devoir de vigilance

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Suivi du projet de loi S-211

La Loi édictant la Loi sur la lutte contre le travail forcé et le travail des enfants dans les chaines d’approvisionnement et modifiant le Tarif des douanes fait son chemin. Le 1er juin 2022, ce projet de loi a été adopté en 2e lecture par la Chambre des communes. Elle va être envoyée en examen.

Pour en savoir plus, cliquez ici.

Un dossier à suivre.

À la prochaine…

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Loi sur le devoir de vigilance : éléments d’analyse d’une forme de juridicisation de la RSE

Beau titre non ? C’est l’intitulé d’un article publié sous ce titre « Loi sur le devoir de vigilance : éléments d’analyse d’une forme de juridicisation de la RSE «  par Philippe Paliot et Diane de Saint-Affrique dans la revue Management international / International Management / Gestiòn Internacional, 2020, Volume 24, numéro 2, 2020, p. 109–123. Un article à découvrir qui propose une belle réflexion sur la pertinence de la loi française et le rôle du droit…

Résumé

Cet article vise à proposer l’analyse d’une expression singulière de la manifestation du droit étatique impératif dans la régulation de l’économie globalisée, à travers l’exemple de la loi sur le devoir de vigilance. Nous chercherons à faire apparaître dans quelle mesure cette loi incarne la très forte poussée éthique et humaniste qui imprègne certaines règles et normes juridiques contemporaines. Nous verrons également dans quelle mesure elle procède d’un champ de tension entre la loi politique et la loi juridique qui impacte les conditions de son effectivité et de son efficacité.

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Le Sénat adopte le projet de loi sur le travail forcé dans les chaînes d’approvisionnement et envoie S-211 à la Chambre des communes

Le Sénat du Canada a adopté jeudi soir le 28 avril le projet de loi S-211, la Loi sur la lutte contre le travail forcé et le travail des enfants dans les chaines d’approvisionnement, et a envoyé la législation à la Chambre des communes. Après quatre tentatives antérieures, dont la première remonte à 2018, l’adoption par le Sénat du projet de loi S-211 marque le progrès le plus important de l’histoire pour la législation sur l’esclavage moderne au Canada.

Le projet de loi S-211 propose une approche de transparence qui obligerait les entreprises et les institutions gouvernementales à faire rapport annuellement sur le risque de travail forcé et de travail des enfants dans leurs chaînes d’approvisionnement, ainsi que sur les politiques et les processus de diligence raisonnable qu’elles ont mis en place pour détecter et limiter ces abus. Les rapports seraient accessibles au public et les entreprises qui font défaut seraient passibles d’amendes pouvant aller jusqu’à 250 000 $.

Le projet de loi modifie également le Tarif des douanes pour permettre de bannir l’importation au Canada de marchandises produites par le travail des enfants. Dans sa forme actuelle, le projet de loi S-211 est une version modifiée et améliorée des projets de loi précédents déposés par la sénatrice Miville-Dechêne en 2020, et du projet de loi C-423, déposé par le député John McKay en 2018.

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Devoir de vigilance : Mc Do critiqué

Dans « Devoir de vigilance : mise en demeure de McDonald’s France » (Décideurs Magazine, 1er avril 2022), le devoir de vigilance de l’entreprise Mc Donald est mis en question. Les tribunaux ont été appelés à intervenir. Une affaire à suivre…

Résumé

Accusé de ne pas respecter la loi sur le devoir de vigilance des entreprises multinationales, McDonald’s France fait l’objet d’une mise en demeure par la CGT et les confédérations brésiliennes de l’UGT et de la CUT qui dénoncent des failles sociales et environnementales de la chaîne de restauration rapide. Les trois syndicats reprochent plus particulièrement au fast food de ne pas avoir « identifi[é] les risques et [prévenu] les atteintes graves envers les droits humains et les libertés fondamentales, la santé et la sécurité des personnes ainsi que l’environnement, résultant de [ses] activités », tant en France que chez ses fournisseurs brésiliens de café et de jus d’orange. Ils donnent trois mois au groupe pour dresser un plan de vigilance conforme aux exigences légales.

