New Event! Corporate (ir)responsibility made in Germany - 27 November - 3pm (CET)

On 27 November, we will host a digital discussion on Germany’s approach to corporate (ir)responsibility for human rights violations and environmental harms in the supply chains of German businesses. This event aims to analyse the evolution of the business and human rights policy discussion in Germany and its influence on the wider European debates on mandatory human rights due diligence EU legislation. Germany is the EU’s economic powerhouse and a trading giant, hence its position on the (ir)responsibility of corporations for human rights risks and harms throughout their supply chains has major consequences for the EU and beyond.

Background

Currently, Germany is debating the adoption of a supply chain law or Lieferkettengesetz. This would mark the end of a long political and legal struggle, which started in 2016, when the German government adopted its National Action Plan (NAP) 2016-2020. Germany’s NAP, like many others, counted on voluntary commitments from businesses to implement human rights and environmental due diligence throughout their supply chains. Unlike other NAP’s, the German one also included a monitoring process, which tracked the progress businesses made during that four-year period.

The final report, which was published in September, showed that only roughly 13-17% of German businesses implemented the voluntary due diligence measures encouraged in the NAP. On the basis of these rather disappointing results, as required by the coalition agreement between the two governing parties, a draft for a Lieferkettengesetz should have been presented to the Cabinet this autumn. However, the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, backed by business lobby groups, strongly opposes any form of civil liability for human rights violations committed within supply chains and managed until now to delay the process.

Our discussion aims to review these developments and highlight the key drivers behind the (slow) movement towards a Lieferkettengesetz. Weaving political insights with legal know-how, our speakers will provide a comprehensive overview (in English) on Germany’s positioning in the business and human rights discussion and its potential influence on the future trajectory of a European legislation.

Speakers:

Moderator:


To register for this event, please click here. You will receive a link before the start of the event.


For enquiries, contact conferencemanager@asser.nl


Winter academy: Due diligence as a master key to responsible business conduct

On 25-29 January 2021, The Asser Institute’s ‘Doing business right’ project is organising an online winter academy on ‘Doing business right: Due diligence as a master key to responsible business conduct’.

This academy brings together students, academics and professionals from around the world and provides a deep dive into the due diligence process as a strategy to achieve responsible business conduct.

Learn more and register here. 

Call for Papers - Delocalised Justice: The transnationalisation of corporate accountability for human rights violations originating in Africa - Deadline 15 January 2021

More than twenty years ago nine local activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria were executed by the then military dictatorship. The story of the Ogoni Nine does not stop in Nigeria; the tale of the nine men, the many lives lost, and the environmental degradation linked to the extraction of oil in the region by Shell has quite literally travelled the world. What is often commonly referred to as the Kiobel case—after the application lodged by Esther Kiobel, the widow of Dr. Barinem Kiobel—originated in Nigeria, has been heard by courts in the USA, and is currently before Dutch courts. The Kiobel case, as well as a flurry of other cases (e.g. the Bralima case before the Dutch NCP, the Nevsun case before the Canadian courts, the Vedanta case before the UK courts, or the Total case before the French courts, among others), embodies the flight of corporate accountability cases out of their original African contexts.

This transnational quest for an effective remedy by those who’s human and/or environmental rights have been violated is understandable, but it also raises serious questions about the consequences of the delocalisation of access to remedies in such cases. This conference aims to provide a forum for critical discussions of the justifications for, and consequences of, using various delocalised ‘sites of justice’ for human and environmental rights violations associated with ‘doing business’ in Africa. The aim is not to focus on Kiobel or Nigeria in particular, although contributions on this case are welcome, but to generally engage in a critical examination of cases that ‘migrate’ between different sites of justice, and the associated benefits and drawbacks of the displacement of corporate accountability out of African courts to courts or non-judicial mechanisms (such as OECD National Contact Points) based in the so-called Global North. In doing so, we strongly encourage applicants to consider a variety of (critical) theoretical perspectives in the analysis of this phenomenon.

