Business and Human Rights: Recent panel discussion on the international, European and French landscape

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On 21st January 2021, a roundtable was organised by the Association Française des Juristes d’Entreprises (AFJE), Doctrine and Le Grand Continent to discuss where Business and Human Rights issues stand. the following topic:.

Alongside Christelle Coslin, Partner in Hogan Lovells’ Paris litigation team and Co-Head of our Business and Human Rights group, this event gathered Aurélien Hamelle (General Counsel of Total Group), Antonin Lévy (Partner at Antonin Lévy & Associés law firm), and Pierre-Louis Périn (Professor at the Sciences Po Law School and Partner at Bersay law firm). The panel was moderated by Stéphanie Fougou, Honorary President of the AFJE and General Secretary of Ingenico.

The conference started with Christelle Coslin providing background information on the international landscape (for more detail: see the article Business and Human Rights: from an international impulse to European applications). She pointed out that, almost ten years after the adoption of the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPS”), the corporate responsibility to respect human rights was gradually shifting from a “soft” law standard to “hard” legal provisions and statutes through a transnational approach.

Christelle Coslin outlined that France took a pioneering role by becoming the first State to incorporate a duty of Human Rights vigilance into its legal corpus through a dedicated statute entitled the “duty of vigilance of parent companies and main contractor companies” (the “Duty of Vigilance Law”). Christelle Coslin also highlighted that Switzerland recently joined the ever-expanding list of countries that have enacted specific rules governing human rights due diligence by adopting a limited set of reporting and due diligence obligations specific to child labour and mining conflicts. Christelle Coslin eventually reminded that the European Commission launched a large new consultation* asking about the possibility of introducing a mandatory duty for all companies operating in the EU to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence across their supply and/or value chains.

Antonin Levy described recent case law decisions handed down in France regarding the implementation of the French Duty of Vigilance law and in particular on the domestic jurisdiction front.

Pierre-Louis Périn then shared his views on the latitude given to companies to establish their own guidelines and action plans to comply with the French Duty of Vigilance Law.

Aurélien Hamelle reminded that the enactment into hard law of corporate social responsibility remains a work in progress while companies are more and more being held accountable for their social responsibilities, especially by non-governmental organisations (“NGOs”).

*Hogan Lovells is currently setting up a roundtable discussion with clients by the end of January to discuss this European consultation. Businesses’ input will feed into a response to the consultation to be prepared and issued by the Hogan Lovells Business and Human Rights group. 

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