Written by 12 h 41 min Advocacy, Labor rights and Modern slavery, Laundering advocacy, Sherpa in the media, Strengthening corporate accountability litigation

[Opinion] Making economic actors accountable by governing globalisation through law

This op-ed has been published in Mediapart’s blog on May the 5th, 2020

The accountability of economic actors has been thought of at Sherpa for almost 20 years. How, in a world whose economy obeys neo-liberalism, can we ensure that those who profit from harmful economic activities can be held accountable for their actions? The symptomatic crisis of this system – tested by a global pandemic – should act as a revelation of its flaws.

Mireille Delmas-Marty, member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences and Sherpa’s board of directors, recently wrote that the pandemic questions “the tool that law represents” in order to govern globalization through law. To this end, it will be necessary to challenge our legal, economical and social references, between universalism and sovereignism, as to avoid ending up with a “society of unlimited irresponsibility“.

Workers on the front line

Often invisible, workers were already on the front line before Covid-19. It should be remembered that companies have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees throughout their production chain.

The Teleperformance case, the world leader of call-centers that was served with a formal notice by Sherpa and UNI last year, is emblematic. In France, the trade unions warned of the lack of preventive measures to protect the health of its employees, ironically responsible for answering the toll-free number created by the government to deal with the crisis – while in Teleperformance’s subsidiaries in the Philippines, working conditions deteriorated in order to provide customer service for Amazon, Netflix and Expedia.

The wages of the so-called modern slaves may not be maintained for economic reasons, while the dividends will be paid to shareholders since the French government is not taking any steps to ban it, unlike some of its European neighbours, which will fuel speculation in this time of collective efforts.

France was a pioneer in adopting the Duty of vigilance law on 27 March 2017. But the few measures announced, such as the government’s €20 billion in aid to strategic companies with no counterpart on binding commitments for the climate, the environment and workers’ rights, take the form of a contradiction to the possibility of a fairer “next world“.

The tool that represents law, through its strategic use by trade unions and civil society, could prove to be one of the most essential bulwarks as demonstrated by the decision of a French Court of Justice against Amazon, and then upheld on appeal. It ordered Amazon to comply with its safety obligations for the health of workers and, in the meantime, forced it to restrict its activity to the essential service with a penalty payment of one hundred thousand euros per offence, commensurate with the public health at stake.

Tax evasion, looted state revenues to the detriment of a decent and efficient public service

It is also essential to take the measure of the systemic tax evasion that prevents concrete realization of human, economic, social and environmental rights by States.

On a French scale, tax evasion, implemented by some wealthy individuals and companies, represents a loss of 100 billion euros each year for the French budget. It therefore deprives public finances of important revenues that are sorely lacking to provide quality public services and thus a dignified and efficient health system, particularly in times of crisis. 100 billion euros is more than the annual budget allocated to health institutions.

Once again, the tax practice of a few people is detrimental to the protection of all individuals. It is unbelievable that the Minister of Public Accounts and Action called for donations from individuals to cushion the social and economic consequences of this crisis.

The inaction of the States, the role of banks and financial operators in financial resources’ evasion and their consequences on human rights, the destruction of the environment and global warming can no longer be ignored.

It is now more necessary than ever to regulate financial movements, harmonise taxation and make multinationals accountable.

Last modified: 7 August 2023