07.03.2019 • New publication

Business and human rights: the European hypocrisy

European corporations’ violations illustrate the case for an international binding treaty. A collection of 16 case studies as a companion to the ENCO report The EU and the Corporate Impunity Nexus.

Published on 7 March 2019

From outsourcing garment production to deadly factories in Pakistan to building destructive dams in Ethiopia and Brazil, from exporting hazardous chemicals to India to pushing mining and energy projects linked to pollution, social conflicts or land-grabbing, European companies are a major cause of human rights and environmental violations around the planet.

Civic and media organisations from across Europe have gathered, as part of the ENCO network [1], with allies from the Global South, to document some of the most blatant abuse by European multinationals such as Shell, Syngenta, Engie, Salini, G4S or Volkswagen, both at home and abroad. These case studies illustrate how violations are often facilitated by wider EU policies in relation to trade, climate change or access to raw materials. They also show how European companies often use CSR and other voluntary mechanisms to evade accountability for the impacts of their actions, and continue business as usual.

The lesson from these case studies is crucial in the context of the current negotiations, within the United Nations Human Rights Council, on an international treaty on transnational corporations which would include genuinely binding provisions, as opposed to the ’soft’, voluntary mechanisms pushed by the private sector and most Western governments.

As showed in our October 2018 report The EU and the Corporate Impunity Nexus, released during the week of negotiations of the UN working group on a binding treaty for transnational corporations in Geneva, the European Union has effectively sought to thwart real progress towards new and ambitious legally binding norms, and sought to push their preferred ’model”, based on soft, non-binding mechanisms and an ever greater involvement of the private sector in designing the norms that would apply to them.

Today, as the working group’s chair present their report to the UN Human Rights Council, we publish the final version of the case studies, written by a dozen European organisations and two from Argentina and Zambia, which were elaborated alongside the October report.

Although European politicians and business executives often cultivate an image of respectability, which they seek to contrast with their competitors from other regions, these case studies show the hidden truth behind the façade of responsibility: a disturbing pattern of outsourcing the worse environmental and social impacts of European multinationals and European consumption of resources to the Global South, through offshoring, carbon markets or environmental and social dumping.

Only an ambitious international treaty on transnational corporations and human rights can provide accountability and access to justice for affected persons and communities, as well as lead to genuine progress in advancing human rights and tackling the climate crisis, instead of passing the blame or hiding behind an empty display of ’corporate social responsibility’.

In just a few weeks, more than half a million European citizens have expressed their support for an international treaty for transnational corporations through the European Citizen Initiative “Rights for People, Rules for Corporations”. It is time for the EU to listen to these demands and stop blocking the UN process.

The report The EU and the Corporate Impunity Nexus is available in French, Spanish and English: http://multinationales.org/The-EU-and-the-Corporate-Impunity-Nexus

The case studies are available in English: http://multinationales.org/Treaty-Report-Case-Studies

The case studies published today include :

 KiK and the Karachi fire: corporate responsibility in transnational supply chains – by Goliathwatch (Germany)

 Syngenta: Hazardous agrochemicals in India – by MultiWatch (Switzerland)

 Shell in the Argentinian Patagonia – by Observatorio Petrolero Sur (Argentina)

 Salini and the Gibe Hydroelectric Complex in Ethiopia – by Re:Common (Italy)

 The Wind Farm Corridor on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Oaxaca, Mexico) – Observatorio de Multinacionales en América Latina (Spain)

 AATIF and Agrivision Africa: the failure of private-sector-led ‘development’ – by ASTM (Luxembourg) & FIAN (Germany)

 Société Générale’s gamble on gas – by Amis de la Terre France

 G4S in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – by Novact (Spain)

 BHP and the collapse of Samarco’s Fundão Dam in Brazil – by War on Want & London Mining Network (UK)

 Albert Frère and Groupe Bruxelles Lambert: from the decline of the Belgian steel industry to the Syrian war - by Observatoire des multinationales (France) & Gresea (Belgium)

 Pollution and violence around a Glencore copper mine in Peru – by MultiWatch (Switzerland)

 Indra Sistemas: military systems and border militarization – by Centre Delàs (Spain)

 Volkswagen and the Dieselgate scandal – by Goliathwatch (Germany)

 ACS and the Castor gas storage project – by ODG (Spain)

 Engie and the Jirau dam – by Observatoire des multinationales (France)

 Crédit Suisse and the Mozambique secret loans scandal – by MultiWatch (Switzerland)


[1ENCO (European Network of Corporate Observatories) is a network of media and civil society organisations from across Europe dedicated to investigating corporations and corporate power. This report is ENCO’s first major publication.

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