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24 Mai 2023

Global Network Initiative

EU: Global Network Initiative expresses support for Due Diligence Directive & encourages European Parliament to adopt JURI Committee report

"GNI Expresses Support for the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive"

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is the world’s preeminent multistakeholder collaboration in support of freedom of expression and privacy in the information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem. Our membership includes many of the world’s leading ICT companies, as well as a wide range of expert academic, civil society, and investor actors. [...]

GNI welcomes and strongly supports the European Commission’s proposal to mandate human rights due diligence (HRDD) through the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (“Directive”), as further elaborated by the European Council and most recently the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). We encourage the European Parliament to adopt the JURI Committee report and for all three entities to work to pass the Directive this year. 

Given our history of working to advance principles of responsible business conduct, as set forth in the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), GNI is keen to share with relevant actors, including the EU Council, the Commission, and Parliament, its perspective on effective, proportionate, rights-respecting, and risk-based approaches to business and human rights, as well as the important role that multistakeholder initiatives can play in advancing those objectives.

To ensure the Directive builds on the decades of experience and lessons-learned regarding implementation of robust HRDD practices, GNI supports key improvements proposed by the European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs (the JURI Committee). As set out further below, and in line with the JURI position, GNI recommends that the Directive: (i) take a comprehensive approach to the scope of due diligence; (ii) adopt a risk-based approach across the full value chain, (iii) clarify key concepts such as meaningful stakeholder engagement, (iv) take a consistent and holistic approach to the scope of rights and sectors covered in line with international frameworks and existing expectations; and (v) help identify and incentivize participation in meaningful, credible multistakeholder initiatives.

GNI advocates for a comprehensive approach to the scope of due diligence, which includes the downstream impacts on human rights, in line with both leading international approaches, and existing good practices. Given the significant downstream risks that the ICT sector faces, as well as the unique interrelationships between the different layers of the “ICT Stack,” a comprehensive value chain approach that prioritizes the most salient impacts based on severity and likelihood is critical to understanding and addressing human rights risks. In our experience, companies have demonstrated that this is not only feasible, but essential in order to comprehensively address human rights risks.  We welcome the progress in the recent JURI Committee position toward due diligence requirements that cover downstream impacts, and stress that it is essential to ensure downstream risks are explicitly covered in the Directive. This “holistic” approach to human rights due diligence will also ensure alignment with other  EU laws, such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) [...]

With regards to the Human Rights listed in the Annex of the Directive, GNI recommends requiring companies to consider all human rights found in the International Bill of Rights and then identify and concentrate their due diligence efforts on those activities that pose an evidently higher risk of an adverse impact in accordance with UNGP’s approach to salient risks. If, however, the Directive continues to single-out specific rights in this Annex, it should also include freedom of expression, which is a particularly salient right for many companies in the tech sector. 

Stakeholder engagement is a critical part of HRDD. We acknowledge some promising elements on stakeholder engagement in the JURI report such as the inclusion of “affected stakeholders” in line with the UNGPs, which guide companies to identify all potentially and actually affected stakeholders, usually referred to as “rights-holders.” [...] The Directive should also specify that engagement should inform all stages of due diligence, allowing for gender and intersectionality perspectives.

[...] Multistakeholder initiatives like GNI can help identify and disseminate good practices, foster cross-company and cross-stakeholder collaboration, and facilitate meaningful engagement. However, not all initiatives involving industry are the same. They vary widely in terms of governance and accountability, with some requiring mere participation, while others like GNI, is utilizing multistakeholder governance to help companies toward continuous improvement over time.  

[...] We [...] welcome the reference to “multistakeholder initiatives,”  in addition to industry  initiatives, in the JURI’s report. [...] Finally, we support the expectation set out in Recital 37 that the Commission “may issue guidance for assessing the scope, alignment and credibility of industry schemes and multistakeholder initiatives” and that it should “tak[e] into account, in particular, the inclusion of the perspectives of civil society in the process,” as well as the important recognition that participation in such initiatives “should not absolve such companies of their individual responsibility to perform due diligence.” [...]