Brussels, December 14 – The European Union today agreed a landmark law that will help prevent large companies from damaging the environment and threatening human rights, after negotiators concluded late-night talks on the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD).

For the first time, there will be a comprehensive legal framework for communities anywhere in the world to sue companies responsible for human rights abuses and environmental harms in European courts.Companies will also need to write and put into effect climate transition plans, which will put Europe’s biggest corporate players – including fossil fuel majors – on a pathway towards reducing their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement and the EU’s climate targets.

While banks and insurers will have to implement climate transition plans – steps that would bring them closer to climate-friendly investments - the financial sector secured a broader carve-out and will not be obliged to ensure that their loans or investments are not tied to human rights abuses.

A 'political declaration' commits lawmakers to re-considering this decision in the coming years – although what this means in practice is unclear.

Arianne Griffith, corporate accountability lead at Global Witness said “The EU has agreed a ground-breaking new law that could finally curb the unchecked power big companies have enjoyed for so long. It will mean Europe’s biggest polluters – including fossil fuel majors – will need to reduce their climate emissions and gives people who are at risk from dangerous business practices a chance to fight back. However, it’s shocking that Member States have sunk plans to ensure that banks stop investing in environmental and human rights abuses.”

Crucially, the law will require companies to engage with people affected by their project before it begins, and throughout its life cycle.

In February, Global Witness identified how hundreds of residents were displaced to make way for a new mega-airport in the Philippines after a botched ‘consultation process’ in which residents reported that armed soldiers went door-to-door, leaving community members feeling “terrified”. The law will help end such coercive consultation processes.

It will also reduce the obstacles that communities face when taking legal action against companies.

Courts could ask companies to disclose greater evidence if claimants bring forward a solid case, and affected communities will have at least five years to bring their cases before courts. This will help to reset the imbalance of power that often makes it impossible to build a case against the companies that withhold the evidence victims need to support their claims.

The text is expected to be rubber-stamped by the European Council and Parliament in early 2024, after which Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national legislation.