There is an undisputed trend of increased and strengthened human rights and environmental due diligence laws (for example, see our previous Blogs here and here).  A related trend is the rise of import controls to supplement such measures.  For example, the United States’ Customs and Border Protection agency have in recent times increasingly issued Withhold Release Orders to detain shipments of products suspected to be produced, in whole or in part, using forced labour (for example, see our Legal Updates here and here).

The European Commission is now assessing the adoption of action and enforcement instruments to tackle forced labour. Its consideration of such mechanisms coincides with the forthcoming legislative proposals from the European Commission on Sustainable Corporate Governance (SCG), a key element of which includes an obligation for corporations to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD).

A coalition of NGOs, including Anti-Slavery International and the European Coalition for Corporate Justice, have released an NGO position paper raising some key considerations in the development of potential import control measures in tandem with a mandatory corporate HREDD obligation.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: NGOs Set Out Key Considerations for EU Import Controls to Tackle Forced Labour

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (“IPCC Report“), published on 9 August 2021, delivered the starkest warning to date that human activity is responsible for significant changes in the Earth’s climate.  The attention of the world’s scientific, political, and business communities, and of society at large, is increasingly focused

The Loan Market Association (LMA), the Loan Syndications and Trading Association (LSTA) and the European Leveraged Finance Association (ELFA) have published an ESG questionnaire which they hope will be an industry standard for investors undertaking ESG due diligence on prospective and incumbent asset managers.

The publishing associations hope that this will simplify the due diligence

EU legislators are being pressed to ensure that, as they progress plans for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence, they highlight the importance of companies identifying and mitigating corruption.

Global Witness and Transparency International EU published a report in April 2021 which highlights that, despite commitments from every EU country to tackle bribery and corruption, only three of 27 countries (France, Germany and Italy) have enacted legislation that requires companies to prevent and detect corruption.  The report proposes that the EU’s proposed mandatory human rights due diligence legislation should make it clear that companies should address the negative risks and impacts of corruption as part of a broader human rights and environmental due diligence obligation.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: The Corruption Dimension

In a Report published in April 2021, The Circle, an NGO that champions equal rights and equal opportunities for women and girls, proposed an EU regulation specifically aimed at achieving a living wage for workers in the garment industry. As the fashion industry emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic – which has brought renewed attention to complex supply chains and the conditions of workers in garment factories – Jessica Simor QC, author of the Report, argues the need for a legal framework to protect garment workers from exploitation.

The proposal comes off the back of the EU’s commitment to introduce a mandatory human rights due diligence law, and other initiatives currently progressing at the EU-level, which indicate considerable political will to introduce measures that identify and remediate human rights harms in global supply chains.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: Fashion Focus – A Proposal for New EU Legislation on a Living Wage

The European Coalition for Corporate Justice, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and Initiative Lieferkettengesetz reflect, in a Business and Human Rights Resource Centre Paper entitled “Towards EU Mandatory Due Diligence Legislation”, on insights from past efforts of companies to advance responsible business conduct and monitor their supply chain. Among other things, they caution against relying on “policing” suppliers through social audits and warn that private auditing and certification must not become a synonym for human rights and environmental due diligence. According to the Paper:

Private auditing and certification must not become a surrogate for the human rights and environmental due diligence of companies. Auditing and certification failures are widespread, ranging from garment factory collapses and fires (Rana Plaza, Ali Enterprise, Tazreen) to dam collapses, resulting in thousands of avoidable deaths and injuries. We now know these mechanisms under-identify and under-document risks and impacts, and can serve as a ‘fig leaf’ disguising actual negative impacts. Currently this multi-billion euro compliance industry goes about unchecked and unregulated with various inherent conflicts of interest.”

In this Blog Post, we discuss the future of social auditing, including with respect to emerging human rights due diligence legislation, and practical steps that businesses can take today to position themselves for the future of human rights due diligence.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: Pitfalls Of Social Auditing

The “Find It, Fix It, Prevent It” initiative, which extends to some 56 large investors including M & G, Fidelity International, Schroeder’s and Edentree, seeks to increase the effectiveness of corporate action against modern slavery.

