A historic first step for multinationals’ duty of care!

March 31, 2015 – Yesterday the French National Assembly passed a bill at first reading on the duty of care of parent companies and contracting businesses. Despite certain weaknesses in the bill, our organisations are pleased with the significant progress this vote represents for the protection of human rights.

After years of rallying by French and international civil society, large French companies may finally be recognized as legally responsible for violations of human rights and environmental damage caused by their activities, as well as the activities of their subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers abroad, and will be held accountable if necessary.

Despite pressure from employers’ associations to kill the bill, the deputies managed to get it through the first stage.  The text requires companies to adopt a vigilance plan for preventing infringement of human rights and damage to the environment. Companies may thus be found liable before a judge in the event of a breach of their vigilance obligation.

The content of the text, however, unfortunately could not be strengthened in session. The law targets only large groups (5,000 employees in France or 10,000 in France and abroad) and will therefore not affect certain high-risk businesses such as the ones involved in human tragedies like Rana Plaza.

Moreover, the gruelling David-versus-Goliath battle continues for victims: it is still up to victims to prove companies were at fault and to establish the line of control between parent companies and their subsidiaries and subcontractors. In addition, the law provides for the issuing of a decree whose content may weaken the scope of the text, or even cancel its effects if it is slow in being released.

The battle does not end with yesterday’s vote: the passage of the text to the senate represents a major challenge. Our organisations will remain vigilant to ensure the law maintains its bold provisions and to broaden its scope, if possible. We are therefore ready for the government to take up the bill immediately in the Senate.

France must encourage the rest of Europe to follow its lead, as was the case with non-financial reporting and the fight against tax havens. Our organisations are working hard on this. This law falls within the framework of the international treaty on business and human rights under discussion at the United Nations, for which we call on States to pledge their support.

Sherpa Press Contacts:

Sandra Cossart – Head of the Globalization and Human Rights Programme-CSR: 06 10 77 77 28