In this collaboration between Asser Institute’s Doing Business Right project and AfronomicsLaw, we welcome contributions from scholars working on African international law, African perspectives of international/transnational law, as well as scholars working on business and human rights more generally. The aim is to bring a plurality of voices into conversation with each other, and to generate original (and critical) engagements with the operation of transnational justice in the business and human rights space. With important developments taking place at the international level, such as the drafting of a binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, the preparation of European legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence, as well as the emergence of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is set to foster business across African borders, such discussions are not only timely, they are also necessary.


Deadlines and requirements:

In order to increase engagement from a broader range of actors from the continent, the conference will be bilingual, English and French. The conference presentations and outputs will also be accepted in either language (2,000 word blog post as part of a special symposium on AfronomicsLaw, as well as a full-length paper for a special issue with a journal (journal tbd)).


Overview of deadlines:

  • Deadline for abstract submission: 15 January 2021
  • Draft papers due: 1 March 2021
  • Digital conference: 24-26 March 2021
  • Final contribution to blog symposium on AfronomicsLaw: 30 April 2021
  • Final papers due for special issue with journal: 1 July 2021


Please submit abstracts in English or French (250 words) accompanied by a short CV (max. 5 pages) to m.plagis@asser.nl by 23:59 CET on 15 January 2021.

Kiobel in The Hague – Holding Shell Accountable in Dutch Courts - 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 25 September 2020, the final hearings in the Kiobel case took place before the Dutch District Court in The Hague. This case dates back to 25 years ago; and the claimants embarked on a judicial journey that led them from the US to the Netherlands. On 16 October 2020, the TMC Asser Institute hosted an online roundtable discussion to present and discuss the arguments raised before the Dutch court. The three panelists, Tara Van Ho from Essex University, Tom de Boer from Prakken d’Oliveira, and Lucas Roorda from Utrecht University each provided their stance on the case and analyzed the past, the present and the main issues of the proceedings.

Depending on the outcome of the case, Kiobel could pave the way for further business human rights litigation in Europe. It raises questions ranging from jurisdiction, applicable law, parent company liability and fee arrangements to state sovereignty and the responsibility of former colonial states vis à vis countries that emerged from colonial rule. Below you will find the highlights of our discussion, you can also watch the full video on the Asser Institute’s YouTube channel.More...


New Event! Fighting global deforestation through due diligence: towards an EU regulation on forest and ecosystem risk commodities? - 4 November 2020 - 16:00 (CET)

Between 2010 and 2015, 7.6 million hectares of forests were lost every year. Deforestation not only causes immense biodiversity loss, but it also has extremely negative repercussions on climate change. Hence, deforestation is one of the world’s most pressing global challenges. 

This online event will discuss the EU Parliament’s new initiative to tackle deforestation. It will examine the initiative’s substance, possible implications for fighting deforestation across the globe, and possible means for enforcement and their challenges, as well as its impact on EU obligations under international (trade) law.

Background

Research has shown that agricultural production is a major driver of deforestation. The majority of global tree cover loss between 2000 and 2015 was caused by agricultural production, and another quarter was due to forestry activities. Furthermore, a large proportion of forest clearance occurs in breach of local legal and administrative requirements. However, only half of the total tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was caused by illegal conversion. Weak enforcement of forest laws in certain countries further compounds the problem of relying on legality as a meaningful threshold to stop conversion for agricultural purposes, especially where political leaders wilfully reduce law enforcement and conservation efforts to favour agribusiness. 

