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Strengthening Corporate Accountability: Toward an Ambitious European Legislation on the Duty of Vigilance

January 26, 2021Adopted in 2017 after a long advocacy, the French law on the duty of vigilance is a world first in the fight against the impunity of economic actors for human rights and environmental violations. This law is an innovative legal tool, at the heart of Sherpa’s work to strengthen corporate accountability through legal innovation, strategic litigation and advocacy. Since then, it has inspired other national legislators and prompted the mobilization of European civil society.

A European legislation on corporate accountability is now on the European Commission’s agenda for 2021. For more than a year, Sherpa has been mobilizing alongside its European allies to ensure that this future text will reinforce the companies’ liability and facilitate access to justice for victims.


The duty of vigilance on the European agenda

Last April, the European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced a draft European legislation on corporate due diligence for 2021[1]. This commitment is a first victory for the work carried out for more than ten years by the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ), of which Sherpa is a founding member.

To draft this text, the European Commission has launched a public consultation, which will end on February 8.

The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) also prepared a report on mandatory human rights due diligence and corporate accountability, which will be submitted to the Parliament’s vote in March 2021.

Our recommendations

Given the economic and commercial weight of the European Union, the future European legislation could have a considerable impact on business practices.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to draw the first lessons from French law to ensure that the new European legislation will not be a regression, but a real tool for social and environmental justice, which will alleviate the many legal obstacles faced by victims of economic crimes.

In Brussels, business lobbies are already seeking to weaken the legal mechanisms of future legislation, limiting its scope and the content of the obligations on companies.

Together with the organizations (NGOs and trade unions) that have defended the duty of vigilance in France, we have published a series of recommendations for a European duty of vigilance.

We maintain that, to be effective, the duty of vigilance should not consist of compelling companies to set up certain internal risk management procedures (an internal policy, contractual clauses, certifications or social and environmental audits) or to publish reports on these procedures.

Legislation should require companies to implement all necessary measures to prevent human rights and environmental abuses throughout their corporate group and value chain. It should also provide for a specific liability regime.

The Duty of Vigilance: A Law for the Defense of Human Rights and the Environment

Today, the French law on the duty of vigilance is a legal tool in the fight against the impunity of economic actors. It is now used as one of the main legal bases in actions aimed at preventing human rights and environmental violations:

  • Climate action against Total – Forcing oil companies to follow the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement.
    Read our article
  • Action against Teleperformance – To promote the recognition of workers’ rights and trade unions’ freedom of association in the foreign subsidiaries of the world’s largest French employer
    Read our article
  • Action against Casino – To prevent the participation of the French company in the deforestation of the Amazon
    Read our article
  • Action against EDF – To prevent violations of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples when constructing energy megaprojects
    Read our article (in French)

[1] To know more watch the Webinar “Presentation and Discussion with commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders on due Diligence Story” Hosted by Responsible Business Conduct Working Group

Last modified: 12 December 2022