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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2020
Since the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights the relationship between human rights due diligence (HRDD) and corporate liability has been a source of legal uncertainty. In order to clarify this relationship, this article compares and contrasts civil liability provisions aiming at implementing HRDD. It explains the legal liability mechanisms in the draft Treaty on Business and Human Rights and in domestic mandatory HRDD legislation and initiatives such as the French Duty of Vigilance Law and the Swiss Responsible Business Initiative. It compares these developments with the emerging case law on parent company and supply chain liability for human rights abuses. It explores the potentially perverse effects that certain civil liability provisions and court decisions might have on companies’ practices. Finally, it makes recommendations for the design of effective liability mechanisms to implement HRDD.
This paper has been presented at the Justice for Transnational Human Rights Violations Conference at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights (University of Oxford), at the 5th Annual Conference of the Global Business and Human Rights Scholars Association (University of Essex) and at the Research Workshop on Business and Human Rights (University of Geneva). The authors would like to thank the colleagues who organised these events and all participants for the enriching discussions. We are also grateful to the reviewers and to Professor Robert McCorquodale and Professor Sarah Dadush for their invaluable comments on earlier drafts.
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3 International Law Commission, Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts, UN Doc A/CN.4/L.937 (6 June 2019).
4 Loi no. 2017-399 du 27 Mars 2017 relative au devoir de vigilance des sociétés mères et des entreprises donneuses d'ordre,
5 Chancellerie fédérale, Initiative populaire fédérale ‘Entreprises responsables – pour protéger l’être humain et l'environnement’ <www.bk.admin.ch/ch/f/pore/vi/vis462t.html>.
6 Martin-Ortega, O, ‘Human Rights Due Diligence for Corporations: From Voluntary Standards to Hard Law at Last’ (2014) 32 NQHR 55–7Google Scholar; Bonnitcha and McCorquodale (n 1); Ruggie and Sherman (n 1); Bernaz (n 1) 193–9; Fasterling (n 1) 225 or Salcito, K and Wielga, M, ‘What Does Human Rights Due Diligence for Business Relationships Really Look Like on the Ground?’ (2018) 3 BHRJ 113Google Scholar.
7 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretative Guide (2012) (OHCHR Interpretative Guide); OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct (2018).
8 eg OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector (2018); OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas (3rd edn, 2016) or ILO-IOE International Child Labour Guidance for Business (2015).
9 UN Guiding Principles, Principle 17; OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Ch II, commentary, para 14 and Ch IV, commentary, para 15.
10 UN Guiding Principles, Principle 22 and commentary.
11 Bueno, N, ‘Multinational Enterprises and Labour Rights: Concepts and Implementation’ in Bellace, J and ter Haar, B (eds), Research Handbook on Labour, Business and Human Rights Law (Elgar Edward 2019) 423–5Google Scholar; Martin-Ortega (n 6) 55–7, for these steps.
12 Compare eg De Schutter, O ‘Corporations and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights’ in Riedel, E, Giacca, G and Golay, C (eds), Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in International Law: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (Oxford University Press 2014) 212–16Google Scholar; C Kaufmann et al., Extraterritorialität im Bereich Wirtschaft und Menschenrechte (Swiss Center of Expertise in Human Rights 2016) 16–18.
13 UN Guiding Principles, Principle 19, commentary.
14 OHCHR Interpretative Guide (n 7) 19.
15 ibid 49 and 17, for further examples of each scenario; see also C Kaufmann, ‘Konzernverantwortungsinitiative: Grenzenlose Verantwortlichkeit?’ (2016) Swiss Review of Business and Financial Market Law 51 and N Bueno, ‘La responsabilité des entreprises de respecter les droits de l'homme: État de la pratique suisse’ (2017) Aktuelle Juristische Praxis 1016.
16 For the detail and steps to be taken before termination, UN Guiding Principles, Principle 19, commentary; OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Ch II, commentary, para 22.
17 J Ruggie, Comments on Thun Group of Banks Discussion Paper on the Implications of UN Guiding Principles 13 and 17 in a Corporate and Investment Banking Context (February 2017) <https://www.business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/documents/Thun%20Final.pdf>.
18 UN Guiding Principles, Principle 3 and Commentary; J Ruggie, Letter of response to a public letter by Swiss business associations regarding their position on the Swiss Responsible Business Initiative (19 September 2019) <https://www.business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/documents/19092019_Letter_John_Ruggie.pdf>.
19 Besson, S, ‘Due Diligence and Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations – Mind the Gap!’ (2020) 9(1) ESIL ReflectionsGoogle Scholar; see also E Schmid, ‘The Identification and Role of International Legislative Duties in a Contested Area: Must Switzerland Legislate in Relation to ‘‘Business and Human Rights’’’ (2015) SRIEL 577–8.
