Towards Responsible Banking – A Report on the Doing Business Right Roundtable at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut on 2 November

On Thursday (2 November), the T.M.C. Asser Instituut hosted a roundtable on the role of financial institutions in ensuring responsible business conduct and, in particular, fostering respect for human rights. The discussion focused on the Dutch Banking Sector Agreement on international responsible business conduct regarding human rights (DBSA or Agreement), including details of its key features and the practicalities of its implementation, alongside the theme of responsible banking more generally. More...

Regulating the Gig Economy: A Workers’ Rights Perspective - By Elisa Chiaro

Editor’s Note: Elisa Chiaro is a legal consultant focussing on Business and Human Rights and International Criminal Law. In 2016 she completed an LL.M. at SOAS, University of London. Before that she worked for five years as international corporate lawyer both in Italy and UK. She is admitted to the Bar in Italy.

  

1.      Introduction

In current discourse, the most pressing issues concerning human rights and business are often associated with the developing countries to which manufacturing is outsourced. However, the “western world” also faces new challenges as far as workers’ rights are concerned.

It is cheap and convenient for people to book a car ride or order their favourite takeaway meal at a few swipes of their smartphone. App-based service companies are thus very popular among consumers – and are consequently flourishing. Conversely, some doubts have been cast on the fairness of the working conditions of people contracted by these companies. A central issue in this respect relates to the status of their workers, who on paper are self-employed, but in reality are subject to the control of the company, a condition which clashes with being independent. This post aims firstly to analyse the labour conditions of gig economy workers in Europe, with a focus on some of the main service platforms, namely Uber, Deliveroo, Foodora, and Hermes Parcels: the majority of these companies, Uber in particular, are transnational, operating in many national markets and adopting the same business model based on flexible work and lack of security for workers in each market. Secondly, it will scrutinise how National and European institutions and courts are augmenting gig economy workers’ conditions for the better. The issue is crucial in the UK, especially following September’s decision by Transport of London (“TFL”) to reject Uber’s application for a new London license, but legal disputes have also started in other countries (in, among others, the UK, Italy and the USA). The UK Parliament is also discussing the matter, and the EU Commission has started a round table with trade unions and employers to find new solutions to address the issue. More...

Lungowe v Vedanta and the loi relative au devoir de vigilance: Reassessing parent company liability for human rights violations - By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's Note: Catherine Dunmore is an experienced international lawyer who practised international arbitration for multinational law firms in London and Paris. She recently received her LL.M. from the University of Toronto and her main fields of interest include international criminal law and human rights. Since October 2017, she is part of the team of the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute.

Introduction

The Court of Appeal in London recently handed down its judgment in Dominic Liswaniso Lungowe and Ors. v Vedanta Resources Plc and Konkola Copper Mines Plc [2017] EWCA Civ 1528 (Lungowe v Vedanta) addressing issues of jurisdiction and parent company liability. The judgment runs contrary to the historical legal doctrine that English domiciled parent companies are protected from liability for their foreign subsidiaries’ actions. This decision clarifies the duty of care standard a parent company owes when operating via a subsidiary and opens the gates to other English domiciled companies and their subsidiaries being held accountable for any human rights abuses. More...


Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – October 2017. By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on transnational business regulation based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. More...

Is HEINEKEN truly “Brewing a Better World”? The BRALIMA case before the Dutch National Contact Point - By Constance Kwant

Editor’s note: Constance Kwant is an experienced international lawyer who has worked as in-house senior legal counsel for a top tier international financial institution in both Hong Kong and the Netherlands. She has a specific interest in sustainable business and human rights, including responsible finance.

 

Introduction

This post aims to outline, briefly analyse and to provide a critical comment in relation to striking a balance between confidentiality and transparency in the procedure followed by the Dutch National Contact Point (‘NCP’) in the Specific instance procedure filed in December 2015 by three former employees (‘Representatives’) on behalf of a group of 168 former employees of Heineken’s subsidiary Bralima SA (‘Bralima’) in Bakavu, located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (‘DRC’).

The case, finalised in August 2017, concerns alleged violations of labour and human rights by Bralima in the period 1999-2003, a period during which the DRC was a highly volatile and conflict-affected country, where the eastern part of the DRC was effectively under control of rebel movement DRC-Goma.The complaint also alleged that Bralima had cooperated with DRC-Goma in a number of ways throughout this period. On the basis of the alleged violations, the Representatives sought financial compensation by filing its notification with the NCP.

Since the allegations were brought forward to the NCP under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, this post will first provide short background information on the OECD Guidelines and the workings of the Dutch NCP, subsequently moving through the proceedings, its outcome, and a brief analysis with a critical note. More...

Ending torture and the death penalty through trade policy? The ambitious promise of the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade - By Marie Wilmet

Editor's Note: Marie Wilmet is a research intern in Public International Law at the Asser Institute. She recently graduated from Leiden University’s LL.M. in Public International Law. Her main fields of interest include international criminal law, humanitarian law and human rights law as well as counterterrorism.


The Alliance for Torture-Free Trade was launched on 18 September 2017, at the 72nd Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, by a common initiative of Argentina, the European Union (EU) and Mongolia. It aims at ending the trade in goods used to carry out the death penalty and torture. Indeed, even though torture is unlawful under public international law, these goods are currently available on the open market across the globe. By banning such tools from global trade, the Alliance hopes to reduce the possible human rights violations by complicating the perpetrators’ acquisition of the means to execute and torture people.

This initiative is part of a broader agenda both at the UN and EU level. It falls under the broader umbrella of UN projects such as the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights or the UN Global Compact. Moreover, the EU has tried in the recent years to strengthen the rule of law by conducting policies where trade and values are more interrelated. As the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström stated, “human rights cannot be treated as an afterthought when it comes to trade”.

This blog will first retrace the origins of the Alliance by outlining the current factual and legal framework surrounding torture, the death penalty and related trade. Then, the Alliance and its ambitions will be analysed, along with the chances of its effective implementation. More...




The UK Modern Slavery Act Two Years After: Where do we stand? - By Sara Martinetto

Editor's note: Sara Martinetto is a research intern at the T.M.C. Asser Institute. She has recently completed her LLM in Public International Law at the University of Amsterdam. She holds interests in Migration Law, Criminal Law, Human Rights and European Law, with a special focus on their transnational dimension.

In my previous blog, I explained how the negotiations on a prospective Treaty on Business and Human Rights are going hand-in-hand with the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The Principles – developed by Professor John Ruggie, and approved by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 – have attracted widespread consensus among both States and corporations.[1]  Nowadays, the UNGPs are regarded as crucial to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses connected to their activities. However, the UNGPs are not binding, and they need to be operationalized in national law, as reaffirmed in Human Right Council Resolution 26/22. To date, National Action Plans[2] appear as the preferred tool to transpose the Principles into national law. Nevertheless, their provisions are often of a descriptive nature, resembling more a declaration of intent rather than an effective implementation of the UNGPs.[3] Only recently, some States have actually adopted hard law instruments on Business and Human Rights, and the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) is one of them. The Act, aimed at tackling modern slavery and human trafficking, was sponsored by Theresa May and Lord Bates in 2014 and came into force on 29 October 2015.

Almost two years from the entry into force of the Act, this post aims at giving a brief account of what the Modern Slavery Act is and how it has been applied so far. The main focus will be on Section 54 of the Act (‘Transparency in the supply chain’), which prescribes a reporting obligation for corporations. More...



The Ilva Case – Part 2: The Transnational Recourse Against a Disaster Foretold - By Sara Martinetto

Editor's note: Sara Martinetto is a research intern at the T.M.C. Asser Institute. She has recently completed her LLM in Public International Law at the University of Amsterdam. She holds interests in Migration Law, Criminal Law, Human Rights and European Law, with a special focus on their transnational dimension.

Having explained the Italian legal trajectory of the Ilva case, this second post focuses on the transnational reach of the case. Two main actors have played (or play) a crucial role: the European Union (especially the EU Commission) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Both have tackled the Ilva case from different perspectives, depending on their competences. The Commission even dealt with the case from two distinctive viewpoints, as it started infringement proceedings related environmental protection state and aid.More...


The Ilva Case - Part 1: The Italian Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold - By Sara Martinetto

Editor's note: Sara Martinetto is a research intern at the T.M.C. Asser Institute. She has recently completed her LLM in Public International Law at the University of Amsterdam. She holds interests in Migration Law, Criminal Law, Human Rights and European Law, with a special focus on their transnational dimension.


More than 11000 deaths and 25000 hospitalisations: the numbers divulged by the prosecution expert report assessing the human consequence of the operation of Ilva industries in the Italian city of Taranto are staggering. The environmental disaster caused by the plant brought the whole area to its knees and, in spite of all the efforts made, is still on-going. This is the story of a never-ending conflict. A conflict between different rights, which need to be balanced; between public authorities, who bear responsibility for ensuring and protecting those rights; between different normative levels and powers, given the numerous infringement proceedings opened by the EU Commission and the most recent claims lodged to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In the following sections I will try to shed some light on the main legal aspects of this tragic saga. For clarity, this article is divided in two posts: the first deals with the national level, while the second focuses on the supranational dimension of the case.More...


FIFA's Human Rights Agenda: Is the Game Beautiful Again? – By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell holds an LL.M. in Public International Law from Leiden University. He contributes to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a research intern.

 

Concerns about adverse human rights impacts related to FIFA's activities have intensified ever since its late 2010 decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar respectively. However, until recently, the world's governing body of football had done little to eliminate these concerns, thereby encouraging human rights advocates to exercise their critical eye on FIFA. 

In response to growing criticism, the Extraordinary FIFA Congress, held in February 2016, decided to include an explicit human rights commitment in the revised FIFA Statutes which came into force in April 2016. This commitment is encapsulated in Article 3 which reads as follows: ''FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights''. At around the same time, Professor John Ruggie, the author of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ('UN Guiding Principles') presented in his report 25 specific recommendations for FIFA on how to further embed respect for human rights across its global operations. While praising the decision to make a human rights commitment part of the organization's constituent document, Ruggie concluded that ''FIFA does not have yet adequate systems in place enabling it to know and show that it respects human rights in practice''.[1]

With the 2018 World Cup in Russia less than a year away, the time is ripe to look at whether Ruggie's statement about FIFA's inability to respect human rights still holds true today. This blog outlines the most salient human rights risks related to FIFA's activities and offers a general overview of what the world's governing body of football did over the past twelve months to mitigate these risks. Information about FIFA's human rights activities is collected primarily from its Activity Update on Human Rights published alongside FIFA's Human Rights Policy in June 2017. More...