During recent years, news about terrible accidents in textile factories in the Global South have soared. Following a period of inactivity by the EU, the EU Commission will present a legislative proposal on human rights and environmental due diligence in the supply chain in October 2021. Together with 14 other human rights and labour organisations, AK EUROPA presented its demands in an open letter.
Exactly 9 years ago, more than 250 lives were lost in the fire of the Ali Enterprises factory, 1138 people died due to the collapse of the nine-storey building Rana Plaza in 2013. Such disasters expose the desolate working and safety conditions in the textile industry. On the occasion of this sad anniversary, 15 human rights and labour organisations published an open letter, urging EU decision makers to address the fundamental problems of social audits. A social audit is the formal review of a company’s social standards such as working conditions, health and safety at work and environmental management. However, such audits are often poorly executed: only a few weeks prior to the fatal fire, a social audit had certified the factory as safe. This happened in spite of serious and obvious risks. But this is by no means an isolated case: audit certificates on the safety of factories are issued every day, even though the locations concerned are subjected to serious risks and infringements.
For this reason, AK EUROPA and the co-signatories of this letter urge the Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders, the Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, the Members of the European Parliament and the Member States to ensure the following points in the forthcoming legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence and corporate accountability:
- Liability of social auditors: this is essential to ensure that companies can be held accountable.
- End of impunity for companies in the Global North: it is unacceptable that companies, which have been guilty of human rights violations and environmental destruction, are treated with impunity or that the case is dismissed due to statutes of limitation as it happened in the case of the textile chain “Kik” at Ali Enterprises.
- Clear liability regulations: these shall provide the victims of corporate malpractice with access to law and remedy. This also applies to situations, where victims suffer damage through negligent and incorrect audits.
- Social audits and private certifications: these must not be regarded as adequate proof for observing due diligence at court or in respect of other relevant enforcement action. Instead the implementation of risk management processes is required, as highlighted in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Apart from AK EUROPA, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the Clean Clothes Campaign and industriAll Europe have signed the open letter among others.
AK EUROPA: Open letter to ensure social auditors’ liability and effective legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence
A&W Blog: EU supply chain law – milestone or Label fraud? (German only)
The social responsibility network: Supply chain law now! (German only)
AK EUROPA: Start of the Campaign on Corporate Responsibility
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: Who Audits the Auditor?: Shaping Legal Accountability Strategies to Redress Social Audit Failings