Another cross-border lawsuit using the new French duty of vigilance law

Week of 12 October 2020

Another cross-border lawsuit using the new French duty of vigilance law

The indigenous Zapotec community of Unión Hidalgo in Mexico filed a lawsuit against energy company Electricité de France (EDF) under France’s Duty of Vigilance law, which requires French companies to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence both at home and abroad. The community alleges that the company did not adequately consult with them prior to constructing the large-scale Gunaa Sicarú wind farm on their land. The suit marks the third case brought before French courts since the law came into force in 2017.

What this is about

    • This is the third lawsuit filed against a French company in civil courts under the Duty of Vigilance law. Two others filed against French oil and gas firm Total have since been taken up by the court and are now under review: in one, a group of 14 local authorities and 5 NGOs allege that Total failed to conduct adequate due diligence on its climate risks; and in the other, a group of French and Ugandan NGOs alleged that Total had not conducted adequate due diligence on planned oil-related projects in Uganda, which had negative impacts on human rights and the environment.
    • And the number of lawsuits will grow. For instance, we have recently seen French supermarket Casino Group being put on notice by a civil society coalition: if the supermarket doesn’t strengthen how it excludes beef linked to illegal deforestation and the grabbing of Indigenous territories in its supply chains in Brasil and Colombia, the coalition could look to start another lawsuit under the French law. This is the seventh formal notice issued to a French company since the French law came into force.

From another angle

    • We are seeing an increase in cases seek to hold companies accountable for alleged human rights and environmental harms committed abroad by subsidiaries—a key feature of the French due diligence legislation.
    • The conflict between the indigenous community and EDF in Mexico spotlights a growing tension around the human rights impacts of renewable energy projects, which are key to addressing the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (For more on this theme, see the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark and our write-up here.)
    • The conflict is also posing threats to the safety of human rights defenders in the community. ECCHR, ProDESC and Terre Solidaire report that, in 2018 and 2019, there were multiple attacks on community members who spoke out against the project, many of which occurred during the consultation process. 

Click here to read more about the case, which is being filed on behalf of the community by human rights legal advocacy organisations European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC).