European bishops welcome new human rights standards for business

Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg is president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) since March 2018.

CNS photo/Felix Kindermann, courtesy Comece.

The Brussels-based commission representing the European Union’s Catholic Bishops Conferences has welcomed new legislation to hold companies and businesses liable for human rights violations and environmental harm inflicted their supply chains. 

“Institutions of the Catholic Church support vulnerable communities, whose human rights are often violated and territories damaged by business activities – these communities are further marginalised by lack of access to legal recourse and justice”, said Comece.

“The new EU-wide rules should require all companies operating within the EU to map their supply chains… Such legislation should also contribute to remedying negative human rights and environmental effects caused through business activities.”

The Brussels-based organisation was reacting to draft regulations from the EU’s governing Commission, tightening “due diligence” obligations for European companies and businesses operating in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In a joint statement with Pax Christi International, Justice and Peace-Europe and the Catholic International Co-operation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE), it said only one in three EU firms currently observed “due diligence” rules, adding that the “landmark move” would make Europe the world’s first region to enact binding multilateral legislation to benefit poorer trading partners. 

The statement said Catholic organisations would back the proposed legislation, requiring companies “to protect internationally recognised human rights and the environment in the development, production and distribution of commodities”, but would demand that it also “complement and reinforce” other “pertinent multitalteral processes”, including a “due diligence” treaty currently being negotiated by United Nations member-states. 

“Catholic organisations call on the EU to adopt legislation that will not only offer meaningful protection to the affected communities, but also contribute to the promotion of the common good,” Comece said.

“These new EU rules should also clearly indicate the obligations of member-states and the European Commission in monitoring, enforcing and imposing sanctions for non-compliance. They should ensure victims of corporate violations have access to courts – in their own country and in the country where the parent or lead company is based.”

EU-based companies have frequently been accused of working with violent gangs to obtain minerals used for producing mobile phones, laptops and other consumer objects, and of allowing trade in resources to perpetuate ecological and humanitarian abuses.

In 2016, the EU adopted new regulations on conflict minerals, while several European countries, including France, are currently drafting “duty of care” legislation to ensure corporate accountability. However, dozens of Catholic bishops from around the world have certified in a declaration, first published in 2015, that the EU continues to import significant resources from conflict-affected regions, while many European firms remain “complicit in abuses” through their supply chains.