Press release | Oct. 27, 2020

Commission sounds starting gun on the road to delivering ground breaking corporate accountability legislation

  • The European Commission has launched a major new online public consultation on how to shape an EU law that would effectively hold business to account for their impact on people and planet, delivering on the commitments made in the European Green Deal. 
  • Later today, Global Witness will hold an online event with a frontline climate activist is bearing the brunt of alleged corporate abuse and EU policy-makers to discuss the impact this legislation could have on stopping environmental devastation and protecting human rights. 

Today the European Commissioner for Justice followed up on this pledge from earlier this yearto introduce new EU rules on corporate accountability and corporate due diligence, by bringing forward an important public consultation. This is a significant moment as the Commission is now publicly outlining the key policy areas and elements that they to consider should be included in the new law. 

In response, Rachel Owens, Head of the EU Office at Global Witness, said: 

“Voluntary measures to govern corporate behaviour have failed. 2019 was the worst year on record for attacks on environmental defenders with 212 defenders killed protecting their land against destructive industries. There is now an urgent need for robust and mandatory EU legislation to hold businesses accountable for human rights violations, the damage they do to the environment and their corrupt practices. 

“We welcome the Commission’s recognition of the need for binding EU legislation and their vision that this new law should introduce robust and enforceable cross-sectoral requirements on all business enterprises, including financial institutions, as well as holding businesses liable for harms caused. It is now vital the Commission retains the level of ambition set out in the consultation, fulfilling the commitments made in the EU Green Deal, and, most importantly, having a real impact on protecting both people and the planet against corporate abuse of power.”

Today (27th October) Global Witness will be hosting an event bringing together frontline environmentalists and key EU policymakers to explore what this legislation could mean for the lives of those people at the sharp end of the battle against environmental destruction and climate change. Our Annual Report on Land and Environmental Defenders, found that a record number of people (212) were killed in 2019 for campaigning to protect their land, and taking a stand against the destructive impacts of industries like mining, logging and agribusiness. Countless more were silenced by intimidation tactics like death threats, arrests, sexual violence or lawsuits. The companies behind attacks like these are very rarely held to account, and so have few incentives to prevent future violence or environmental harms.

Event participants will hear from Brazilian activist Jefferson Nascimento, whose community has been protesting against the devastating impacts of a huge hydropower project in the Amazon rainforest, as well as Lara Wolters (MEP), who is leading work within the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee to develop a position on what EU corporate accountability could look like in practice, and representatives from the German Presidency of the EU who are leading the work with member states. 

Today’s consultation comes after Global Witness joined other civil society voices to call on the EU to introduce legislation on corporate due diligence. 

Notes to editor:

Event details:

Defending Tomorrow: How to ensure European business respects the planet and those who protect it.

Panellists: 

  • Jefferson Nascimento, Movement of People Affected by Dams, Brazil
  • MEP Lara Wolters, Rapporteur for European Parliament Report on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability
Representatives of the German Presidency of the EU Council: 
  • Johannes Kleine-Benne, Chair Working Party on Social Questions
  • Carmen Esser, Co-chair Working Party on Development Cooperation
  • Ben Leather, Senior Campaigner, Land and Defenders team, Global Witness
  • Moderator: Rachel Owens, Head of EU Office and Campaign Lead on Corporate accountability, Global Witness

Date: Tuesday 27 October 2020

Time: 16.00 – CET, Brussels / 15.00 – GMT, London

English-Portuguese simultaneous interpretation will be available.

You can register to attend here

Further notes: 

  • Yesterday the European Commission launched its consultation on sustainable corporate governance that will run until the beginning of February 2021. 
  • Following the publication of the European Commissionstudy on due diligence requirements through the supply chain earlier this year, in April European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced to the European Parliament Responsible Business Conduct Working Group that he will introduce rules on corporate accountability and due diligence in early 2021. 
  • In response to this announcement, MEPs have started to develop a European Parliament position on what a law on corporate due diligence could look like. The work in the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee has begun with the publication of the draft report by MEP Lara Wolters
  • In the European Council, meanwhile, the German Presidency is aiming for Council conclusions in December on business and human rights, including due diligence.
  • In July, Global Witness’s annual report on land and environmental defenders, Defending Tomorrow, found that 2019 had been the deadliest year on record, with at least 212 activists murdered. Many more faced other threats including criminalisation. The report evidenced that half of the killings occurred in just two countries: Colombia and the Philippines. It also demonstrated the crucial role of defenders in arresting the climate crisis, and evidenced that irresponsible business is one of key factors driving the attacks globally.