Action Day draws attention to human rights violations by European companies

10 November 2010

November 10, 2010 - In preparation of a new Communication on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) - to be launched by the European Commission in 2011 - a network of 250 European NGO’s organised a European wide Action Day. They demand that the Commission takes steps to hold European companies accountable for damage they cause in developing countries.

In Brussels, an ‘Oil Spill’ was created in front of the European Commission’s building to symbolise environmental damage caused by European oil companies in Nigeria.

The European Action Day is an initiative of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ, www.corporatejustice.org), a European network bringing together over 250 civil society organisations present in 15 European countries. Members include the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and national affiliates of Oxfam, Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth.

Activities are happening in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden in order to urge the EU to take measures that will stop corporate abuses and provide access to justice for victims of these abuses.

“From mercury poisoning in South Africa to child labour in India, companies, including European ones, continue to get away with breaches of environmental and human rights standards,” states Ruth Casals, ECCJ’s coordinator. “Regrettably, there currently exists no binding mechanism at the international level ensuring that companies are held accountable for any violations they commit, or in which they are complicit”.

The main ECCJ demands for the EU include:

  • Ensure that companies operating in the EU are legally accountable for any harm they cause to people and the environment in and outside the EU;
  • Ensure that European companies disclose accurate information about their impacts on people and the environment. They must be transparent about what they do regarding their human rights and environmental risks and impacts; 
  • Ensure that non-EU citizens, who suffer from the operations of European companies, have access to justice in the EU.

November 10th is a symbolic day as it commemorates the 15th anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian human rights activist, who protested against the oil pollution in his community by European oil companies such as Shell and Total.

Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe and Board member of ECCJ, comments: “Shell and other oil companies have spilt as much oil in Nigeria as BP in the Gulf of Mexico. Not even the Nigerian government is stopping them. Continuous oil pollution by European companies in Nigeria shows the urgent need for the EU to take steps to hold European companies accountable for the damages they cause in other parts of the world”.

The Action Day is aimed at promoting the message of ECCJ’s campaign “Rights for Peoples - Rules for Business” (www.rightsforpeople.org), which main objective is to collect 100,000 signatures from citizens around Europe in support of ECCJ’s demands.

Currently, there is a new policy momentum with the announcement by the Internal Market Directorate General of a new Consultation on the issue of corporate transparency [1] (non-financial reporting). Also pending is the new proposal by the Directorate General on Justice and Fundamental Rights of Brussels I regulation (dealing with access to justice issues) to be released before the end of the year, and the upcoming new Communication on CSR[2] announced by Vice-president and Enterprise Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, for the spring of 2011.

“After a few years characterized by lack of policy initiative by the EU on the subject, now is the right moment for the EU to move forward in its political decision-making to improve the accountability of European companies and to avoid more deaths like that one of Ken Saro-Wiwa,” said Ruth Casals.

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NOTES

[1] http://www.responsible-investor.com/home/article/eu_may_legislate_on_corporate_social AND http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/smact/docs/single-market-act_en.pdf

[2] http://www.europa-eu-un.org/articles/en/article_9880_en.htm