MEP Richard Howitt's Keynote Address

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Speech of Richard Howitt MEP, European Parliament Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility to the Launch of the "Human Rights Due Diligence Report," United Nations Palais des Nations, Monday 3 December 2012. Thank-you so much for inviting me to make the keynote speech at the launch of your report, at the beginning of this very important week as a marker for how the world's corporations are complying with the world's most important set of rules: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Coming from Europe, I would also like to pay particular tribute to the co-authors of the report: the European Coalition for Corporate Justice. Many of your members are wellknown names globally: Amnesty International, FIDH and Friends of the Earth. But today in Geneva I want to recognise the very important progress you have helped to make with us in the EU institutions towards turning the debate from simply one of corporate responsibility towards one on corporate accountability. And therefore it is no coincidence that this project is undertaken jointly with the International Corporate Accountability Round Table who - together with your Canadian partners - I also pay great credit. In Europe we are very close to getting the draft law long-promised on mandatory reporting by business on social, environmental and human rights impacts, and which ECCJ and I have long campaigned. The UN Guiding Principles are the cornerstone of last year's European Commission Communication on Corporate Responsibility. The Communication specifically states European companies have a responsibility to undertake "due identify, prevent and mitigate their possible adverse impacts." And last week I was present when the President of the European Commission said the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are an important part of contacts made by the European Union with all third countries worldwide. We've really made some progress. Now to today's report. I've described the concept of "due diligence" as the "genius" of John Ruggie's Framework. For companies, it says don't just say it but show us how you do it. For other stakeholders, it removes any excuse for companies not to do it. What today's report shows is that "due diligence" isn't simply the mechanism for corporations to assess whether they are fully respecting human rights. It is also the

mechanism through which governments can assess whether corporations have effectively done so. The report does switch focus back on Ruggie's Pillar One: the state duty to protect. I would accept that governments have allowed the debate to drift too far only to the second pillar of Ruggie's three. And as anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of construction knows, if you design something with three pillars and build only one, it won't be long before the roof falls in! Today's report, as we will hear from the authors, also asks us to consider regulatory tools to embed the practice of "due diligence." As a legislator myself, let me say a word about the prospects for such regulation. Regulation itself is not such a flashpoint as it was here in Geneva and for us in Brussels during the last decade. John Ruggie's consistent advocacy for what he called the "smart mix" of regulatory and voluntary approaches has been broadly accepted. Furthermore, as I think your research shows, regulation already exists in this area in some countries and to some extent. So we have moved away from an ideological approach for or against regulation. We don't ask whether law, we say which law? In the most extreme cases that has to include the criminal law. In the month where the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast reported to have led to the death of 16 people saw the chairman of the company concerned pay a fine of just 67,000 Euros in exchange for an agreement that no further prosecution takes place, existing criminal law - or the will to exercise it - clearly falls short. And I know your report will also touch on the sensitive but crucial question of "extraterritorial jurisdiction," on which in Europe we've largely failed to make substantial progress. I have seen recently a review of case law of the European Court of Human Rights showing the clear precedents for extraterritorial jurisdiction, which I would recommend everyone to read. But although I am a law-maker not a lawyer, speaking to a room in which a fair number of lawyers are present, I would also like to focus on that second word: "jurisdiction." The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines it as "the authority of a sovereign power to govern or legislate." And that must be the point. That governments have a sovereign authority - what the Guiding Principles call "duty" - that extends to the corporations who are headquartered

in our territories. We have jurisdiction over them and it is up to governments whether or not to exercise it. How we might do that we will learn more about during this meeting. But finishing my own presentation let me again launch out today's report in to the context of the entire week here in the United Nations. For me the test of success this week will be whether the momentum has and is being sustained towards implementation of the Guiding Principles. When I look at the worldwide consultation you've undertaken in drawing up this report, it seems to me in many ways as complete and with the same global reach as the work John Ruggie undertook himself. That is a good sign and should give all those present at this meeting good hope that the recommendations we're discussing can and will form part of the next phase as the world addresses business and human rights. Richard Howitt MEP European Parliament Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility December 2012 Website: E-mail: Facebook: Twitter: @richardhowitt

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