To tackle these closely intertwined concerns, the EU is in the process of enhancing its policies on global deforestation linked to EU imports. In addition to the existent Timber Regulation, assessing the legality of timber origin, and the Renewable Energy Directive, establishing sustainability requirements for biofuel crops, the EU is considering several regulatory and non-regulatory interventions. Among the most profound measures, the EU Parliament is about to approve a ground-breaking Resolution that will require the Commission to propose an EU Regulation ensuring that only agricultural commodities and derived products that are not linked to deforestation, ecosystem conversion and associated human rights violations are marketed in the EU. Building on the Timber Regulation and human rights due diligence responsibilities as prescribed in the United Nation Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the proposal would require economic operators to implement the obligation via non-financial due diligence ensuring that products do not originate from converted forests and ecosystems, regardless of the legality of land-use conversion.

Speakers

  • Delara Burkhardt, European Parliament’s Rapporteur for a Motion for an EU Parliament Resolution with recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation (her draft report is available here).

  • Andrea Carta, Senior legal strategist at Greenpeace, EU Unit

  • Enrico Partiti, Assistant professor in transnational regulation and governance, Tilburg University

  • Meriam Wortel, Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority

The discussion will be moderated by Antoine Duval, Senior researcher at the Asser Institute and coordinator of the ‘Doing business right’ project. 

Click here to register for this online discussion.

The EU Parliament’s proposal for a Regulation on Forest and Ecosystem Risk Commodities - Tackling global deforestation though due diligence - By Enrico Partiti

Editor's note: Enrico Partiti is Assistant Professor of Transnational Regulation and Governance at Tilburg University and Associate Fellow at the Asser Institute. His expertise centres on European and international economic law, sustainability and supply chain regulation. In particular, he studies how private standard-setters and corporations regulate globally sustainability and human rights 


Upcoming Event: Fighting global deforestation through due diligence: towards an EU regulation on forest and ecosystem risk commodities? - 4 November 2020 - 16:00 (CET) - Register Here!


The recent vote in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee of the European Parliament on binding legislation to stop EU-driven global deforestation is a watershed moment in the global fight against deforestation, ecosystem conversion and associated human rights violations. The ENVI Committee report, that will soon be voted by the plenary, requests the Commission (as provided in Art. 225 TFEU) to table a legislative proposal for a measure disciplining the placing on the EU market of products associated to forest and ecosystem conversion and degradation, as well as violations of indigenous communities’ human rights. The Parliament’s initiative takes place in a policy context increasingly concerned with deforestation, in the framework of a Commission Communication on stepping up EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests which left a door open for legislative intervention. 

The proposed measure would aim to severe the economic link between demand of agricultural commodities, especially by large consumers markets, and negative environmental impacts - including on climate change. Beef, soy and palm oil alone are responsible for 80% of tropical deforestation, and consequent CO2 emissions. In 2014, EU demand was responsible for 41% of global imports of beef, 25% of palm oil and 15% of soy, as well as large shares of other commodities at high risk for forests and ecosystems such as such as maize (30%), cocoa (80%), coffee (60%), and rubber (25%). Protecting just forests is not sufficient, as it risks to displace conversion to other non-forests ecosystems such as the Brazilian cerrado. In light of their negative impact on both forests and other natural ecosystems, such commodities have been labeled as forest and ecosystem risks commodities (FERCs). More...





Corporate (Ir)Responsibility Made in Germany - Part II: The Unfinished Saga of the Lieferkettengesetz - 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.

In Part II of this blog series, I intend to outline the different proposals for a Lieferkettengesetz. First, the Initiative Lieferkettengesetz’s model law, secondly the proposal submitted by the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and lastly, I will present the amendments pushed by the business sector and the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.More...

New Event! Kiobel in The Hague - Holding Shell Accountable in the Dutch courts - 16 October 2020 - 4-5 Pm (CET)

On Friday, 16 October, from 16.00-17.00, we will organise an online discussion about the Kiobel v. Shell case, currently before Dutch courts in the Hague. The discussion will retrace the trajectory followed by the case in reaching The Hague, explain the arguments raised by both parties in the proceedings, and assess the potential relevance of the future ruling for the wider debate on corporate accountability/liability for human rights violations. 


