Free global trade has helped billions of people escape poverty. It can enable billions of people to live autonomous lives in prosperity. However, the price for this must not be paid by eight-year-old boys who work in mines in Congo instead of going to school. Or 34-year-old mothers forced to work in cotton fields in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Even if human rights as rights of defence and participation oblige individual states, we as an international community, too, bear responsibility to protect the rights and dignity of all people in this closely interlinked world.

In 2011, the United Nations and companies agreed on the UN's Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. According to these principles, companies, as social actors, equally have a duty to respect human rights and avoid negative impacts on human rights through their activities. In other words, a reputable businessperson is not only a reliable partner in business transactions. They feel responsible for their employees - and indeed for everyone who is involved in value creation along the supply chain. Legislators now has the task of phrasing in concrete and clear terms the expectations placed on companies by the UN Guiding Principles. Companies must be able to implement a corresponding supply chain law. It must not cause countries with a problematic human rights record withdrawing, because this would mean that a decisive development factor would be lost there. On the other hand, the regulation must provide effective incentives to improve human rights diligence. This may require a clause on civil liability, but should not go beyond organizational and supervisory duties. Legislators, companies and human rights organizations must find feasible solutions as to the level to which mandatory inspection and, in consequence, liability affect the supply chain. It might be helpful to focus initially on the most concrete and tangible human rights, such as the right to physical integrity. The EU being the largest single market in the world, we need to develop a common standard at EU level as quickly as possible. Only in this way can we have a decisive impact on the global market. The German government could provide the blueprint for this through well thought-out national regulations.

Gyde Jensen MdB

Chairperson of the Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid in the German Bundestag

Subscribe to our newsletter