 030 - 280 45 349