Trade and Human rights: The EU Ombudswoman echoes FIDH’s demands

Frederick Florin / AFP

22 August 2022. Based on the complaints that the European Ombudswoman received from civil society, two of them having been filed by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Ombudswoman opened a strategic initiative to assess how the Commission ensures respect for human rights in the context of international trade agreements.

In particular, and as asked by FIDH, the initiative sought to examine how the Commission prepares the "human rights clauses" contained in international trade agreements signed by the European Union (EU) and how, once trade agreements have entered into force, it monitors the application of these clauses. The follow up of the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement was also emphasised.

The Ombudswoman closed the initiative mid July and recommended to the EU echoing FIDH demands to set up a new and separate complaint mechanism for alleged human rights abuses, specifying that "Accessibility, citizen-friendliness and transparency are key principles when setting up and implementing complaints mechanisms". It also invited the Commission to examine how it can facilitate stakeholders based in the countries with which the EU has agreements who want to raise human rights issues through this new mechanism, the Ombudswoman adding that this would help to strengthen the effectiveness of the EU’s trade enforcement mechanisms.

An additional and interesting element is that during the procedure the Commission said that it already allowed such complaints. The EU is then clearly committed to provide some flesh to the human rights clause. Civil society may expect to be provided with additional tools to that end. The importance of ensuring respect for human rights in the context of its international trade agreements is reaffirmed.

Read more