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

On June 24, 2021, US Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued a Withhold Release Order (“WRO”) on silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd. (“Hoshine”), a company located in Xinjiang, and its subsidiaries. This WRO is based on information that CBP alleges “reasonably indicates” that Hoshine used forced labor to manufacture silica-based products. As a result, CBP personnel at all US ports of entry have been instructed to immediately begin detaining shipments that contain silica-based products made by Hoshine or materials and goods derived from or produced using those silica-based products. China is by far the world’s largest producer of silicon and silica-based products.

Continue Reading US Customs Issues WRO on Silica-based Products Produced by Xinjiang Manufacturer

On May 19th, 2021, Singapore’s Green Finance Industry Task Force (GFIT), an industry-led initiative convened by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), issued a detailed implementation guide for climate-related disclosures by financial institutions (FIs) and a whitepaper on scaling green finance in the real estate, infrastructure, fund management and transition sectors. In addition, the GFIT has established a framework to help banks assess eligible green trade finance transactions and will launch a series of ESG-related capacity building workshops and e-learning modules from May 2021 to April 2022 for FIs and corporates.

In an announcement, Ms. Gillian Tan, Assistant Managing Director (Development and International) at the MAS, said:

“GFIT’s initiatives to enhance climate-related disclosures and strengthen green capabilities will enable financial institutions to effectively develop green solutions and align their portfolios towards facilitating Asia’s transition to a low carbon economy. These initiatives will also contribute to global efforts to achieve greater consistency and comparability in climate-related disclosures, as well as provide investors and market participants with the necessary information for climate risk analysis and investment decision-making.”

Continue reading for more details on each of these significant new developments.


Continue Reading Singapore Financial Regulator Announces Initiatives on Climate Disclosures, ESG Capacity Building and More

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

Recently celebrating the 10th anniversary of its entry into force, the Nagoya Protocol is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992, which seeks to facilitate the protection of biodiversity globally. Parties to the Nagoya Protocol (Parties) have committed to so-called “Access and Benefit Sharing” (ABS) principles regarding the acquisition and utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

In a nutshell, access to those resources is conditioned upon obtaining the prior informed consent of authorities in the country of origin. Resources should then be used according to “Mutually Agreed Terms”, which shall include benefit sharing mechanisms with the country of origin.

This structure places concrete obligations on any company dealing with nature-based products and, notably, a need to obtain appropriate administrative authorizations and set up contractual arrangements toward benefit sharing. Beyond that, the key driver for compliance is to avoid the reputational costs associated with possible allegations of bio-piracy. Given the complexity of the global supply chains involved, global compliance is a challenge.

In this Blog Post, we discuss the practical implications of the Protocol on international businesses and their supply chains.


Continue Reading The Nagoya Protocol & Access and Benefit Sharing: Organizing the Supply Chain Toward Protection of Biodiversity Globally

On March 4, 2021, Brazil ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (“Nagoya Protocol” or “Protocol”). Starting on June, 2, 2021, the country becomes a party to the Protocol and will be able to actively take part in discussions and decision-making, including by participating in the next Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol (COP-MOP 4) scheduled for October 2021.

Brazil is the most biodiverse country in the world, and the ratification comes 10 years after the signing of the Protocol on February 2, 2011. In the meantime, the country passed its own regulations on biodiversity, notably Law 13,123 of May 20, 2015 (Brazilian Biodiversity Law), which provides for access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge, as well as benefit-sharing mechanisms. The Brazilian Biodiversity Law is the national legislation for implementing the Nagoya Protocol and one of the key access and benefit-sharing (ABS) legislations, which places benefit-sharing obligations on manufacturers of finished products developed from Brazilian genetic resources (regardless of who previously accessed the resources).


Continue Reading Brazil Ratifies the Nagoya Protocol: One Step Further to Unlock the Potential of Brazilian Biodiversity

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?

With the advancing wave of mandatory human rights laws (see our previous Blog Posts here and here) and the increasing focus from investors and other stakeholders on human rights (see our previous Blog Post), it is ever more incumbent on companies to take demonstrable steps to identify, assess and mitigate actual or potential human rights harms.  This includes taking steps to ensure that no forced labor takes place within an organization or, increasingly, its supply chain.

Indeed, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include specific targets relating to forced labor.  In particular, the SDGs call for (i) the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (SDG 5.2) and (ii) immediate and effective measures to eradicate inter alia forced labor (SDG 8.7).

But what indicators of forced labor should companies look out for?


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: What Are The Key Indicators of Forced Labor?