Corporate (Ir)Responsibility Made in Germany - Part III: The Referentenentwurf: A Compromise à la Merkel - 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.


I. What happened so far

It took Ministers Heil (Labour, SPD), Müller (Development, CSU) and Altmaier (Economy, CDU) 18 months to agree on a draft for the Lieferkettengesetz (Supply Chain Law) to be presented soon to the German Bundestag for legislative debates. For an overview of the different proposals put forward by the Ministries and NGOs, and political discussion surrounding them, please check my previous blogs, which you can find here and here. You can also watch the panel discussion on the Lieferkettengesetz that we organized in November 2020 with Cornelia Heydenreich (Germanwatch), Miriam Saage-Maaß (European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights), and Christopher Patz (European Coalition for Corporate Justice).

On 15 February 2021 the government’s “final” draft was published – the so-called “Referentenentwurf”. This initial agreement was met with relief from all parties involved, as it was preceded by a long-lasting deadlock. At first, Minister for Economic Affairs, Peter Altmaier, blocked Cabinet meetings so that the government position paper (“Eckpunkteplan”) published by Ministers Heil and Müller could not be discussed. Afterwards, Altmaier again blocked a compromise proposal brought forward by Müller and Heil in Cabinet. The matter went up to the “Koalitionsausschuss”, the committee that negotiates if members of the coalition parties cannot reach an agreement. This committee failed to come to an agreement. The issue of civil liability and the scope of application were the most controversial points. Thereafter, the matter reached the “Chefetage”, Angela Merkel. She sat down with the three ministers involved and Olaf Scholz, Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Finance (SPD), and tried to mediate between the different positions. The group met twice before, eventually, an agreement was reached resulting in the Referentenentwurf of 15 February 2021. The agreement did not last for long. Peter Altmaier withdrew (again) his support for the draft just after it had been circulated.

On 28 March 2021, another “final” draft was published. Those two drafts differ in subtle but impactful aspects. This blog post was originally based on the first draft; its text has been amended to integrate the changes introduced in the second draft. The second Referentenentwurf is the one signed off by Cabinet on 3 March 2021. In this blog, I will first summarize the main points of the draft(s), and afterwards review the various critical points raised against it.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...

The unequal impact of COVID-19 in the global apparel industry - Part I: The contractual roots - 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.


The Covid-19 pandemic is straining global supply chains and exposes the inequality that underlies them. As many countries entered lockdowns, the economy was brought to a rapid halt. This caused demand for apparel goods to plummet. Global apparel brands, in turn, have begun to disengage from business relationships with their suppliers. Lead firms cancelled or even breached their contracts with suppliers (often relying on force majeure or hardship), suspended, amended or postponed orders already made. This practice had a devastating effect on suppliers.

This situation again shows that the contractual structure of global supply chains is tilted towards (often) European or North American lead firms. In this blog, I will first outline the power imbalance embedded in global supply chain contracts. Secondly, I will outline how order cancellations impact suppliers and their workers. In Part II, I will go through four approaches to mitigate the distress of suppliers and their workers and to allow the parties to reach solutions which take into account their seemingly antagonistic interests. More...

Accountability for the exploitation of North Korean workers in the Shipbuilding Industry through Dutch Criminal Law – By Imke B.L.H. van Gardingen

Editor’s note: Imke B.L.H. van Gardingen (LLM Int. and EU labour law, MA Korean Studies) is a policy advisor on labour migration at the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV) and a researcher on DPRK overseas labour.


On November 8, 2018 a North Korean overseas worker who had worked in slave like conditions for a Polish shipyard, a supplier of a Dutch shipbuilding company, has filed a criminal complaint against the Dutch firm. The Dutch Penal Code, article 273f(6), includes a provision criminalizing the act of ‘profiting’ from labour exploitation, targeting not the direct perpetrators in the labour exploitation, but the ones profiting from this exploitation. This is a unique case that aims to hold the company at the top of the chain accountable for modern slavery in its supply chain. A chain that in the case of shipbuilding is rather short; the buyer subcontracts the core business of building the complete hull under detailed instructions cheaply abroad. More...

The EU Conflict Minerals Regulation: Challenges for Achieving Mineral Supply Chain Due Diligence - By Daniel Iglesias Márquez

Editor’s note: Daniel Iglesias Márquez is an external researcher in Business and Human Rights at the Tarragona Centre for Environmental Law Studies. He holds a PhD from the Rovira Virgili University in Tarragona (Spain). Other main fields of interest include International Environmental Law, International Criminal Law and European law.

The EU and its Member States have largely endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy and have committed to supporting their implementation.[i] The UNGPs state that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate. Companies are therefore expected to take proactive steps to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses within their global operations and to respond to human rights abuses when they do occur. This implies establishing due diligence processes to identify, prevent, mitigate and record potential and actual adverse human rights impacts.

Although the EU has not played a constructive role at the Geneva negotiations for a UN Treaty on business and human rights,[ii] some modest developments in the right direction have been made at the EU level to foster a culture of ‘doing business right’ among companies in certain industrial sectors. Put differently, the EU has adopted regulations and directives that implement the UNGPs.

Due diligence requirements are the most common way of ensuring that business behavior meets social expectations. An example of this is the new EU Conflict Minerals Regulation (Regulation),[iii] which requires EU companies to ensure the responsible sourcing of minerals and metals. This EU law has an extraterritorial reach since due diligence requirements must be exercised by a company throughout its international supply chain. However, the Regulation raises a number of challenges ahead that may affect its purpose and implementation. 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.


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...

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...

Doing Business Right Event! Supply chain regulation in the garment industry on 29 June @Asser Institute

The negative impact on human rights of what we wear is not always well-known to the consumer. Our clothing consumption has increased over five times since the Nineties. At the same time, the business model of certain fashion brands is too often dependent on widespread human rights and labour rights violations to be profitable, cheap, and fast. The 2013 tragedy of Rana Plaza, where more than 1100 garment workers died, gives us just a small hint of the true costs of our clothes and footwear. Efforts by governments to tame the negative effects of transnational supply chains have proven difficult due to the extreme delocalisation of production, and the difficulty to even be aware of a company’s last tier of suppliers in certain developing countries. More...