Proposal EU Due Diligence Directive: ‘a missed opportunity’

Last week, the European Commission published a legislative proposal which obligates major companies to prevent human rights violations and environmental pollution in their supply chain. Companies that fail to do so can be held accountable. This is a positive development, but also a missed opportunity: the directive only reaches 1% of all European companies.

Header photo: European Union flag Markus Spiske for Unsplash

On 23 February 2022, the European Commission published the proposal for the ‘Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive’. Companies with more than 500 employees and a (worldwide) turnover of EUR 150 million fall within its scope. Companies active in so-called risk sectors, such as textiles, with more than 250 employees and a (worldwide) turnover of EUR 40 million of which at least half is generated in risk sectors also fall under the scope of the proposed directive. 

Human rights violations

Antoinette Sprenger, senior expert environmental justice at IUCN NL: ‘The fact that this proposal for a directive has been submitted is good news. It forces companies to take measures in their business operations to prevent human rights violations and environmental pollution in their value chain. Companies can now be held accountable and liable for this.’

However, Sprenger is not completely satisfied with the proposal: ‘It is disappointing that the scope of this directive is so limited that only 1% of companies established in Europe will fall within its scope. This means that it will still be very difficult for victims of human rights violations committed by the other 99% of European companies to call these companies to account and receive compensation for the damage suffered. ‘

Reversal of the burden of proof

In addition, the directive does not address several other problems that victims of human rights violations often face. Sprenger: ‘One example is the burden of proof. For victims of human rights violations in the southern hemisphere, it is often very difficult to provide evidence that the headquarters of Western concerns should have known about the violations taking place within their value chain. A reversal of the burden of proof offers a solution in certain cases. However, the directive does not provide for this.’

Progressive regulation

The proposal is now up for negotiation by the European Council and the European Parliament. Last year, the European Parliament indicated that it envisaged progressive legislation. Sprenger concludes: ‘We will continue to fight for a directive that offers more relief for victims of human rights violations and environmental pollution.’ We do this as part of our Forests for a Just Future programme, which aims, among other things, to ensure the freedom of movement and safety of nature conservationists.

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Antoinette Sprenger
Senior Expert Environmental Justice