Corporate sustainability due diligence directive must be strengthened by EU policymakers

Abdesslam Mirdass / Hans Lucas via AFP

Following the publication of the European Commission’s proposal for a directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and 22 of its member organisations draw the attention of European policymakers to crucial points in the text that need to be improved if they want the text to deliver meaningful results. This position paper highlights the lack of clarity and the weakness of certain articles of the proposal and includes several key recommendations to ensure that the text constitutes a real step forward for the protection of human rights and the planet.

On 23 February 2022, the European Commission published its proposal for a directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence. Today, FIDH and 22 of its member organisations from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, publish the following analysis and recommendations addressed to the policymakers currently negotiating the directive.

The ineffectiveness of current instruments to prevent corporate human rights and the environmental abuse is widely recognized. In this regard, an improved EU regulatory framework that would create an obligation for companies to respect human rights and the environment — clearly requiring businesses to identify, prevent, bring to an end and remedy abuses and harm in their value chain — has been supported by civil society for many years. In this regard, in 2020, FIDH and several of its members published a position paper backing an ambitious piece of legislation, which contained various recommendations to EU policymakers.

The Commission’s proposal represents a key milestone in the fight for a better protection of human rights and the environment. However, despite positive aspects, the directive proposed by the European Commission falls short on many fundamental issues and significantly deviates from international standards, particularly with regard to its scope and the consultation of affected stakeholders.

Before the directive is adopted, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament will discuss the text and have the opportunity to introduce important improvements. FIDH recommends that they take onboard the following recommendations.

- Align the scope of the directive with international standards, remove the exemptions for certain sectors, and ensure the proportionality of the regulatory measures. The directive could only be genuinely effective with the extension of its normative scope, of the types of entities covered in the value chain scope and the number of companies who bear due diligence obligations.
- Reinforce the role of civil society and the place of affected people in the due diligence process, drawing a particular attention to indigenous people and human rights defenders.
- Guard against adopting a box-ticking compliance approach to due diligence obligations, by removing the over-reliance on contractual assurances for example.
- Reinforce the measures on civil liability and guarantee better access to justice through, among others, a reversal of the burden of proof.
- Require enhanced due diligence for companies operating in conflict-affected and high-risk areas.
- Ensure responsible disengagement, and specify the requirements to that end.

The effectiveness and future of this directive is now in the hands of European policymakers. The adoption of a truly ambitious due diligence is so important that it is no longer time for superficial measures that would protect companies more than affected populations.

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