“We must vote on the directive on the duty of vigilance of companies on February 14”

Dn a context marked by growing environmental and social challenges, the European Union (EU) has taken a decisive and historic step by adopting in December 2023 the European directive on the duty of vigilance of companies in matters of sustainability (Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, CSDDD), at the end of a democratic interinstitutional negotiation process – known as trilogue – which lasted four years and during which the points of view of a wide range of stakeholders were taken into account.

Therefore, it was reasonable to think – and it was hoped – that, on Friday February 9, the agreement reached in trilogue between the representatives of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission would receive the favorable vote of the members of governments sitting on the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Council of the EU. Well no…

Belgium, which chairs the Council, has in fact decided to postpone the vote until February 14. The qualified majority required for its adoption was in fact threatened by the risk of abstention from several countries, notably Berlin, following the rebellion of the FDP, a liberal party member of the German government coalition. Why these last minute twists and turns, when many companies are calling for unified European law on respect for human rights and the environment?

Towards more virtuous practices

Remember that the CSDDD aims to establish a binding legal framework for large companies, in order to regulate the negative impacts of their chain of activities on the environment and human rights. It is part of a historical continuity which began in the year 2000 under the leadership of Kofi Annan, who, in Davos in 1999, justified to multinational companies the importance of giving “a human face to the market”.

A framework for action (the Global Compact), non-binding initiatives and voluntary standards have been proposed, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights promoted by John Ruggie, and the Guiding Principles of the OECD for multinational companies, in order to guide companies in reconciling the interests of economic performance and respect for people and the planet.

But this transition towards more virtuous entrepreneurial practices was two-speed. Some companies adopted these changes more quickly than others, while others remained on the sidelines, limited to one-off actions, often seen as isolated efforts that do not address the systemic issues at the heart of business operations.

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