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Ending Human Rights Abuses in which Companies and States are Complicit

Le professeur Paul Davies commente la récente directive européenne sur le devoir de vigilance et rappelle une chose essentielle : les États ont un rôle à jouer ! À lire : « Ending Human Rights Abuses in which Companies and States are Complicit » (Oxford Business Law Blog, 5 avril 2022).

Extrait

The company’s actions under Arts 6-8 are subject to supervision by authorities (to be established in each Member State, not a Union level), which are to have a wide range of enforcement powers, including the imposition of financial penalties linked to turnover. In addition, those harmed by adverse impacts are to be given a right to sue companies in the courts of the Member States (for damages among other remedies), though it is unclear from Art 22 how far the Member State needs to modify its domestic liability system when transposing that Article.

One way to think about what the above might mean for companies is to ‘stress test’ the provisions in the context of the most distressing, widespread and difficult-to-fix human rights cases which recent litigation around the world has revealed. These are cases where the host state of a multinational’s operations is complicit in the abuses. 

In my view, litigation and straight-down-the-line supervisory action are unlikely to bring about a satisfactory forward-looking resolution to these deep-seated problems. If exit is to be a true last resort for companies covered by the proposal, what is needed is an inducement for companies to exercise voice rather than exit. And that voice is likely to have to be, not that of the company alone, but part of a cooperation among the company, the host state, local communities and overseas development agencies. A company playing its part in the cooperation should be granted protection against both litigation and supervisory action. Look as hard as one likes, however, no such safe harbour provisions are to be found in the Commission’s proposal. In fact, Art 18(4) specifically rules out protection against supervisory sanctions and private litigation when the company engages in remedial action after being found in breach. In short, the proposal is a standard, backward-looking set of provisions for imposing liability on companies, not a blue-print for cooperative efforts to end abuses in the future. In the most difficult cases where it is most desirable to alter behaviour, exit is what the Commission’s proposal is likely to induce, with uncertain or no benefits for the victims of the abuses.

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Devoir de vigilance en UE : vidéo d’une experte

Je vous invite à regarder cette capsule-vidéo de Mme Charlotte Michon sur le devoir de vigilance. Elle revient sur le projet de directive sur le devoir de vigilance de la Commission européenne et le rapport de la mission d’information parlementaire d’évaluation de la loi française, tous deux publiés le 23 février 2022.

À la prochaine…

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Raison d’être et devoir de vigilance

Bel article de réflexion offert par Beate Sjåfjell et Jukka Mähönen (professeurs à Oslo) sur la directive vigilance : « Corporate Purpose and the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Proposal » (Oxford Business Law Blog, 25 février 2022).

Extrait

Taking sustainability seriously: sustainable value creation within planetary boundaries

The question of how to secure the contribution of our businesses to the fundamental transformation to sustainability is not one that should be responded to in the ideological and emotional way as we have seen in some of the responses when the Sustainable Corporate Governance initiative was launched. Now that the Directive proposal is out, we encourage all who wish to participate in the discussion to lay aside any ideological ‘shareholder vs stakeholders’ viewpoints. That is not what is at stake. While the IPCC report on climate change of 2021 has been referred to as ‘code red for humanity’, planetary boundaries research shows that reality is even more grim – we have a whole set of code reds for humanity and they are increasing in number (as the latest planetary boundaries research shows), and the status for the European Union is not good. Working towards sustainability also entails questions of social justice – just as we cannot silo environmental issues into various categories to be dealt with separately, we cannot separate environmental and social issues. These are all interconnected elements. All of these issues must be dealt with simultaneously. The sustainability challenges of our time are complex and interconnected and attempting to silo sustainability work into dealing piecemeal with isolated elements will not work.

While there seems generally to be an increasing consensus among governments and businesses on the need to integrate sustainability into the governance of our globalized businesses, the attempts to do this so far seem to have been based on three principles: a) as few clear and enforceable rules as possible, b) support voluntary measures although they haven’t worked  so far, and c) if we must regulate, be sure to leave company law out of the picture.

However, to get real about integrating sustainability, we need to go to company law, which is the regulatory infrastructure for decision-making in business. As all company law scholars who have analysed the sources know, company law gives a broad discretion to corporate boards and by extension senior management in their corporate governance. There is, in other words, space within the current company law and corporate governance systems to steer businesses in more sustainable directions. This has been used by some as an argument for the sanctity of company law – no need for change, move on, nothing to see here! The problem is that this discretionary space is taken up by the social norm of shareholder primacy. We therefore suggest, on the basis of over a decade of multijurisdictional comparative analyses of the drivers for and the barriers to sustainable business, that company law must take back that space and clarify why we have companies (corporate purpose) and give a principle-based instruction to boards on how to do their jobs in this era that is defined by the extreme unsustainabilities resulting from business as usual.

