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Compulsory protection of labour and human rights worldwide

Foto: SACOM
Wirtschaft und Menschenrechte

The production of everyday items regularly causes human rights violations and damage to the environment. German businesses often tolerate human rights violations or pollution in their activities overseas – without being held accountable. They don't have to fear any consequences for the damage arising in their global business. 

Disastrous accidents in Pakistani or Bangladeshi textile factories, expulsion of small-scale farmers in Uganda, child labour and pesticide poisoning in Uzbek cotton fields, or imported coal from Columbia at the expense of Indigenous communities are only some examples of this sad reality.

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 in 2011, require countries to take effective measures to prevent and to sanction human rights violations by companies. In December 2016, the German government released the National Action on Business and Human Rights (NAP). This is a first step towards implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, but it does not go far enough. In this plan, the German government continues to suggest voluntary measures for businesses instead of enshrining them in law, even though experience shows that such voluntary measures are not sufficient to protect human rights.

Human Rights Due Diligence: What Does It Mean?

Human rights due diligence constitutes the second pillar of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including:

  • To develop a comprehensive policy statement on human rights due diligence and a corporate policy on human rights to integrate into decision-making processes throughout the entire corporate structure.
  • To continuously assess the impact and human rights risks of its own activities and business relations, with the participation of affected communities.
  • The employment of effective countermeasures to prevent risks and remedy grievances.
  • To provide compensation for everybody affected when damage is caused.
  • The reporting on the assessment and countermeasures adopted and, where appropriate, the introduction of or involvement in complaint mechanisms accessible to those affected.

Germany lags behind: The legal situation in other countries

Other countries are ahead of Germany, and have already passed or are in the process of passing such laws. France, for example, introduced enterprise liability in 2017 (the French Duty of Vigilance Law). In the United Kingdom corporations must exclude forced and child labour in their entire production chain. Other countries like Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Australia are currently planning similar regulation. The United Nations (UN) are also discussing a binding treaty on business and human rights (UN-Treaty). The EU Parliament is urging the EU and its member states to pass binding regulations for businesses to protect human rights. Even companies themselves are beginning to advocate such regulations. Germany is lagging behind, and as numerous international businesses are based here it bears a special responsibility.

Our demands

We are calling on the German government to pass a binding piece of legislation on human rights due diligence for German businesses along their entire supply chain.

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".

The German government must actively support a binding treaty on business and human rights in the UN.

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

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