A Legal newsflash on business and human rights Webversion
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Business and Human Rights Update
We are witnessing a legal avalanche relating to business and human rights. Our Business and Human Rights Updates will keep you advised of initiatives of relevance to your business. We are also constantly chasing new tools to enable businesses to identify and effectively address potential harm to people and the environment. Ultimately, what protects people (and the planet) is also what best protects businesses.
The EU Commission commits to an import ban on products produced by forced labour. The US Customs and Border Protection authority has indicated what it expects in terms of remediation of forced labour before lifting a US import ban.
  • The EU Commission has committed to ban imports of products produced by forced labour
    As this Update has previously anticipated, the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen confirmed in her state of the union speech on 15 September: “[…] let me be very clear: doing business around the world, global trade – all that is good and necessary. But this can never be done at the expense of people's dignity and freedom. There are 25 million people out there, who are threatened or coerced into forced labour. We can never accept that they are forced to make products – and that these products then end up for sale in shops here in Europe. So we will propose a ban on products in our market that have been made by forced labour. Human rights are not for sale – at any price.

  • While we wait for the EU Commission to publish a concrete proposal, it is worth revisiting the EU Guidance on due diligence for EU businesses to address the risk of forced labour in their operations and supply chains. The Guidance is clear that the EU expects all businesses to act responsibly “across all sectors of production, and all levels of the supply chain and the protection of victims of business-related violations and abuses […]” and call on all EU companies to “respect human rights, including labour rights, regardless of their location, size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure.” The Guidance includes a forced labour risk factor checklist, and helpful guidance on what to consider when addressing forced labour risks, including state-sponsored forced labour, and forced labour involving vulnerable groups such as religious and ethnic minorities. It offers advice on how to conduct gender-responsive due diligence as well as how to think around remediation and responsibly exiting a business relationship.

  • The US Customs and Border Protection Authority lifts an import ban following tangible proof that forced labour has been remediated 
    For a concrete illustration of how an import ban can work, see the announcement made by the US Customs and Border Protection authority on 9 September 2021. The authority has lifted a Withholding Release Order (WRO) and subsequent forced labour Finding on Top Glove Corporation Bhd., thereby allowing disposable gloves made at the company’s facility in Malaysia to be imported into the US market for the first time since the issue of the WRO in July 2020. The ban was lifted only after “thoroughly reviewing” evidence that the company had addressed all identified indicators of forced labour at its Malaysian facilities, including tangible remediation in the form of “more than USD 30 million in remediation payments to workers and improving labour and living conditions at the company’s facilities”.  

On a sad note, this Update takes a moment to remember Professor John G. Ruggie. He shaped the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and championed their implementation by businesses and ultimately by governments. Few legal scholars leave such a tangible impact on the lives of millions. To learn more about his remarkable achievements, read how Dean Douglas Elmendorf of Harvard Kennedy School remembers him following his passing on 16 September 2021.
If you have questions or want to discuss any of these issues, you can always reach out to your existing contacts at the firm. You are also welcome to contact the members of our Corporate Sustainability and Risk Management team, some of whom are listed at the bottom of this page. 

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Erica Wiking Häger, Partner, erica.wiking.hager@msa.se
Malin Helgesen, Specialist Counsel, malin.helgesen@msa.se
Peter Linderoth, Partner, peter.linderoth@msa.se
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