Week of 26 April 2021
What is the latest environmental and human rights due diligence legal development in Belgium?
Our key takeaway: When it rains (mandatory environmental and human rights due diligence laws), it pours. Umbrellas may be needed in Brussels soon.
On 22 April 2021, the Belgian Federal Parliament voted to consider a legal proposal that would create a duty of vigilance and duty of remediation with regard to human rights, labour rights and environmental standards:
- The law would cover both vigilance and remedy – with a reference to the UNGPs. The duty of vigilance would require companies to equip themselves with mechanisms that continuously identify, prevent, halt, minimize and remedy any risk or impact related to human rights, labour rights and environmental standards in their value chains. The duty of remediation would require companies to provide remedy for damage suffered by victims where due diligence was absent or inadequate. The proposed text references the UNGPs, the OECD Guidelines and ILO conventions. Value chain is defined as including “all subsidiaries, subcontractors, customers, investors, with whom the company maintains a commercial relationship.”
- The law would have a wide application, with an actual vigilance plan expected of some companies within the law’s scope. The law would apply to all companies established or with activities in Belgium. The text specifically states that this wide scope seeks to prevent that Belgian companies do not establish themselves abroad to escape these new obligations, while ensuring that companies with activities in Belgium are not subject to lower standards. Within these companies, large companies and companies active in higher-risk sectors and regions would have a specific obligation to draw up a vigilance plan, similar to what is expected under the French 2017 duty of vigilance law.
- Civil liability rules would be strengthened and joint and several liability is provided for. This bill would provide derogations from the general rules of civil liability for companies in Belgium for damage caused throughout company value chains, including from the activities of subsidiaries and impacts made possible by their investments. The law provides the possibility of bringing actions for collective reparation. If several companies are responsible, the law provides for joint and several liability (i.e. one company can be individually liable to fully compensate the victim, even if other companies are also liable for the damage that has occurred.)
See also the civil society position: Mémorandum, Fondements essentiels pour une loi belge sur le devoir de vigilance (October 2020)