France : Parliamentarians support the duty of vigilance law

Press release
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Human rights and environmental organisations welcome the decision by parliamentarians to grant jurisdiction to a civil tribunal over disputes arising from the Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law.

Meeting in a joint committee to review the bill on confidence in the judiciary, the deputies and senators acted in favour of human rights and the environment by voting for the jurisdiction of a civil tribunal defined in Article 34, in order to preserve the spirit and effectiveness of the duty of vigilance law. This debate came after a dangerous reversal by the Senate, which, under pressure from lobbies, had adopted an amendment giving the Paris Commercial Court jurisdiction over disputes based on this law

By granting jurisdiction to a civil tribunal, the parliamentarians have chosen to facilitate access to justice for people whose rights are threatened or have been violated as a result of the activities of large French companies. Thus, professional judges, whose expertise in human rights is proven, will intervene at the first instance, as opposed to consular judges, who are elected by their peers which includes merchants and businesses managers.

Parliamentarians thus recognise the true meaning of the duty of vigilance. It is a question of obligating companies to identify risks and prevent serious human rights and environmental abuses, and is therefore a matter for society as a whole, which must be dealt with by the civil courts. If the opposite decision had been taken, the law would have been approached from a commercial perspective, with the risk of reducing the duty of vigilance to a mere formal obligation to manage risks, and thus creating new obstacles in the quest for justice for people whose rights are being violated by multinationals.

This decision is all the more important at a time when the European Commission is preparing a proposal for a directive on the duty of vigilance, in light of the French experience. We hope that this choice will be taken into account in the decisions expected in the coming months in the ongoing litigation.

In the face of corporate lobbying which aims to undermine the scope of the duty of vigilance, we welcome the choice of parliamentarians to have clarified this point of the 2017 law, reaffirming the need for effective implementation of the duty of vigilance.

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