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The European Parliament has approved a new law that requires companies to be more careful about how they impact human rights and the environment

On Wednesday, Parliament approved new rules requiring companies to lessen their harmful effects on human rights and the environment. The European Parliament agreed with 374…

  • Applies to EU and non-EU companies and parent companies with turnover of more than 450 million euro
  • Firms need to make a plan that follows the Paris Agreement.
  • Companies will be responsible for harm caused and can be fined if they don't follow the rules.

On Wednesday, Parliament gave a final green light to new rules obliging firms to mitigate their negative impact on human rights and the environment.

The European Parliament approved with 374 votes against 235 and 19 abstentions the new “due diligence” directive, agreed on with the Council, requiring firms and their upstream and downstream partners, including supply, production and distribution to prevent, end or mitigate their adverse impact on human rights and the environment. Such impact will include slavery, child labor, labor exploitation, biodiversity loss, pollution or destruction of natural heritage.

Risk-based approach and transition plan

The rules will apply to EU companies and parent companies with over 1000 employees and a worldwide turnover higher than 450 million euro. It will also apply to companies with franchising or licensing agreements in the EU ensuring a common corporate identity with worldwide turnover higher than 80 million euro if at least 22.5 million euro was generated by royalties. Non-EU companies, parent companies and companies with franchising or licensing agreements in the EU reaching the same turnover thresholds in the EU will also be covered. These firms will have to integrate due diligence into their policies, make related investments, seek contractual assurances from their partners, improve their business plan or provide support to small and medium-sized business partners to ensure they comply with new obligations. Companies will also have to adopt a transition plan to make their business model compatible with the Paris Agreement global warming limit of 1.5°C.

Fines and compensation of victims

Member states will be required to provide companies with detailed online information on their due diligence obligations via practical portals containing the Commission’s guidance. They will also create or designate a supervisory authority to investigate and impose penalties on non-complying firms. These will include “naming and shaming” and fines of up to 5% of companies’ net worldwide turnover. The Commission will establish the European Network of Supervisory Authorities to support cooperation and enable exchange of best practices. Companies will be liable for damages caused by breaching their due diligence obligations and will have to fully compensate their victims.

Following the plenary vote, lead MEP Lara Wolters (S&D, NL) said: “Today’s vote is a milestone for responsible business conduct and a considerable step towards ending the exploitation of people and the planet by cowboy companies. This law is a hard-fought compromise and the result of many years of tough negotiations. I am proud of what we have achieved with our progressive allies. In Parliament’s next mandate, we will fight not only for its swift implementation, but also for making Europe’s economy even more sustainable.

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