20 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 24 on State Obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Context of Business Activities, UN Doc E/C.12/GC/24 (23 June 2017) para 10.
22 Martin-Ortega (n 6) 55–7; Choudhury, B, ‘Balancing Soft and Hard Law for Business and Human Rights’ (2018) 67 ICLQ 961–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar: Macchi, C and Bright, C, ‘Hardening Soft Law: The Implementation of Human Rights Due Diligence Requirements in Domestic Legislation’ in Buscemi, M et al. (eds), Legal Sources in Business and Human Rights: Evolving Dynamics in International and European Law (Brill Nijhoff 2020) 218–47Google Scholar.
23 UN Guiding Principles, Principle 12, commentary.
24 Ramasastry (n 1) 248; Bernaz (n 1) 8–9 or Schmid (n 19) 577–8.
25 UN Guiding Principles, Principle 17, commentary.
26 Bonnitcha and McCorquodale (n 1) 910; Fasterling, B and Demuijnck, G, ‘Human Rights in the Void? Due Diligence in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ (2013) 116 JBE 805–6Google Scholar.
27 UN Guiding Principles, Principle 17, commentary.
28 Smit, L et al. , Study on Due Diligence Requirements through the Supply Chain: Final Report (European Commission 2020) 260Google Scholar
30 See also Bonnitcha and McCorquodale (n 1) 910, for a discussion.
31 OHCHR, Improving Accountability and Access to Remedy for Victims of Business-Related Human Rights Abuse, UN Doc A/HRC/32/19, Annexe: Guidance to Improve Corporate Accountability and Access to Judicial Remedy for Business-Related Human Rights Abuse (10 May 2016).
32 OHCHR, Improving Accountability and Access to Remedy for Victims of Business-Related Human Rights Abuse: Explanatory Notes for Guidance, UN Doc A/HRC/32/19/Add.1 (10 May 2016).
33 OHCHR (n 31) Policy objective 14.1.
36 OHCHR, Improving Accountability and Access to Remedy for Victims of Business-Related Human Rights Abuse: The Relevance of Human Rights Due Diligence to Determinations of Corporate Liability, UN Doc A/HRC/38/20/Add.2 (1 June 2018).
38 Section IV.A.
39 OHCHR (n 36) para 12.
40 Section 7 of the UK Bribery Act 2010. See G LeBaron and A Rühmkorf, ‘Steering CSR Through Home Art Regulation: A Comparison of the Impact of the UK Bribery Act and Modern Slavery Act on Global Supply Chain Governance’ (2017) 8 Global Policy 15; I Pietropaoli et al., A UK Failure to Prevent Mechanism for Corporate Human Rights Harms (BIICL 2019) 48–55.
41 Decreto Legislativo 8 giugno 2001, n. 231, Disciplina della responsabilità amministrativa delle persone giuridiche, della società e delle associazioni anche prive di personalità giuridica, a norma dell'articolo 11 della legge 29 settembre 2000, n. 300. See Fédération International pour les droits humains (FIDH) et al., ‘Italian Legislative Decree No. 231/2001: A Model for Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence Legislations?’ (November 2019) <https://e6e968f2-1ede-4808-acd7-cc626067cbc4.filesusr.com/ugd/6c779a_d800c52c15444d74a4ee398a3472f64c.pdf>.
42 Section IV.B.
43 On this process, see eg Bilchitz, D, ‘The Necessity for a Business and Human Rights Treaty’ (2016) 1 BHRJ 203Google Scholar; De Schutter, O, ‘Towards a New Treaty on Business and Human Rights’ (2016) 1 BHRJ 41Google Scholar; McConnell, L, ‘Assessing the Feasibility of a Business and Human Rights Treaty’ (2017) 66 ICLQ 143CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cassel, ‘The Third Session of the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on Business and Human Rights Treaty’ (2018) 3 BHRJ 227.
44 Human Rights Council, Elaboration of an International Legally Binding Instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights, Resolution 26/9, UN Doc A/HR/RES/26/9 (14 July 2014).
45 OEIWG, Legally Binding Instrument to Regulate, in International Human Rights Law, the Activities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises: Zero Draft (16 July 2018), <https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/WGTransCorp/Session3/DraftLBI.pdf>. On the Zero Draft, see C Lopez, Towards an International Convention on Business and Human Rights (Part I) and (Part II), OpinioJuris (23 July 2019) <http://opiniojuris.org/2018/07/23/towards-an-international-convention-on-business-and-human-rights-part-i/>.
46 OEIWG (n 2).
47 Art 6(1) and (2) Second Revised Draft.
48 N Bernaz, Clearer, Stronger, Better? – Unpacking the 2019 Draft Business and Human Rights Treaty (19 July 2019) <http://rightsasusual.com/?p=1339>.
