EU Policy. Exclusive: Governments mull last-chance bid for stripped-down corporate diligence law

Protestors outside the French EU embassy in Brussels, 6 March 2024
Protestors outside the French EU embassy in Brussels, 6 March 2024 Copyright Jack Schickler
By Jack Schickler
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A new draft circulated to Member States seeks to rescue landmark sustainability legislation as elections loom.

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Negotiators are seeking a last-ditch compromise on new EU corporate supply-chain rules, as opposition from Italy and Germany and looming elections threaten to quash hopes for the environmental law.

The bloc’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) would require companies to check their supply chains for poor working conditions or pollution – but was blocked by major EU nations, led by German finance minister Christian Lindner.

In a document dated 5 March and seen by Euronews, the Belgian government – which currently chairs the EU Council grouping of member states – is seeking wide-ranging changes to address their concerns.

Belgium’s new plan means the law only applies to businesses with more than 1000 employees and €300m in worldwide turnover, doubling thresholds set out in the previous draft, and removing a carve-out that allows a more cautious approach for high-risk sectors like clothing, agriculture and mining.

The fresh proposal constrains civil liability rules that would allow trade unions or activists to sue companies for breaches, and there’d be a phased approach so the law only applies after five years for smaller companies.

“The Presidency considers that the overall compromise proposed is balanced and should enable an agreement on the text,” the document said, inviting ambassadors to endorse the text at a forthcoming meeting which could be as soon as this Friday (8 March).

An EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Euronews that there were “informal talks” taking place on the legislation as Belgium seeks to find a way through before European Parliament elections in June.

At a press conference on 28 February, lead lawmaker Lara Wolters (Netherlands/Socialists and Democrats) said that last-ditch attempts by governments to block the law were an “outrage” that showed they were listening to big business rather than voters.

"My priority is certainly to get this over the line before the elections,” Wolters told reporters, adding that she’d need clear proposals from the Council in order to do so.

On Wednesday morning (6 March), protestors gathered outside the French embassy to push for agreement on the law, saying that governments had not been playing fair in the campaign to limit environmental damage and human rights abuses.

“It is essentially one minute to midnight for CSDDD and European due diligence,” Friends of the Earth’s Alban Grosdidier told Euronews. “It is time for these ministers to stop playing with people’s lives and to stop perpetuating the status quo through allowing corporate abuse."

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