Background

In 1995, nine local activists from the Ogoniland region of Nigeria (the Ogoni nine) were executed by the Nigerian authorities, then under the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. They were protesting against the widespread pollution stemming from the exploitation of local oil resources by a Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell when they were arrested and found guilty of murder in a sham trial. Their deaths led first to a series of complaints against Royal Dutch Shell in the United States on the basis of the alien tort statute (ATS). One of them, lodged by Esther Kiobel, the wife of one of those killed (Dr Barinem Kiobel), reached the US Supreme Court. Famously, the Court decided to curtail the application of the ATS in situations that do not sufficiently 'touch and concern' the territory of the United States.

This ruling put an end to Esther Kiobel's US lawsuit, but it did not stop her, together with three other widows (Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula), from seeking to hold the multinational company accountable for its alleged involvement in the deaths of their husbands. Instead, in 2017, they decided to continue their quest for justice on Royal Dutch Shell’s home turf, before Dutch courts in The Hague. 25 years after the death of the Ogoni nine, the court in The Hague just finished hearing the pleas of the parties and will render its much-awaited decision in the coming months.


Confirmed speakers

  • Tom de Boer (Human rights lawyer representing the claimants, Prakken d'Oliveira)  
  • Lucas Roorda (Utrecht University)
  • Tara van Ho (Essex University) 
  • Antoine Duval, Senior researcher at the T.M.C Asser Instituut, will moderate the discussion 


 Register here to join the discussion on Friday.

Corporate (Ir)responsibility made in Germany - Part I: The National (In)Action Plan 2016-2020 - 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 the international stage, Germany presents itself as a champion for human rights and the environment. However, as this blog will show, when it comes to holding its own corporations accountable for human rights violations and environmental damage occurring within their global supply chains, it shows quite a different face.

In recent years, German companies were linked to various human rights scandals. The German public debate on corporate accountability kickstarted in earnest in September 2012, when a factory in Karachi, Pakistan, burned down killing almost 300 people. The factory had supplied KiK, Germany’s largest discount textile retailer with cheap garments. Then, over a year and a half ago, a dam broke in Brazil, killing 257 people. The dam had previously been certified to be safe by TÜV Süd Brazil, a subsidiary of TÜV Süd, a German company offering auditing and certification services. There are many more examples of incidents in which German companies were involved in human rights violations occurring within their supply chains, yet eight years after the factory in Pakistan burned down, and nine years after the unanimous endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by the UN Human Rights Council, there is still no binding German legislation imposing some type of liability onto companies that knowingly, or at least negligently, fail to uphold human and labor rights in their supply chain.

This is despite the fact that Germany, the third-largest importer worldwide, with its economic power and negotiation strength on the international stage, could have a dramatic impact on business practices if it were to embrace a stronger approach to business and human rights.  

In the coming two blogs I am to take a critical look at Germany’s recent policies related to corporate accountability and discuss the current developments (and roadblocks) linked to the potential adoption of a Lieferkettengesetz (Supply Chain Law). In this first post, I focus on the effects of the National Action Plan 2016-2020, building on recently released interim reports. In my second blog, I will then turn to the various proposals and political discussions for mandatory due diligence regulation (Lieferkettengesetz).More...


Tackling Worker Exploitation by ‘Gangmasters’ in the UK and Australia - Part 1: An Overview of Labour Hire Licensing Laws in the UK and Australia – By Katharine Booth

Editor’s note: Katharine Booth holds a LLM, Advanced Programme in European and International Human Rights Law from Leiden University, Netherlands and a LLB and BA from the University of New South Wales, Australia. She is currently working at the Asser Institute in The Hague. She previously worked as a lawyer and for a Supreme Court Justice in Australia.

 

This series of blog posts focuses on the regulation of so-called ‘gangmasters’ in the UK and Australia. A ‘gangmaster’ is an old English term for a person (an individual or business) who organises or supplies a worker to do work for another person.[1] Gangmasters have been described as ‘middlemen’ or ‘brokers’ between a worker and a business that needs temporary, and often seasonal, labour. In other countries, including Australia, gangmasters are commonly referred to as labour hire providers or labour market intermediaries.

In recent years, legislation has been implemented in the UK and three Australian States (Queensland, Victoria and South Australia) requiring gangmasters to be licensed. According to Judy Fudge and Kendra Strauss, central to these licensing schemes is the protection of vulnerable workers from forced and unfree labour and exploitation:

“[E]vidence suggests that ‘sweating’ at the bottom end of the labour market (increasingly populated by migrant workers, both documented and undocumented, in many countries) often involves labour intermediaries who exploit the ways in which processes of racialization and the construction of new categories of social difference, instigated by immigration regimes, render some workers extremely vulnerable—including to forced and unfree labour.”

As noted by Kendra Strauss, migrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation as they often migrate from less developed economies, have a precarious migrant status, and are employed in poorly-paid positions. They often lack English language skills and have little knowledge of their legal entitlements and pathways for accessing remedies which, according to an Oxfam GB report, makes it unlikely that they will report abuse or exploitation, for fear of losing their jobs. Moreover, as Sayomi Ariyawansa explains, the three-tiered or tripartite arrangement between the worker, gangmaster and host business means that there is no direct contractual relationship between the worker and host business and little oversight of the legal arrangements between the worker and gangmaster. This makes it easy for unscrupulous gangmasters to slip through legal cracks, but also for businesses to unknowingly enter into arrangements with gangmasters that do not comply with the law.

This series of blog posts explores the connection between the regulation of gangmasters and the enactment of modern slavery legislation, namely legislation calling on companies to report on modern slavery and other labour and human rights abuses in their corporate supply chains. It is divided into four main parts. Part 1 of this series explores two main issues. (1) The circumstances that led to the enactment of gangmaster licensing schemes in the UK and Australia, and the laws’ provisions relating to the licensing of workers. (2) The limitations of these laws, particularly the inability of licensing schemes to hold liable companies that enter into business arrangements with gangmasters, as well as companies higher in the supply chain. Part 2 explores reform of these laws in the UK and Australia in view of the relatively recent modern slavery legislation implemented in both countries.More...

Tackling Worker Exploitation by ‘Gangmasters’ in the UK and Australia - Part 2: From Labour Hire Licensing to Modern Slavery Laws – By Katharine Booth

Editor’s note: Katharine Booth holds a LLM, Advanced Programme in European and International Human Rights Law from Leiden University, Netherlands and a LLB and BA from the University of New South Wales, Australia. She is currently working at the Asser Institute in The Hague. She previously worked as a lawyer and for a Supreme Court Justice in Australia.


Both the UK and Australia have enacted legislation regulating the activities of ‘gangmasters’ or labour hire providers. Part 1 of this series of blog posts examines the circumstances that led to the enactment of labour hire licensing schemes in both the UK and Australia, and some key limitations of these laws.  Part 2 explores two issues closely connected to the business and human rights context. (1) Reform (in the UK) and potential reform (in Australia) of these laws in light of the increasing national and international recognition of modern slavery, human trafficking, labour exploitation and other human rights violations in corporate supply chains. Both the UK and Australia have enacted ‘modern slavery laws’ requiring certain companies to publish annual statements addressing human rights violations in their operations and supply chains. At the same time as the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act, the relevant gangmasters licensing authority (the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA)) was empowered with broad ‘police-like’ powers to investigate offences under that Act. These powers have shifted the authority’s focus from the passive regulation of the gangmasters licensing scheme to the active enforcement of compliance with the Modern Slavery Act. (2) However, as currently enacted, modern slavery laws are not perfect. A key criticism of these laws is that they do not impose strong enforcement mechanisms (particularly financial penalties) on companies that fail to comply with their provisions. The imposition of penalties is central to ensuring that companies take note of the importance of eliminating slavery from their supply chains. More...