49 Art 9(2) Zero Draft.
50 Reference is, however, made in the Preamble.
51 See art 6(2)(a)–(d) Second Revised Draft.
52 Art 1(4) Second Revised Draft.
53 C Lopez, Legal Liability for Business Human Rights Abuses under the Revised Draft of a Treaty on Business and Human Rights, BHRJ Blog (11 September 2019) <https://www.cambridge.org/core/blog/2019/09/11/legal-liability-for-business-human-rights-abuses-under-the-revised-draft-of-a-treaty-on-business-and-human-rights/>.
54 Except for the list of criminal offences listed in art 8(9) of the Second Revised Draft. See also on the Revised Draft Márquez, D Iglesias, ‘Hacia la adopción de un tratado sobre empresas y derechos humanos: viejos debates, nuevas oportunidades’ (2019) 4 Deusto Journal of Human Rights 167Google Scholar, for further comments.
55 Art 8(1) Second Revised Draft.
56 Art 8(7) Second Revised Draft.
57 International Law Commission (ILC), Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts, UN Doc A/CN.4/L.937 (6 June 2019).
58 ILC, Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts by Marja Lehto, Special Rapporteur, A/CN.4/728 (27 March 2019) para 68.
59 ILC (n 57) Draft Principle 10.
60 Smit et al. (n 28) 181.
61 ILC (n 58) para 67.
62 Compare with the text of the former draft: ‘Parent companies are to be held responsible for ascertaining that their subsidiaries exercise due diligence’, ILC (n 58) para 104.
63 N Bueno, ‘Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence Legislation’ in H Ewing et al. (eds), Teaching Business and Human Rights Handbook (2019) <https://teachbhr.org/resources/teaching-bhr-handbook/mandatory-human-rights-due-diligence/>; N Bueno, ‘The Swiss Popular Initiative on Responsible Business: From Responsibility to Liability in Enneking, L et al. (eds), Accountability, International Business Operations and the Law (Routledge 2020) 249–50Google Scholar; C Bright, D Lica, A Marx and G Van Calster, Options for Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence in Belgium (Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies 2020) <https://ghum.kuleuven.be/ggs/publications/research_reports/options-for-mandatory-hr-due-diligence-in.pdf> 18.
64 UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015.
65 EU Directive 2014/95 of 22 October 2014 on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large undertakings  OJ 2014 L 330/1.
66 Macchi and Bright (n 22) 229.
67 EU Reg 995/2010 of 20 October 2010 laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market  OJ L295/23.
68 EU Reg 2017/821 of 17 May 2017 on supply chain due diligence obligations for Union importers of tin, tantalum and tungsten, their ores, and gold originating from conflict-affected and high-risk areas  OJ L130/1; see Okowa, P, ‘The Pitfalls of Unilateral Legislation in International Law: Lessons from Conflict Minerals Legislation’ (2020) 69 ICLQ 685, for a detailed analysisCrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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70 Art 5 Dutch Child Labour Due Diligence Act.
71 Art 9 Dutch Child Labour Due Diligence Act.
72 Business and Human Rights Resource Center, National Movements for Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence in European Countries, <https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/national-movements-for-mandatory-human-rights-due-diligence-in-european-countries>.
73 Smit et al. (n 28) 170.
74 Cossart, S, Chaplier, J and de Lomenie, T Beau, ‘The French Law on Duty of Care: A Historic Step Towards Making Globalization Work for All (2017) 2 BHRJ (2017) 320Google Scholar.
75 Art L.225-102-4(I) French Commercial Code.
76 Brabant, S, Michon, C and Savourey, E, ‘The Vigilance Plan: Cornerstone of the Law on the Corporate Duty of Vigilance’ (2001) 50 Revue Internationale de la Compliance et de l’Éthique des Affaires 93Google Scholar.
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80 Macchi and Bright (n 22) 234.
81 See for instance: formal notices sent to Total on 19 and 25 June 2019 respectively for allegedly failing to address its climate-related impacts in its vigilance plan; and for failing to identify and address the risks of adverse human rights impacts to local communities arising out of two oil-related projects in Uganda in its vigilance plan; formal notice sent to Teleperformance on 18 July 2019 in relation to issues concerning workers’ rights and freedom of association in its foreign operations, subsidiaries and supply chains; formal notice sent to EDF on 26 September 2019 for failing to address risks of adverse impacts on indigenous communities arising out of a wind farm project in the State of Oaxaca; formal notice sent to XPO Logistics Europe on 1 October 2019 for allegedly failing to meet the requirements of the law in relations to labour issues in its supply chain. See Bright et al. (n 63) 34.
