Written by 11 h 46 min Advocacy, Press release-en, Strengthening corporate accountability litigation

Multinationals and Human Rights: CAC 40 companies give their opinion

5 June 2014 – 30 companies* responded to a questionnaire on United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights issued by civil society organisations and responsible investors. It is the first time that French companies have spoken publicly about the subject since the Rana Plaza collapsed one year ago. Though most of them claim to agree with the Guiding Principles (States’ duty to protect populations from fundamental rights infringements, companies’ duty to respect those rights, and access to compensation for the victims, when applicable), most are not in favour of changes to the law that would enable their effective implementation. As regards victims’ right to justice, they favour non-binding extra-judicial mechanisms to judicial remedy.

This questionnaire was submitted on 25 March by CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette, Peuples Solidaires/ActionAid France and Sherpa. These associations are members of Forum citoyen for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in association with Ethique et Investissement and Meeschaert Asset Management. Our organisations are pleased with the reply rate: 30* of the 40 companies polled agreed to answer the questions in detail.

The responses** reveal that the companies unanimously support the UN Guiding Principles. The support is almost unanimous when it comes to the obligations for States to protect human rights, and for companies to respect them within their activities. 80% agree with the suggestion of a range of binding and voluntary measures.

Nonetheless, these statements contradict the detailed answers given concerning victims’ access to justice and States’ adoption of binding measures to implement the Guiding Principles. Only half of the companies are in favour of victims’ access to justice; the other half did not answer. Details given in the commentaries show strong opposition to changes to the legal framework that would enable the removal of obstacles to victims’ access to justice in the company’s native country. In total, 70% of the companies are not in favour of them. Some companies even contest the mere existence of obstacles toward justice (such as French corporations Pernod Ricard, GDF Suez or Alstom).

Companies obviously support non-binding extra-judicial mediation mechanisms to the detriment of justiciability (access to justice). GDF-Suez, L’Oréal or Pernod-Ricard underline the relevance of the OECD’s National Contact Points (NCP), while Renault, Michelin, and Kering highlight the inefficiency of legal proceedings that are supposedly costly and time-consuming. Lastly, some companies such as Schneider Electric or Safran invoke the need to respect private international law in defence of the principle of autonomy of parent companies toward their subsidiaries.

Although most companies acknowledge that the State has a duty to protect populations from fundamental rights infringements resulting from economic activity, they are against implementing binding measures. Alstom Group highlights their complex implementation, while Orange cites the risk of “slowing down economic growth.” Companies seem attached to the idea of a CSR based solely on voluntary measures for which they alone would be responsible.

The questionnaires were completed at a time of legislative activity. 4 French parliamentary groups (PS, EELV, PV, PRG) have recently presented a parliamentary bill requiring multinational companies to provide a duty of care to their business relations in terms of human rights. This law paves the way for judicial, criminal or civil proceedings in the event of non-compliance. It would enable victims’ access to justice in the company’s country of origin. The answers given by the majority of the biggest French companies highlight their opposition to the content of such law.

Our organisations reiterate that:

 – it has too often been proven that voluntary initiatives are ineffective at preventing future infringements of human rights and damage to the environment caused by multinational companies’ activities; current events provide us with frequent examples,

– it has too often been recognised that extra-judicial mechanisms are inadequate at enabling victims of fundamental rights infringements to obtain compensation.

They ask the government:

 – to bring to light legal uncertainties which mean that today, multinational companies are not punished when their activities result in fundamental rights abuses and damage to the environment abroad, especially by supporting the parliamentary bill on the duty of care of multinational companies and placing it on the agenda as soon as possible,

 – to put in writing in its national legislation the Guiding Principles to which it agreed at international level,

 – to support the implementation of an intergovernmental process which would lead to the establishment of a binding instrument at the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council,


CCFD-Terre Solidaire | Karine Appy | +33 (0)1 44 82 80 67 – +33 (0)6 66 12 33 02

Collectif Éthique sur l’Étiquette | Nayla Ajaltouni | +33 (0)6 62 53 34 56

Éthique et Investissement | Murielle Hermellin | +33 (0)1 45 49 84 41

Peuples Solidaires | Fanny Gallois | +33 (0)6 19 89 53 07

Sherpa  | Sophia Lakhdar | +33 (0)1 42 21 33 25

Citigate for Meeschaert Asset Management | Camille Helly/Audrey Berladyn +33 (0)1 53 32 84 76/78 92

audrey.berladyn@citigate.fr / camille.helly@citigate.fr


Download the press release in PDF format.

Download the analysis of the answers to the questionnaire in PDF format.


*6 companies did not answer (Air Liquide, Alcatel-Lucent, ArcelorMittal, Axa, Essilor international and Lafarge). Among the 34 companies that answered, 4 did not comply with the questionnaire’s format. They chose not to answer precisely to the questions asked, but they provided us with comments on each of them. These companies are Airbus Group, Danone, Total and Vinci. For methodological reasons, these 4 answers are thus not taken into account in the analysis of the questionnaire’s results. Consequently, the analysis focuses on the answers from the 30 following companies: Accor, Alstom, BNP Paribas, Bouygues, Cap Gemini, Carrefour, Crédit agricole, EDF, GDF Suez, Gemalto, Kering, L’Oréal, Legrand, LVMH, Michelin, Orange, Pernod Ricard, Publicis Groupe, Renault, Safran, Saint Gobain, Sanofi, Schneider Electric, Société Générale, Solvay, Technip, Unibail-Rodamco, Vallourec, Veolia Environnement and Vivendi.

** See the complete analysis of the questionnaire’s answers: http://www.asso-sherpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/questionnaire-entreprisescac40.pdf

Last modified: 17 December 2019