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France: Milestone in the protection of human rights

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France has passed a widely welcomed law on corporate responsibility regarding human rights. There are calls for an equivalent law in Germany.

Eco-News reports that the new law in France is the first in the world that obliges companies to respect human rights and the environment. It applies also to subsidiaries, their business activities abroad and supply chains.

NGOs such as Amnesty International have welcomed the law. The president of "Bread for the world" says this law is best practice and, together with the recent EU resolution on conflict raw materials, paves the way for ensuring that globally operating companies protect human rights and the environment. In France Amnesty and other NGOs have for years argued for a law that states clearly the duty of care to be exercised by corporations regarding human rights.

Around 120 companies in France now have to publish and implement a duty of care plan that identifies risks to the environment and human rights along the entire value chain and the action taken to prevent them. If requested, adherence to the duty of care can be examined by a court of law and enforced. In the case of damage, a breach of duty of care can mean accepting liability towards third parties.

Since 2016 Germany has had its National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights but its contains only voluntary standards. If by 2020 less than half of all companies with more than 500 employees have integrated duty of care in their business practice, the federal government will consider mandatory legislation. Marion Lieser, the managing director of Oxfam in Germany, considers voluntary self-regulation inadequate and, citing the collapse of the textile factory Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013,  is calling for compulsory regulations to safeguard human rights.

The opinion of Mike Klaus from Germanwatch: politicians ought to be thinking now about how to design an effective law. In the year of its G20 Presidency, Germany can motivate other countries to take action only if its own approach is ambitious.

The NGOs had already published a proposal for a German law on corporate duty of care regarding human rights.


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