EC urged to keep company “red tape” over human rights concerns

ECCJ report follows new European Commission announcement that it would prioritise cutting regulatory burdens for business over next five years

22 Oct 2014 By Chris Warmoll

HALF OF ALL companies listed on the British FTSE 100, the French CAC 40 and Germany’s DAX 40 have been implicated in allegations of human rights-related abuses over the last decade, a powerful new report has revealed.

The European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ) published its report just weeks after the new European Commission announced it was hell-bent on slashing regulatory burdens for business over the next five years.

Among the myriad claims are allegations that European banks financed projects which led to large-scale deforestation in Indonesia, local communities were forcibly evicted without compensation to make way for mining operations in Colombia and aggressive buying practices contributed to serious health and safety breaches in Bangladeshi garment factories, leading to the deaths of workers.

The research, commissioned from the International Peace Information Service, charts a decade of concerns and allegations of human rights abuse and human rights-related issues such as corruption, tax evasion and environmental damage.

The analysis – gleaned from media reports and NGOs – discovered concerns have been raised in relation to all sectors, from banking and retail to extractives and pharmaceuticals.

Jerome Chaplier, ECCJ coordinator, said: “Some of Europe’s biggest companies are alleged to have been involved in serious human rights abuses. Governments have failed to oversee or regulate their private sector. With this backdrop, the emphasis from the European Commission on cutting “red tape” is a cause for concern.

“The commission must not allow this to lead to lower environmental and human rights standards – or promote a voluntary approach to corporate responsibility which would make these standards subject to companies’ will.”

The report finds that 43 out of 84 companies listed on the UK’s FTSE 100 were named in reports on allegations of human rights issues in the last ten years; in Germany, 23 of the companies listed on the DAX 30 index were identified and in France, 24 out of 37 companies on the CAC 40 index.

Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, EU states and the European Union have an internationally recognised duty to protect against human right abuses by companies, including in their activities abroad.

Chaplier added: “This report reveals the poor record of some of the biggest European companies over the past decade. Since the adoption in 2011 of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, progressive companies are taking action.

“We now need the European Union to play its part to level the playing field and require all companies to conduct human rights due diligence. Respect for human rights is not just a nice idea or an aspiration. It is a duty and a matter of political will.

“The process of renewing the European corporate social responsibility strategy is an opportunity to develop a bold plan of action, including binding rules which will prevent future human rights abuses”.