82 Tribunal judiciaire de Nanterre, ord. réf. 30 janvier 2020, n° 19/02833.
83 See art L.225-102-5 Code du commerce français, which provides that ‘the author of any failure to comply with the [vigilance] duties shall be liable and obliged to compensate for the harm that due diligence would have permitted to avoid’. English translation provided by Respect International, <http://www.respect.international/french-corporate-duty-of-vigilance-law-english-translation/>.
84 S Brabant and E Savourey, ‘France's Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law: A Closer Look at the Penalties Faced by Companies (2017) 50 (supplément) Revue internationale de la compliance et de l’éthique des affaires 2; art 1240 and 1241 on fault liability should apply provided that the commercial code will be applicable in a transnational claim, which the law does not clarify, but seems logical from the purpose of such law; Bueno (n 63) 252, for a comment.
85 Brabant and Savourey (n 84) 2; Cossart, Chaplier and Beau de Lomenie (n 74) 321.
86 As it is the case in art 101a(2)(c) of the Swiss Constitution as proposed in the Swiss Responsible Initiative, see Section IV.B below.
87 Cossart, Chaplier and Beau de Lomenie (n 74) 321.
88 Brabant and Savourey (n 84) 2.
90 Chancellerie fédérale, Initiative populaire fédérale ‘Entreprises responsables – pour protéger l’être humain et l'environnement’, <www.bk.admin.ch/ch/f/pore/vi/vis462t.html>, for the official text in French, German and Italian; Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice, The Initiative Text with Explanations (2016) <https://corporatejustice.ch/about-the-initiative/>, for an unofficial English translation.
91 Bueno (n 63) 247.
92 Proposal art 101(2)(a) Swiss Constitution. See G Geisser, ‘Die Konzernverantwortungsinitiative: Darstellung, rechtliche Würdigung und mögliche Umsetzung’ (2017) PJA 955.
93 Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice, Rapport explicatif de l'initiative populaire fédérale «Entreprises responsables: pour protéger l’être humain et l'environnement» <https://initiative-multinationales.ch/wp-content/uploads//2018/05/20170912_Erl%C3%A4uterungen-FR.pdf> 43.
94 C Kaufmann, ‘Konzernverantwotungsinitiative: Grenzlose Verantwortlichkeit’ (2016) Swiss Review of Financial Market Law 50, for other uncertainties.
95 Proposal art 101(2)(c) Swiss Constitution.
96 OHCHR (n 36) para 29.
97 Proposal art 101(2)(c) Swiss Constitution.
98 See (n 27).
99 Parlement suisse, Conseil national, 16.077 Droit de la société anonyme, dépliant Session d’été 2018, 204–13, <www.parlament.ch/centers/eparl/curia/2016/20160077/N11%20F.pdf>.
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101 Swiss Parliament, National Council and Council of States, 16.077 CO. Droit de la société anonyme, Session d’été 2020 <https://www.parlament.ch/centers/eparl/curia/2016/20160077/NS2-9%20F.pdf>.
102 Proposed art 365ter of the Swiss Criminal Code.
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116 Chandler v Cape  EWCA Civ 525.
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118 Chandler (n 116) para 80.
119 Venel v Areva, Tribunal des Affaires de Sécurité Sociale de Melun, 11 mai 2012, n° 10/00924, 6. On this case see for instance Bueno (n 117) 579; Bueno (n 11) 429.
120 Venel (n 119) 6 and 7.
121 Venel v Areva, Cour d'Appel de Paris, 24 Oct. 2013, no. 12/05650.
122 Choc v Hudbay Minerals Inc., 2013 ONSC 1414.
125 Eric Barizaa Dooh of Goi v. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Court of Appeal of The Hague (18 December 2015). See Bright, C, ‘Quelques réflexions à propos de l'affaire Shell aux Pays-Bas’ in Dubin, L et al. , L'entreprise multinationale et le droit international (Pedone 2016) 127Google Scholar.
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127 Bright (n 113) 221.
128 Lungowe v Vedanta Resources plc  UKSC 20.
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130 M Croser et al., ‘Vedanta v Lungowe and Kiobel v Shell: The Implications for Parent Company Accountability’ (2020) 5 BHRJ (2020) 130, 133.
131 Lungowe v Vedanta (n 128) 53.
133 R McCorquodale, ‘Parent Company Can Have a Duty of Care for Environmental and Human Rights Impacts: Vedanta v Lungowe’ BHRJ Blog (11 April 2019) <https://www.cambridge.org/core/blog/2019/04/11/parent-companies-can-have-a-duty-of-care-for-environmental-and-human-rights-impacts-vedanta-v-lungowe/>.
134 Lungowe v Vedanta (n 128) 56.
135 McCorquodale (n 133).
136 Macchi and Bright (n 66).
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144 Terwindt et al. (n 137) 277.
145 Wesche and Saage-Maaß (n 143) 373.
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