Sustainable value creation is already an emerging concept in corporate governance all over the world. What needs to be done is to position sustainable value creation within the ecological limits of our planet. We therefore propose both ‘sustainable value’ and ‘planetary boundaries’ as general clauses in company law, the content of which gradually can be firmed up as practice develops. This doesn’t mean we don’t think there should be any guidance in the law – quite the opposite, as we see the need to ensure that business does not take these two concepts and turn them into opportunities for greenwashing, bluewashing or ‘sustainability washing’.  Integrating these concepts into the duties of the board is therefore also paramount, outlining this in a way that provides legal certainty.

Avoiding the shareholder vs stakeholder trap does not mean that we do not in our proposal encompass a wide variety of interests affected by the company’s business. However, while involving affected communities, trade unions, and civil society is crucial, a mere canvassing of ‘stakeholder interests’ and giving priority to the ones that make themselves heard the most is insufficient, misleading and potentially destructive for the overarching purpose of sustainable value creation. The backdrop must always be the interconnected complexities and the vulnerability of the often-unrepresented groups (whether invisible workers deep in the global value chains, Indigenous communities, or future generations), and the aim of a sustainable future within planetary boundaries.

Under pressure: the proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive

The European Commission’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive proposal, presented on 23 February 2022, aims to put into place mandatory and harmonised sustainability due diligence rules in the European Economic Area, in recognition of the insufficiency of voluntary action by business and the regulatory chaos that business faces in its cross-border activities.

The proposed Directive is appropriately named ‘Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence’, resonating in title with the proposed Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. It is positive that the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive proposal clarifies which environmental and human rights issues are intended to be included. However, a broader approach is needed, drawing on a research-based concept of sustainable value creation within planetary boundaries.

The proposal builds on a due diligence duty for the members of the board and the chief executive officer of the company. It reflects the international human rights and environmental international law obligations and concretises the steps of the due diligence process. There is, however, a danger of box ticking instead of principle-based evaluations of risks of unsustainability.

There are proposals for both public and private enforcement, including civil liability for the board members and the chief executive officer, which makes this proposal different from much of what we have otherwise seen in the corporate sustainability area. The scope of the proposal is however extremely narrow, excluding in its direct application all small and medium-sized enterprises, and covering only some 13,000 EU companies and some 4,000 third-country companies.

The proposal takes an important core company law step, which we have advocated in our work, namely to clarify that the duty of the board (strangely formulated as a duty, in Anglo-Saxon speak, for all ‘directors’) is to promote the interests of the company. Wisely, there is no attempt to harmonize this (and especially not by including some kind of stakeholder language), rather leaving the content of the interests of the company to the variety of company law regimes in Europe. What is missing, however, is further situating this duty within an overarching purpose of sustainable value creation within planetary boundaries, which would have given a clearer sustainability-oriented framing for the whole proposal. 

The proposal does employ misleading stakeholder language in the consultation duties as part of due diligence, where it would have been better to specify that the consultation should take place with affected communities, groups and people.

The proposed Directive is clearly a product of the tension resulting from, on the one hand, the social norm of shareholder primacy and the drive to keep company law untouched by sustainability issues, and on the other hand, the willingness to make necessary changes to mitigate the extreme unsustainabilities of business as usual. We see this in the way core company law issues are relegated to the end of the proposal. It would have been much more logical to set out clearly in the beginning of the proposed Directive the core duties of the boards to ensure that sustainability due diligence is used as a key tool for integrating sustainability into the entire business of the company.

The Directive proposal needs to be strengthened on a number of points, and it is now to be discussed further by the European Parliament and the Council, before it can be adopted with possible revisions. We strongly recommend that subsequent work with the Directive proposal be based on a research-based concept of sustainability and take company law and corporate governance seriously, rather than allowing the misleading shareholder vs stakeholder dichotomy to set the parameters for continued siloing of core company law as the regulatory infrastructure for corporate decision-making.

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