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Euroviews. In the fight for due diligence, multinationals didn’t get to make the law

Trainees at a garment factory work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, April 2018
Trainees at a garment factory work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, April 2018 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By MEP Manon Aubry
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

We will continue to the bitter end of this battle, begun five years ago, to defend workers' rights and the environment in the face of multinationals' crimes, MEP Manon Aubry writes.

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24 April marks an important day in the global fight for corporate accountability. That day in 2013 saw the Rana Plaza textile factory building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1,134 workers. 

This catastrophe was the result of a system of corporate impunity that still exists to this day. 

A system in which multinational companies can organise and profit from the exploitation of workers in global value chains, without taking any responsibility for their safety and the violation of their rights.

The Left demands justice for all victims of corporate crimes. This is why, five years ago, I proposed a European due diligence legislation to tackle corporate impunity in line with the call of human rights and environmental defenders. 

On 24 April, while the families of the Rana Plaza victims gather to remember their loved ones, in Strasbourg, the European Parliament will finally vote on this law to hold multinationals accountable and make sure that such tragedies never happen again.

People and the planet have won

Up to now, EU rules haven’t held companies responsible for the abuses they commit. 

While we enjoy our fancy phones and fast-fashion garments in Europe, governments have been turning a blind eye to how these goods are made, how the workers who sew our clothes in Asia or other parts of the world are being paid, whether those who assemble our electronic devices work in decent conditions, whether child workers produce the chocolate we buy in our supermarkets, or if forests are illegally cut to use the wood for the furniture we buy.

We must end Europe’s hypocrisy. The EU must back up its claims to be a global champion of human rights and take real action.

It has been a fierce battle against an immense corporate lobby seeking to continue business as usual with claims of ignorance over how their products are being made and wanting to put their profits before human rights.
Bangladeshi mothers cry for their missing ones while holding their photos at the site of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar near Dhaka, August 2013
Bangladeshi mothers cry for their missing ones while holding their photos at the site of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar near Dhaka, August 2013A.M. Ahad/AP

For five years, we’ve been pushing for this due diligence legislation to end corporate impunity and oblige companies to respect human rights and the environment throughout their supply chain. 

Five years of constant ping-pong between the European Commission, the European Parliament and member states in the European Council, where countries such as France and Germany wanted to water down the text to the point of making it meaningless. 

It has been a fierce battle against an immense corporate lobby seeking to continue business as usual with claims of ignorance over how their products are being made and wanting to put their profits before human rights.

Make them pay

The new EU corporate due diligence law requires companies to prevent, cease and mitigate human rights and environmental abuse in their entire value chains.

Multinationals that continue to profit from exploiting people and nature will face fines of up to 5% of their worldwide net turnover.

At the same time, victims of such abuses will have access to justice before EU courts and will have the right to claim reparations.

We will continue to the bitter end of this battle, begun five years ago, to defend workers' rights and the environment in the face of multinationals' crimes.
A recruiter from Foxconn talks to job applicants outside the factory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province, February 2010
A recruiter from Foxconn talks to job applicants outside the factory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province, February 2010AP/AP2010

The scope of the law goes beyond the companies' primary operations in Europe and makes them legally liable only when a crime is committed. 

According to this legislation, all major companies operating in the EU must prevent, stop and remedy violations committed by their subcontractors and suppliers. This includes undignified working conditions and pollution.

Keeping up the fight

The Left sought more ambitious measures, such as including all large companies and banks in the scope of the directive, as well as strengthening climate due diligence. 

However, we faced strong resistance from right-wing forces, corporate lobbies and some member states, who attempted to reject the entire legislation.

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Let it be known that the far right and part of the right simply refused to protect human rights from corporate crimes. 

Let it be known that the German government, caving under the pressure of German liberals, watered down climate protection and even attempted to reject this legislation altogether. 

Let it be known that French President Emmanuel Macron had banks excluded from this Directive to allow BNP Paribas, Société Générale and others to keep profiting from corporate crimes. 

Still, I’m also proud of all of us who have stood up for human rights and the planet and won an ambitious draft.

We will continue to the bitter end of this battle, begun five years ago, to defend workers' rights and the environment in the face of multinationals' crimes. 

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I will continue to fight so that, every 24 April, we can pay our respects to the Rana Plaza victims and honour their memory in the knowledge that we did our own due diligence and took action to defend people against corporate greed. 

Manon Aubry (La France Insoumise, France) is a Member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the Left.

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