Blog | Jan. 31, 2019

Global Witness bursts the Brussels Bubble

Our EU office has only been running for a year, but it’s already been full steam in our quest for EU policies and laws that work for people and planet. Whether tackling corruption or deforestation, our hard work is already paying off. And we’re continuing with renewed vigour in 2019, with real hope that people living in remote areas across the world can have better lives, because of better EU policies. Here are just some of the highlights of Global Witness in action in Brussels over 2018.

Ensuring finance doesn’t harm people and planet

Revelations that European money – and EU-based investors – play a key role in funding projects linked to human rights abuses and environmental destruction, are far too commonplace.

We spotted a unique and important opportunity to try and tackle these abuses, when the European Commission’s Action Plan on Sustainable Finance was published in March, followed by the launch of a package of legislative proposals in May.

Using these, we have campaigned hard over the last year for the EU to bring in new requirements for institutional investors to carry out due diligence, to ensure their money isn’t bankrolling companies or projects which are causing harm.

To show the human and environmental reality of a lack of checks and balances in investor behaviour, we published four case studies in our briefing Indecent Exposure that highlighted the role EU-based investors and their subsidiaries play in bankrolling companies causing social and environmental harm.

And less than two months later, the European Parliament voted for a strong, mandatory due diligence regime for investors in a historic vote. We are continuing this campaign in 2019, working to ensure the final law includes a robust mandatory investor due diligence regime.

Environmental Defenders

The release of the Global Witness report on Environmental Defenders in July was met with a flurry of media interest. The shocking findings of death and violence against people protecting their lands and our environment were widely reported in the European media. 

To mark our one-year anniversary in Brussels and to show the strong connection between unsustainable finance and the brutal killings of defenders, we invited key influencers to an evening in the European Parliament, hosted by Linda McAvan MEP Chair of the Parliament’s Development Committee. 

This event was a milestone in the Brussels journey to a more global sustainable finance system, with the voices of defenders and high level speakers making it clear that finance must move beyond business as usual where profit trumps people and planet.

Cracking down on corruption through EU golden Visas

Our report European Getaway: inside the murky world of golden visas, released in October with Transparency International, revealed how Golden Visa schemes have enabled corruption on an unprecedented scale in Europe. 

Our message was heard by the European Commission which last week finally published its report on Golden Visas confirming that they “are deliberately marketed and often explicitly advertised as a means of acquiring EU citizenship” and that “they threaten the EU’s collective security and integrity”.

In parallel, the Bulgarian government announced it would suspend its scheme. But the Commission stopped short of taking action to force member states to tackle the clear corruption risks these schemes pose to the EU as a whole.  It’s now time for Member States to take responsibility for their golden visa schemes and, following Bulgaria’s lead, suspend them until it is clear they are no longer threatening the security of the EU.”


Our work in 2018 also created some real movement towards concrete action from the EU to curb deforestation. Members of the European Parliament from three different Committees supported our recommendations on conflict timber and corruption to strengthen EU action to tackle deforestation, and stop donor and climate funds being used for industrial logging, agribusiness, mining or infrastructure developments in intact forests. Our opinion piece in EU Observer explains why the EU needs to take concrete action to tackle deforestation.

What next in 2019?

The battle to achieve a sustainable financial system isn’t won yet – so we will be working hard to ensure the EU brings in mandatory due diligence for investors of their environmental, social and governance risks.

We will continue to campaign for the EU to close loopholes to the corrupt be it through golden visa schemes or clamping down on money-laundering and dirty money coming into the EU.

And we will fight to ensure the EU brings in concrete action to tackle deforestation – a major driver of climate change – turning rhetoric into action.

Ensuring that Brussels policy making delivers for people and planet is my passion, and my utmost priority.


  • Rachel Owens

    Head of EU Office and EU Advocacy / Directrice du Bureau (UE). Campaign Lead on Corporate Accountability

You might also like