When people are being buried by mud when a dam is bursting in Brazil, seamstresses die in a fire in a textile factory in Bangladesh, or children are working on cocoa farms in Ghana, the supply chain too often ends with German companies. In light of the discussion on sustainability in the economy, the idea is increasingly gaining ground that companies should take responsibility for ensuring that their suppliers comply with human rights and environmental standards.
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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) stands for businesses voluntarily contributing to sustainable development and implies responsible corporate action by all market participants. Its core is the socially, ecologically, and economically responsible corporate management that impacts the entire value chain. By way of codes of conduct or CSR agreements, numerous companies obligate their contractual partners to observe minimum standards of occupational health and safety and to object to child labor, forced labor or discrimination in their companies and at their suppliers. The voluntary assumption of social responsibility is being given a legal basis in the form of binding legislation.
In 2011, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They form a global instrument for eliminating and preventing human rights violations in a business context. In 2015, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda with 17 global goals for a better future based on these principles.
In 2016, the German government initiated the National Action Plan – Transposition of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (NAP). As only a few companies comply with their human rights due diligence in the supply chain, the German government recently published a key issues paper for a Supply Chain Act (Sorgfaltspflichtengesetz). The paper’s proposals include the option of individuals taking action against German companies for liability under civil law.
In France (Loi de Vigilance), the Netherlands (Wet Zorgplicht Kinderarbeid), and the UK (Modern Slavery Act), statutory provisions to prevent human rights violations and child labor are already in existence. In Switzerland, a vote on the “Corporate Responsibility Initiative” is scheduled for November 2020. In the EU, legislative proposals for mandatory social standards in supply chains are expected to be adopted in 2021. The EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which imposes extensive due diligence obligations on importers of gold, wolfram, tin, and tantalum, will enter into force on January 1, 2021.
The lawyers of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) task force advise companies, public institutions, and organizations on all aspects of the current and dynamic field of business, environment and human rights, offering the following services: