The Norwegian Transparency Act 2021 – An important step towards human rights responsibilities for corporations - By Nora Kenan

Editor’s note: Nora Kenan has been an intern at the Asser Institute for the past five months and is about to complete her LL.B. in International & European Law at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Upon graduating, she will proceed with a Master’s in human rights at the University of Utrecht.


The Norwegian Transparency Act [1](‘Åpenhetsloven’), also known as the ‘Act on Business Transparency and Work with Fundamental Human Rights and Decent Work’ was proposed in April 2021. Now, two months later, the Act has officially been adopted by the Norwegian government and represents yet another mandatory due diligence initiative which has been trending across various jurisdiction in the recent years. The Act will require all large and medium-size corporations in Norway to disclose the measures taken to ensure the respect for human rights throughout their entire supply chain.

Various Norwegian organizations have been campaigning for years in favor of such a law. The official preparations began in 2017, when the Parliament (‘Regjeringen’) requested the Government (‘Stortinget’) to explore the possibility of introducing a law that would oblige companies to inform consumers about the steps that they take to follow up on various human rights responsibilities. The Government appointed a law firm as well as a group of experts, the Ethics Information Committee, to conduct thorough research on the matter, and to investigate whether there were any other legal obligations standing in the way of a proposal of this kind, such as for example EEA-obligations or bilateral/multilateral agreements. As a result of this research, it was concluded that there was indeed room for imposing human rights obligations on corporations. Shortly after, the Ethics Information Committee published a report in which they proposed the introduction of a due diligence legislation – more specifically, the Transparency Act. The Act consists of fifteen paragraphs (§)[2], and each paragraph has a commentary which further describes how it should be interpreted and applied.[3]

The objective of the law is essentially to promote corporate respect of human rights and decent working conditions in the production of goods and provision of services, as well as to ensure public access to information on the steps taken by corporations to safeguard these goals (§1). By making this information public, individuals and stakeholders in general are given the chance to directly question the activities of a company. More...

Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights Due Diligence - Part 2: Subjecting AI to the HRDD Process - By Samuel Brobby

Editor's note: Samuel Brobby graduated from Maastricht University's Globalisation and Law LLM specialising in Human Rights in September 2020. A special interest in HRDD carries his research through various topics such as: the intersection between AI and HRDD, the French Devoir de Vigilance or mHRDD at the EU level. Since April 2021 he has joined the Asser Institute as a research intern for the Doing Business Right project.

I am not convinced that inherently evil technology exists, rather, bad business models perpetuate and accentuate existing problems. AI is no exception to this phenomenon and diligent discussion is required to ensure that the negative impacts of artificial intelligence are meticulously scrutinised. In the end, transparency, responsibility and accountability must be ensured around technology that has the power to be an important tool for Human Rights and to provide support for development across every sector of society.  Given that this very same technology, if used irresponsibly, has the power to compound and accelerate the very issues we would like it to help solve, it is the intention of this blog to raise further questions and continue to provide discussion surrounding AI and responsibility. In the first part of this publication, I discussed how AI has the potential to contribute to HRDD by being technologically integrated into the process. However, before AI will even be considered as a possible tool to aid in the HRDD process, it will play a large part in making businesses more profitable. It will also be used by civil society, States and State-backed institutions in the pursuit of their respective goals.

AI and its declinations are, and will, continue to be deployed in a number of sectors including, marketing, healthcare, social media, recruitment, armed conflicts and many more. Thus, given that AI has the potential for contributing negatively to Human Rights and the environment, it is important to discuss the risks and potential legal challenges surrounding AI and responsibility. Identifying these is crucial to the goal of taming AI in an attempt to mitigate some of the potential negative impacts it may have on Human Rights. The pervasive nature of this technology along with the particular place AI developers hold in supply chains warrants some attention. As such, this section aims at analysing the HRDD obligations of AI developing businesses. To do so, we will illustrate some of the Human Rights (and environmental) risks linked to the creation of these AI agents before looking at the manner through which ex ante responsibility through HRDD can be applied to AI developing businesses in the creation and commercialisation of AI algorithms. More...

Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights Due Diligence – Part 1. Integrating AI into the HRDD process - By Samuel Brobby

Editor's note: Samuel Brobby graduated from Maastricht University's Globalisation and Law LLM specialising in Human Rights in September 2020. A special interest in HRDD carries his research through various topics such as: the intersection between AI and HRDD, the French Devoir de Vigilance or mHRDD at the EU level. Since April 2021 he has joined the Asser Institute as a research intern for the Doing Business Right project.

The recent surge in developments and debate surrounding Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been business centric, naturally so. The conversation has long been centred on the possible gains “digitally conscious” companies can recoup from their sizeable investments in the various forms this technology can take. The ink continues to flow as numerous articles are released daily; debating between the ultimate power of artificial intelligence (and topical subsets like machine learning) on the one hand, versus the comparatively more philistinish views regarding what these technologies can offer on the other. Our objective here is not to pick a side on the AI debate. Rather, we would like to explore the Business & Human Rights implications of the development of AI and, in particular its intersection with the human rights due diligence (HRDD) processes enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and subsequent declinations. How compatible is AI with HRDD obligations? Where does AI fit into the HRDD process? Can AI be used as a tool to further HRDD obligations? Can the HRDD process, in return, have an effect on the elaboration and progress of AI and its use in transnational business? And, to which extent will the roll out of AI be affected by HRDD obligations? These are all questions we hope to tackle in this blog.

In short, it seems two distinct shifts are occurring, rather opportunely, in close time frames. The impending mass adoption of AI in transnational business will have strong consequences for the state of Human Rights. This adoption is not only substantiated by an uptick of AI in business, but also in policy documents produced or endorsed by leading institutions such as the ILO or the OECD for instance. Inversely, we must consider that HRDD obligations elaborated by the BHR community will also have strong implications for the development and roll out of AI. These two transformations will interact increasingly as their positions are consolidated. It is these interactions that we wish to analyse in the two parts of this article. Namely, the emergence of Artificial intelligence as a tool to shape and further HRDD obligations (1) and the emergence of HRDD as a process to shape the development of AI (2). More...

The unequal impact of COVID-19 in the global apparel industry - Part. II: Strategies of rebalancing – By Mercedes Hering

Editor’s note: Mercedes is a recent graduate of the LL.B. dual-degree programme English and German Law, which is taught jointly by University College London (UCL) and the University of Cologne. She will sit the German state exam in early 2022. In September 2020 she joined the Asser Institute as a research intern for the Doing Business Right project.

My previous blog post depicted how economic asymmetry of power translates into imbalanced contractual relationships. At the moment, supply chain contracts ensure that value is extracted while precarity is outsourced. In other words, supply chains can be described as ‘global poverty chains’. In this blog post, I will present and assess four potential way to alleviate this asymmetry and to better protect the right of the poorest garment workers in the context of the Covid-19 the pandemic. More...

Corporate (ir)responsability made in Germany – Event report - By Mercedes Hering

Editor's note: Mercedes is a recent graduate of the LL.B. dual-degree programme English and German Law, which is taught jointly by University College London (UCL) and the University of Cologne. She will sit the German state exam in early 2022. Alongside her studies, she is working as student research assistant at the Institute for International and Foreign Private Law in Cologne. Since September 2020, she joined the Asser Institute as a research intern for the Doing Business Right project

On 27 November 2020, the T.M.C Asser Institute hosted an online roundtable discussion on the German Supply Chain Law (Lieferkettengesetz). The full recording of the event can be seen here:

The three panelists, Cornelia Heydenreich from Germanwatch, Miriam Saage-Maaß from the ECCHR and Christopher Patz from the ECCJ reflected on the political framework surrounding the debate, current drafts, and Germany’s role in the European discussion on binding due diligence legislation.

I. The pathway to a Lieferkettengesetz 

As Heydenreich pointed out, civil society’s role in the struggle for a Lieferkettengesetz can barely be overstated. When in 2011, the UNGPs were passed, Germany was in no rush to implement binding due diligence legislation. Instead, the German legislators waited for their European counterparts to come forward with an action plan. It was in 2013 when a new – more left-leaning – government first voiced the idea that a national action plan should be drawn up. In 2015, consultations began. The consultation process was a dialogue, the drafting process itself was not. Even though the monitoring methodology fell short of civil society’s expectations, the result of the monitoring process was shocking nonetheless: Only 13-17% of companies complied with the National Action Plan. 

It became clear that the government needed to implement binding due diligence regulation. It also became clear that the drafting process would have to begin as soon as possible for a law to be passed before the general election in September 2021. 

II. Current drafts

Saage-Maaß turned to the different proposals for a Lieferkettengesetz: The government’s position paper from the Ministry of Development and the Ministry of Labour as well as civil society’s model law. Contrary to what the government currently envisages, Saage-Maaß emphasized the need to include small or medium-sized companies that operate in high-risk areas. 

The role of private international law must not be neglected. The question turns on whether or not the whole of the Lieferkettengesetz will be an overriding mandatory provision, or merely the due diligence obligation itself. 

Civil society organizations are particularly critical of so-called “safe harbor” provisions. These safe harbor provisions allow companies to be exempted from liability if they are part of certain multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). All panelists agree, however, that as of today, no MSI meets the standards set out by the OECD. In its report, the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity) comes to the same conclusion: “MSIs are not effective tools for holding corporations accountable for abuses, protecting rights holders against human rights violations, or providing survivors and victims with access to remedy.” 

For an overview of other aspects of the legislative proposals, such as the burden of proof, please see the foregoing blog series “Corporate (Ir)responsibility Made in Germany”

III. EU-wide discussion

In April 2020, European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, announced that the Commission commits to legislation on mandatory due diligence. Patz emphasizes the positive impact Germany’s Council Presidency, beginning July 2020, has had on the endeavor. Germany’s Council Presidency stands out because of its strong affirmative call for a supply chain law and for reforms of directors’ duties. At the beginning of December, the Council published its Conclusion on Human Rights and Decent Work in Global Supply Chains, where it calls on the European Commission to launch an EU Action Plan by 2021 (n. 45) and to table a proposal for an EU legal framework on corporate due diligence (n. 46). According to Patz, this constitutes a strong political signal. This strong call is reinforced by three Committees, the Human Rights CommitteeDevelopment Committee, and the Legal Affairs Committee, that also spoke out in favor of civil liability. 

Another strong political signal was sent by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, which in its report “Business and Human Rights – Access to Remedy” called for significant changes pertaining to the reversal of the burden of proof, class actions and procedural mechanisms in order to facilitate access to justice for those affected. 

The work of German MEP Anna Cavazzini (Greens) should be highlighted, too. In the European Parliament she pushed for an additional enforcement mechanism in the form of trade restrictions. Products that benefitted from human rights abuses along the supply chain should not have access to the European single market. In order for the trade restrictions to be lifted, remediation ought to be paid. This initiative counters criticism from civil society that points out that due diligence laws often have the effect of targeting whole sectors of one particular economy. Adopting additional trade restrictions allows for a much more targeted approach. 

In her report on an anti-deforestation legal framework, Delara Burkhardt(S&D) also advocated for civil liability. Companies that exercise control over companies should be held liable, even where it was not directly them, but the other company that committed an unlawful act. In order for this liability mechanism to be effective, Burkhardt advocates for a presumption in favor of control. This helps to balance the information deficit litigants suffer because they do not have access to internal corporate documentation. 

IV. Conclusion 

At the beginning of the roundtable discussion, Duval pointed out that Germany’s stance on any binding due diligence regulation will be decisive. Germany’s role in the EU-wide discussion can hardly be overstated. Germany amounts to 30% of all EU exports, and to 20% of all imports. Factoring in France’s loi de vigilance, both countries together could put enough pressure on the European legislators to push for an EU-wide mandatory due diligence regulation. 

Germany is as close as it has ever been to adopting a Lieferkettengesetz. Yet, the process has come to a halt. The government position paper should have been discussed in the Cabinet at the end of last year for the law to be adopted in 2021. All ministers have to agree, afterwards the proposition will go to Parliament. Heydenreich said that the law will have to be adopted in May, or June the latest; Parliamentary session ends in July. 

At least Germany’s involvement in the EU-wide debate looks promising. Germany’s Council Presidency as well as individual German MEPs have had a tremendous impact on the adoption of an EU-wide due diligence regulation.

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – May & June 2019 - By Shamistha Selvaratnam & Maisie Biggs

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – May & June 2019


Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice. Maisie Biggs graduated with a MSc in Global Crime, Justice and Security from the University of Edinburgh and holds a LLB from University College London. She is currently working with the Asser Institute in The Hague. She has previously worked for International Justice Mission in South Asia and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.



This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on Doing Business Right based on the coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight and on various websites. You are invited to contribute to this compilation via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we may have overlooked.


The Headlines

Dutch Court allows Case against Shell to Proceed

On 1 May the Hague District Court rules that it has jurisdiction to hear a suit brought against the Royal Dutch Shell by four Nigerian widows. The widows are still seeking redress for the killing of their husbands in 1995 in Nigeria. They claim the defendants are accomplices in the execution of their husbands by the Abasha regime. Allegedly, Shell and related companies provided material support, which led to the arrests and deaths of the activists. Although Shell denies wrongdoing in this case, the Court has allowed the suit to proceed. The judgment is accessible in Dutch here. An English translation is yet to be provided.

The Netherlands Adopts Child Labour Due Diligence Law

On 14 May the Dutch Government passed legislation requiring certain companies to carry out due diligence related to child labour in their supply chains. The law applies to companies that are either registered in the Netherlands that sell or deliver goods or services to Dutch consumers or that are registered overseas but sell or deliver goods or services to Dutch consumers. These companies will have to submit a statement declaring that they have due diligence procedures in place to prevent child labour from being used in the production of their goods or services.

While it is not yet clear when the law will come into force, it is unlikely to do so before 1 January 2020. The Dutch law is part of the growing movement to embed human rights due diligence into national legislative frameworks. The law is accessible in Dutch here.

First case under the French Due Diligence law initiated against Total

French NGOs Amis de la Terre FR and Survie have initiated civil proceedings against French energy company Total for the planned Tilenga mining project in Uganda. These organisations and CRED, Friends of the Earth Uganda and NAVODA have sent a formal notice to Total in relation to concerns over the potential expropriation of people in proximity to the site of the Tilenga project and threats to the environment. Information on the case from the initiating civil society organisations can be found here. This is the first initiated case under the new French Due Diligence law, and may act as a test case for future litigation.

In a similar vein, civil society organisations CCFD-Terre Solidaire and Sherpa have launched Le Radar du Devoir de Vigilance [The Vigilance Duty Radar], a resource to track the compliance of French companies to the law. The site lists potentially subjected companies, and their published vigilance plans (or lack thereof).

Bolstering the UK Modern Slavery Act

During a speech at the International Labour Organisation’s centenary conference on 11 June 2019, Theresa May outlined the UK Government’s further commitments to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2015; these included a central public registry of modern slavery transparency statements by businesses (in a similar vein to the Gender Pay Gap Service), and the extension of reporting requirements to the public sector. Individual ministerial departments will be obliged to publish modern slavery statements from 2021, while central Government has committed to publish voluntarily this year. The focus on public sector procurement will apparently also include a “new programme that will improve responsible recruitment in parts of our public sector supply chains that pass through Asia.”

The Final Report of the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was released in May, and considered in Westminster Hall on 19th June. More...

The Rise of Human Rights Due Diligence (Part V): Does it Foster Respect for Human Rights by Business?

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


Human rights due diligence (HRDD) has emerged as a dominant paradigm for doing business with respect for human rights. It is a central concept to the UNGPs and describes what ‘steps a company must take to become aware of, prevent and address adverse human rights impacts’ in order to discharge the responsibility to respect.[1] The case studies examining Adidas’ and Unilever’s HRDD practices (the Case Studies) have demonstrated how businesses are working with the concept of HRDD and translating it into practice. They provide an opportunity to consider the adaptable nature of HRDD and whether it has the potential to transform business internal frameworks in order to generate greater corporate respect for human rights. This will be reflected on in this final blog of our series of articles dedicated to HRDD. It will also reflect on the role that hard law initiatives play in incentivising substantive human rights compliance by business (in addition to soft law initiatives such as the UNGPs).


The Adaptable Nature of HRDD

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that can be taken by businesses when implementing HRDD. Although the elements and parameters of HRDD are defined in the UNGPs (discussed in detail in a previous blog in this series), it is, by its very nature, an open-ended concept that has been ‘articulated at a certain level of abstraction’. Indeed, this level of abstraction was arguably intentional given the use of the term ‘due’ in HRDD, which ‘implies variation of effort and resources necessary to address effectively adverse impacts in a particular context’.[2]

The flexibility built into the concept of HRDD acknowledges that there are more than ‘80,000 multinational corporations, ten times as many subsidiaries and countless national firms’ globally that differ in many respects.[3] Accordingly, the shape of HRDD within one business cannot be the same as that of another business – it should be ‘determined by the context in which a company is operating, its activities, and the relationships associated with those activities’.[4] As Ruggie acknowledged in 2010, his aim was to ‘provide companies with universally applicable guiding principles for … conducting due diligence’, rather than prescriptive guidance. Therefore, the ‘complexity of tools and the magnitude of processes’ employed by businesses will vary depending on the circumstances. As such, businesses can exercise a great deal of discretion as to how to translate HRDD into practice.

However, this adaptable nature of HRDD has been critiqued for lacking clarity, embodying a ‘high degree of fragility and flexibility’ and for containing an ‘inbuilt looseness’.[5] These complexities arise due to the absence of ‘sufficient specificity of expected action’.[6] Bijlmakers argues that the ‘ambiguity and openness’ of HRDD can ‘lead to uncertainty about what conduct is required from companies for the effective implementation of their responsibilities’.[7] This can result in a lack of compliance by businesses or differing levels of compliance, which ultimately means that HRDD ‘may or may not achieve the desired outcome – i.e. non-violation of human rights – in all cases’.[8] Indeed from the Case Studies it is clear that despite the extensive efforts made by Adidas and Unilever to put HRDD into practice, there are still gaps between the paper-based processes and practices of both businesses, e.g. there are human rights abuses present within their supply chains that are not being identified by their current HRDD practices and therefore not being addressed. Mares also argues that the looseness surrounding HRDD as a concept can also result in ineffective implementation, whereby businesses take action that is ‘largely symbolic, generates limited improvements, and fails to address underlying issues’.[9] As a result, businesses are not addressing the root causes of human rights issues within their business, but rather ‘applying bandaids to symptoms’. [10]

The flexibility of HRDD as a concept also allows businesses to employ various tools and processes in order to ‘create plausible deniability’, instead of discovering and understanding issues within their supply chains and how they should be managed.[11] Through conducting on the ground research at the local level, Bartley demonstrates that businesses appear to be using these tools and processes in order to ‘collect just enough information to produce assurances of due diligence’, allowing human rights issues and impacts to be kept out of sight.[12] Accordingly, their is a risk that businesses take advantage of the open-ended nature of HRDD by implementing HRDD processes as window-dressing to give the impression that they are engaging with the human rights risks and impacts in the context of their business, when in fact they are not.

However, despite these critiques the Case Studies demonstrate that the adaptable nature of HRDD has proven to be transformative on businesses. Embracing HRDD has led Adidas and Unilever to transform their operations to fit the different phases of the HRDD process. In doing so, they have avoided using a cookie-cutter approach that does not account for the differences between the businesses and they way they operate.

The use of customised HRDD approaches is of particular importance given that the salient human rights risks and impacts identified by a business will always differ in some respects to those of another business. With respect to Adidas and Unilever, despite having some overlapping identified risks (e.g. discrimination, working hours, freedom of association and fair wages), both businesses also focus on a number of specific salient risks, which are determined using various factors including the assessed risks of the countries in which they operate. On one hand, land rights are a particular focus for Unilever given the negative impacts it can have on individual’s and communities’ land tenure rights, particularly through its suppliers. On the other hand, child labour is more of a salient risk for Adidas given the pressure on brands in the apparel sector to produce garments at low costs in a quick time frame. In light of this, the HRDD processes followed by each business after identifying these risk areas are different such that the actions taken to integrate and address risks and impacts are directly responsive to those risks.


Is HRDD Effective to Foster Corporate Respect of Human Rights? 

The Case Studies also demonstrate that HRDD is not solely a paper tiger. Businesses that truly engage with the HRDD process can indeed transform internal processes, enhancing corporate attention on human rights. Both Adidas and Unilever have not sought to use HRDD as a buzzword with no institutional consequences. Instead they have introduced concrete mechanisms aimed at preventing human rights impacts from arising within their business context. 

So how has HRDD had a transformative impact on Adidas and Unilever? As I have shown in the Case Studies, it has provided a framework for embedding institutional and regulatory changes geared towards the prevention of adverse human rights impacts. On paper, they have translated the cycle of HRDD into a maze of internal procedures involving different stages of their activities as well as different corporate entities integrated in their supply chains. Moreover, they have built-up enforcement mechanisms in an attempt to trigger change if a potential human rights risk is identified. In short, the transformative impact of HRDD on the structure and operations of the two corporations is clear, whether this impact is effective to tackle human rights violations in their supply chains is another matter. The Case Studies conducted cannot evidence effectiveness, as it would require much more time-consuming and expensive on-field studies to observe whether the compliance of, for example, the working conditions of Adidas’ or Unilever’s suppliers with core labour rights improves thanks to these changes.    

It is certain that neither Adidas nor Unilever have a perfect HRDD process in place – gaps and blindspots will always exist which allow serious human rights issues to continue to emerge in their supply chains. Nonetheless, as evidenced above, it is also true that embracing HRDD had a transformative impact in the way these businesses operate. Whether these transformations are correlated with a decrease in human rights violations across their supply chains is a fundamental question that cannot be answered by my research, even though it will be at the centre of future assessments of the practical effects of HRDD on human rights throughout supply chains.    


The Catalyst Role of Hard Law Initiatives

Soft law HRDD initiatives such as the UNGPs and the OECD Guidelines have been primarily relied upon to date in order to regulate corporate human rights behaviour. Over the past years, however, several countries have either adopted or started to consider adopting legislation that embeds HRDD into their legal framework. For example:

  • The UK and Australia have both adopted legislation requiring specific businesses to report on their HRDD processes and efforts in their operations and supply chains in relation to modern slavery.
  • The Netherlands has adopted legislation that requires specific companies to undertake HRDD related to child labour in their supply chains.
  • France has taken a broader approach, rather than focusing on thematic issues, and adopted legislation that requires certain businesses to undertake HRDD to identify and prevent serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, health and safety as well as the environment.
  • Further, the Human Rights Council’s Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights is in the process of developing a binding business and human rights treaty. The current draft of the treaty includes a HRDD article requiring state parties to ensure that their domestic legislation requires all businesses to which the treaty applies to undertake HRDD throughout their business activities.[13]

The rapid rise of such hard law initiatives imposing HRDD across the board means that transformation observed in the context of Unilever and Adidas will spread to many more businesses in the coming years. The turn to binding HRDD might be a response to the lack of willingness of businesses to embrace HRDD voluntarily. This is particularly the case in light of the dire landscape highlighted by benchmarking initiatives. For example, the results of the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark demonstrates that 40% of the companies ranked scored no points at all in relation to the systems they have in place to ensure that due diligence processes are implemented.

Hard law that complements the business and human rights soft law already in existence might create the ‘compliance pull’ that is needed to ensure that businesses undertake HRDD by legally mandating that they engage in the process. Further, it can clarify and create greater certainty as to the expectations on business with respect to HRDD, as well as incentivise meaningful HRDD by imposing the risk of civil liability onto businesses failing to conduct proper HRDD. The turn to binding HRDD will necessarily have transformative effects on the way affected businesses operate. It will trigger the emergence of a whole HRDD bureaucracy involving rules, processes and institutions. Yet, whether it will lead to greater respect for human rights remains to be seen in practice and depends on the way HRDD will be implemented as well as on the intensity of control exercised by national authorities.



This blog series has delved into the operationalisation of HRDD from theory to practice by business. Through the detailed examination of the HRDD practices of Adidas and Unilever in their supply chains, it has demonstrated that HRDD can profoundly change the internal operations of businesses embracing it.

Despite the fragility and flexibility of the concept that gives rise to uncertainty and ambiguity as to how it should be complied with, businesses that choose to fully engage with the process are transformed by it with a potential effect on their human rights footprint. Truly implementing HRDD throughout a business’ operations and supply chains has the potential to result in human rights risks and impacts being better embedded within the business’ corporate governance framework. This is because HRDD focuses on identifying and managing these risks and impacts and to use those findings to inform business decisions, such as whether to engage in business activities in a particular country or whether to enter into contractual relations with a particular supplier. The development and adoption of hard law imposing HRDD complementing existing soft law initiatives contributes to the diffusion of HRDD into a greater number of businesses.

This blog series paves the way for further research into whether the HRDD mechanisms implemented by Adidas, Unilever and other businesses are truly effective to protect human rights. On the ground research at a local level involving engagement with the relevant business being assessed and its stakeholders is crucial to determining the effectiveness of specific HRDD mechanisms in practice. A broader examination of a greater number of businesses’ HRDD practices will allow for conclusions to be drawn as to how businesses can effectively conduct HRDD and whether there are particular practices and mechanisms that are more effective.

[1] Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie: Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights (7 April 2008), UN Doc. A/HRC/8/5, [56] [2008 Report].

[2] Radu Mares, “Respect” Human Rights: Concept and Convergence, in R Bird, D Cahoy and J Darin (eds) Law, Business and Human Rights: Bridging the Gap, Edward Elgar Publishing (2014), p 8.

[3] John Ruggie, The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights (2010).

[4] 2008 Report, supra note 1, [25].

[5] Justine Nolan, The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: Soft Law of Not Law?, in S Deva and D Bilchitz (eds), Human Rights Obligations of Business: Beyond the Corporate Responsibility to Respect? (2013), p 140 [Nolan]; Radu Mares, Human Rights Due Diligence and the Root Causes of Harm in Business Operations: A Textual and Contextual Analysis of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, 10(1) Northeastern University Law Review 1 (2018), p 45 [Mares].

[6] Mares, ibid, p 6.

[7] Stephanie Bijlmakers, Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Rights, and the Law, London: Routledge (2018), p 120.

[8] Ibid; Surya Deva, Treating Human Rights Lightly: A Critique of the Consensus Rhetoric and the Language Employed by the Guiding Principles, in S Deva and D Bilchitz (eds) Human Rights Obligations of Business: Beyond the Corporate Responsibility to Respect?, Cambridge University Press (2013), p 101.

[9] Mares, supra note 5, p 45.

[10] Ibid, p 1.

[11] Tim Bartley, Rules without Rights: Land, Labor, and Private Authority in the Global Economy, Oxford University Press (2018), p 178.

[12] Ibid.

[13] The HRDD article of the treaty is discussed in further detail in a previous blog.

The Rise of Human Rights Due Diligence (Part IV): A Deep Dive into Unilever’s Practices - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


The consumer goods industry is shaped by businesses’ desire to engage with the best-quality suppliers at the cheapest price in order to sell goods at a high-profit margin in the burgeoning consumer markets. Accordingly, they continue to build their value chains in order to provide goods to consumers. The resulting effect of this is that potential human rights risks and impacts are likely to arise in the supply chains of businesses that operate in the industry. Risks that often arise in this sector include forced labour, non-compliance with minimum wage laws and excessive work hours, land grabbing and discrimination. Accordingly, businesses such as Unilever face the challenge of preventing, mitigating and addressing adverse human rights impacts in their supply chains through conducting human rights due diligence (HRDD). As Paul Polman (former CEO of Unilever) has stated: ‘We cannot choose between [economic] growth and sustainability—we must have both.’

This fourth blog of a series of articles dedicated to HRDD is a case study looking at how HRDD has materialised in practice within Unilever’s operations and supply chains. It will be followed by another case study examining another that has also taken steps to operationalise the concept of HRDD. To wrap up the series, a final piece will reflect on the effectiveness of the turn to HRDD to strengthen respect of human rights by businesses.More...

The Rise of Human Rights Due Diligence (Part III): A Deep Dive into Adidas’ Practices - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


The tragic collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed over one thousand workers and injured more than two thousand, brought global attention to the potential human rights risks and impacts that are inherent to the garment and footwear sector.[1] This sector employs millions of workers within its supply chain in order to enable large-scale production of goods as quickly as possible at the lowest cost as market trends and consumer preferences change.[2] These workers are often present in countries where the respect for human rights and labour rights is weak. This creates an environment that is conducive to human rights abuses. Key risks in this sector include child labour, sexual harassment and gender-based violence, forced labour, non-compliance with minimum wage laws and excessive work hours.[3] Accordingly, brands such as Adidas face the challenge of conducting effective human rights due diligence (HRDD), particularly in their supply chains. 

This third blog of a series of articles dedicated to HRDD is a case study looking at how HRDD has materialised in practice within Adidas’ supply chains. It will be followed by another case study examining the steps taken by Unilever in order to operationalise the concept of HRDD. To wrap up the series, a final piece will reflect on the effectiveness of the turn to HRDD to strengthen respect of human rights by businesses. More...

The Rise of Human Rights Due Diligence (Part II): The Pluralist Struggle to Shape the Practical Meaning of the Concept - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


The UNGPs second pillar, the corporate respect for human rights, is built around the concept of human rights due diligence (HRDD). Since 2011, following the resounding endorsement of the UNGPs by the Human Rights Council, it has become clear that HRDD constitutes a complex ecology of diverse practices tailored to the specific context of a particular business. The UNGPs are not legally binding and there is no institutional mechanism in place to control how they are to be translated into practice by the companies that purport to endorse them. Nonetheless, numerous companies and regulatory schemes have embraced the idea of HRDD (such as the OECD Guidelines, the French law on the devoir de vigilance, the UK and Australian modern slavery laws and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textile). 

The operationalisation of HRDD has been shaped over the past 8.5 years by a variety of actors, including international organisations, consultancies and audit firms, as well as non-governmental organisations. These actors have conducted research and developed various methodologies, instruments and tools to define what HRDD is and what it entails in order to assist or influence businesses in its operationalisation. The interpretation of the requirements imposed by HRDD process outlined in the UNGPs is open to a variety of potentially contradictory interpretations. This pluralism is well illustrated by the diversity of actors involved in an ongoing struggle to define its scope and implications.

This second blog of a series of articles dedicated to HRDD looks at it through the lens of the most influential players shaping HRDD in practice by examining their various perspectives and contributions to the concept. Case studies will then be undertaken to look at how HRDD has materialised in practice in specific companies. To wrap up the series, a final piece will reflect on the effectiveness of the turn to HRDD to strengthen respect for human rights by businesses. More...