Initially, the “Find It, Fix It, Prevent It” initiative was focused on the hospitality sector, with investors seeking to engage with the largest UK-listed hospitality firms to encourage companies to develop better policies, processes and procedures for tackling modern slavery–and better disclosure. This year, “Find It, Fix It, Prevent It” will look to broaden its engagement with companies to include the construction and materials sector, with plans to commence engagement with targeted companies from the third quarter: the initiative’s activities and future focus are set out in its first annual report. The CCLA estimates that “the construction industry is estimated to contain 18% of the world’s victims of forced labor”. The term “modern slavery” extends to slavery, servitude, human trafficking and forced or compulsory labor (read more on the key indicators of modern slavery here).


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: Investors Call Out “Modern Slavery” and Focus on Hospitality, Construction and Materials Sectors

This month, the American Bar Association (the “ABA“) published a Report on its suggested Model Contract Clauses to Protect Workers in International Supply Chains (the “MCCs“).

While the MCCs are not put forward as a binding standard, they do provide food for thought for companies who are seeking to align their supply chain contracts with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the “UNGPs“), and the increasing tide of mandatory human rights due diligence legislation (see more on this impending legislation here).

Key takeaways:

  1. The aim of the MCCs is to align drafting in international supply chain contracts with existing human rights due diligence standards and obligations, with a view to providing “operational guidance for mapping, identifying and addressing human rights risks at every tier of the supply chain” and seeking to help companies “implement healthy corporate policies in their supply chains in a way that is both legally effective and operationally likely.”
  2. In aligning supply chain contracts with existing obligations and requiring reasonable due diligence by both contract parties, the MCCs seek to address what could be considered an imbalance in the typical negotiation of supply chain contracts where, traditionally, a buyer has tended to shift all responsibility for human rights issues to the supplier.
  3. The publication of the MCCs pose some interesting considerations for buyers negotiating supply chain contracts. For example, to what extent is it reasonable for the supply chain contract to reflect the stance that abuses of workers’ rights occurring in global supply chains is a shared responsibility of both buyers and suppliers? The cooperative approach submitted is very different to the traditional oppositional relationship between buyer and supplier, where buyers seek to ensure that any and all responsibility for adherence to prescribed human rights standards falls to suppliers by requiring representations and warranties from suppliers on a “strict liability” basis.


Continue Reading Human Rights Due Diligence in Supply Chain Contracts: A Shared Responsibility of Buyer and Supplier?

On March 3, 2021, the German government adopted a draft bill which obliges companies to ensure that human rights are observed throughout their entire supply chain. The aim of the “draft legislation on corporate due diligence in supply chains” (“Draft Bill”) (“Sorgfaltspflichtengesetz”) is to require companies to take steps to prevent human rights violations in their supply chains. This builds on the growing momentum for mandatory human rights due diligence (see our previous Blog Post).

Under the Draft Bill:

  • companies must ensure that human rights are being respected throughout their entire supply chain;
  • companies must establish complaint mechanisms and report on their due diligence activities;
  • companies with more than 3,000 employees must meet their due diligence obligations as of January 1, 2023 (and companies with more than 1,000 employees as of 2024);
  • violations of the obligations set forth in the Draft Bill will be sanctioned with fines, which can amount to up to 2% of the average annual turnover for large companies with more than 400 million euros annual turnover.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights – Germany Adopts Draft Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence Law

The UK Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in the case of Okpabi and others v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and another.  Although the judgment made no substantive findings on the facts of the dispute, the Supreme Court’s decision raised important issues with regard to the circumstances in which a parent company will be held liable for the actions of its subsidiary – including in relation to ESG-related harms, such as environmental damage.

Continue Reading UK Supreme Court Clarifies Parent Company Liability for ESG-Related Harms Caused by Foreign Subsidiaries