The EU Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, has announced that the EU Commission will introduce a legislative initiative next year on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence for EU based companies. If this legislation is introduced, EU companies can be held responsible for human rights violations in their supply chains. 

This is very good news for Dalits, Adivasis and other vulnerable workers. These workers often bear the brunt of serious human rights violations in supply chains, including forced and bonded labour, child labour, exploitative and dangerous working conditions and hostile and abusive work environments – as documented in the Ethical Trading Initiative’s guidance Caste in Global Supply Chains. These workers are often found far down in the supply chains as agricultural workers, construction or stone workers or working in spinning mills or leather tanneries supplying the global garment industry.

The initiative was announced at a webinar hosted by the European Parliament Working Group on Responsible Business Conduct, during which the Commissioner presented the findings of the Commission’s recently published study on due diligence requirements through supply chains.

“As a network pushing for accountability for human rights abuses and working to combat slavery, child labour and abuse in supply chains, the introduction of effective mandatory EU human rights due diligence legislation would be a huge step in the right direction,” Said Meena Varma.

“Having this legislative backing would give vulnerable workers, unions and human rights defenders a much stronger foundation to stand on and demand their rights.”

While some businesses already carry out due diligence and human rights assessments on a voluntary basis, it is very far from all. The European Commission’s study found that only one in three businesses in the EU are currently undertaking due diligence which takes into account all human rights and environmental impacts.

Having mandatory due diligence legislation would mean having common minimum standards and clear obligations across the industry. This would make it possible to hold companies accountable to human rights abuses in their supply chains to a much greater extent and would also incentivise companies to prioritise work on this. Finally, the responsible companies who have already been pioneering this work will be able to step-up efforts even further as their competitors now also have to live up to a range of minimum standards.

IDSN will continue to track developments and hopes that the European Commission will launch an ambitious legislative proposal in 2021.