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Source: DGB Federal Executive Board

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Reiner Hoffmann is the Chairman of the German trade Union Confederation DGB.

Should companies be legally obliged to respect human rights in their companies and along their value chains? For months, the Federal government is trying to find an answer to this question. From an ethical point of view – that a dispute hardly – this duty always. Human rights are universal, inalienable and indivisible. You are to respect and protect. Point.

The Problem is how this moral obligation can be transformed into concrete entrepreneurial Action. Also, this question is not new. Already in 1999, i.e. before the age of 21, took advantage of the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the world economic forum in Davos to make the gathering of business elite clearly that the economic opportunities of global markets are associated with a corporate responsibility for social and environmental development in the countries of these markets.In 2011, the United Nations adopted the so-called guiding principles on business and human rights. They describe in detail the responsibility of companies for the respect of human rights along global value chains.Three years ago, the then government decided on a National action plan for the implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights (NAP). A two-year intensive process, in the economy, trade unions and civil society was given the opportunity, their view of the issues, how best human rights in global value chains can be protected.

In its NAP, the Federal Government was only able to get companies to expect to introduce processes to comply with human rights due diligence. At the time, the unions had already questioned whether this would actually lead to increased care in respecting human rights. These doubts have now been impressively confirmed by a survey or, as officially stated in the NAP, by monitoring: the federal government has come to the conclusion that not yet in a representative sample survey in which around 400 companies with more than 500 employees each took part Once 20 percent of companies comply with their duty of care for human rights. What should now follow is actually clearly described in the coalition agreement: the federal government wants to act nationally in this legislative period. In addition, it wants to campaign for EU-wide regulation if the voluntary voluntary commitment of the companies is not sufficient, but instead of starting quickly with the legislation, the government is bogged down in a petty debate about the methodology and content of the survey and argues about the meaning of legal regulations. The belief in voluntary commitments is still deep in people’s minds, especially among those involved in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, faced by two federal ministers who belong to the CSU and the SPD and take the coalition agreement seriously. This means the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller, and the Federal Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, Hubertus Heil. Both want legal regulation. And they have good reasons to support them.

To put it bluntly: The voluntary commitments of the economy have failed! If filling out a questionnaire – by the way, a mere self-disclosure without any necessary evidence – is already overwhelming the company, one has to ask whether the responsible persons are aware of the dimension of responsibility at all. And if the responsibility of the economy for the observance of human rights has been on the agenda of socially and ecologically responsible corporate governance for 21 years, then one must also be allowed to ask why nothing more happened during this time Integrate responsibility into the risk management of companies. Anyone who claims that global value chains are unmanageable should be told that they were created by the companies themselves. It can be assumed that all possible risks in a supply chain are examined when it comes to product quality. This should then also apply to the quality of living and working conditions of the people working in these supply chains. In recent years, some publicly known disasters have shown that this is not always the case. In 2013, 1135 people died in Bangladesh when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, and 2438 were injured, some seriously. And that despite the fact that the poor working conditions of the textile workers should have been known to the fashion brands that had them produced. Even in chocolate production, many producers disregard human rights every day. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) in West Africa alone, around two million children are to exploit the cocoa that large chocolate manufacturers need for their products under exploitative conditions. But there is no question that far more human rights abysses are opening up under public perception.

Even if the opposite of care is carelessness, one cannot generally assume that the business world is careless about human rights. There are still occasional voices from business that question a responsibility for human rights. However, there are also numerous companies that have long been trying to reduce the risks of compliance with human rights in their value chains. Encouraging companies to change their course is time-consuming and, if in doubt, also slightly less profitable. Unfortunately, these companies face clear competitive disadvantages as long as their competitors do little or no effort to effectively protect human rights. With several initiatives in various sectors, Federal Minister Müller has tried to induce companies in industries that are subject to human rights risks to change course. The initiatives, of which the Textile Alliance is the most prominent, are working with respectable results, but here too it can be seen that the majority of companies are still not participating. Only a legal obligation can ensure that meaningful and effective initiatives and alliances pick up speed and do not have to reckon with competitive disadvantages. Another reason why many companies are in favor of a supply chain law is the current legal uncertainty. Those who do not know how to respect rights are currently safe from punishment, but not from harm. Because even today the ways to courts are open to sue careless companies for human rights failures. The damage to the reputation is usually higher than the financial sanctions.

The critics in the Federal government, the reading of the report of the consultancy recommended a consortium for the Monitoring of the NAPs. Here it is, already in 2018, even in very large companies, the NAP was not known and in practice a subordinate role do not play, because he is authentic. Even more clearly a call for legal regulations may not be.If behind the advertising word “sustainability” actions are, is nothing to Call, however, einzuwende nThe well-known companies to a duty of care law take the Federal government seriously and not as a PR-mesh to dismiss. Of course, in the future, companies will want to do with sustainability advertising. If behind your beautiful words, sustainable actions are, by contrast, is nothing, on the contrary.The Federal government has set – with the support of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the framework of the group of seven leading industrial Nations (G7) in year 2015, and the G20 2017 important impulses for the shaping of a fair globalization. This commitment received a broad international recognition and was supported by trade unions active. It should be continued in the forthcoming EU presidency.Germany could make an important contribution: to provide With a clever combination of mandatory rules and voluntary industry initiatives, to human rights, especially for Workers along global value chains – scope. It would also be a contribution that shows how fair globalization can be designed.More: Both Vietnam and Cambodia violate human rights. With Vietnam, the EU concludes a trade agreement, while it is not sanctioned Cambodia.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and/or sentence structure need be perfect.

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