The Twenty-Seven validated legislation on Friday imposing obligations on EU companies to protect the environment and human rights (forced labor, etc.) in their production chains, but with a broader scope of application. reduced than expected. MEPs and negotiators from Member States concluded a political agreement in December on this flagship text creating a “duty of vigilance” which obliges companies to identify and correct attacks on the environment and workers’ rights, including at their own premises. subcontractors abroad. But the Twenty-Seven failed twice in February to find the majority required to formally ratify it. With a view to lifting the reservations of several countries, the scope of application has been significantly limited compared to the December agreement.

This legislation provides that the companies concerned are legally responsible for violations of human and social rights (child labor, forced labor, safety, etc.) and environmental damage (deforestation, pollution, etc.), including for their suppliers. The agreement reached in December with MEPs provided that the rules would apply to European groups with more than 500 employees and with a net global turnover of at least 150 million euros, as well as to companies from 250 employees if their sales exceed 40 million euros and half come from risky sectors (textiles, agriculture, minerals, etc.). Finally, the text approved on Friday by the States only targets companies with 1,000 employees or more with a turnover of at least 450 million euros — and the provisions concerning firms in risky sectors have disappeared. , according to a diplomatic source. The European Parliament will now have to decide on these changes by mid-April.

The ambassadors of the Member States have been struggling for two months to find the required qualified majority (a minimum of 15 Member States representing 65% of the EU population). A vote largely failed on February 28: opposition from the German liberals of the FDP, members of the ruling coalition and who denounced a text that was “unacceptable for small and medium-sized businesses”, forced Berlin to abstain. Italy and around ten other countries, including Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia had done the same, according to diplomats, for various reasons: legal uncertainties, administrative burden, international competition… Sweden had even voted against.

“The threshold of 1,000 employees was the subject of discussions until the last minute. It is higher than the initial agreement but significantly lower than the threshold that France proposed (mid-February) at 5,000 employees,” commented Pascal Canfin (Renew, Liberals), president of the Environment Committee in the European Parliament. “And the law still provides for the obligation for all companies with more than 500 employees to have a climate transition plan. This is a major step forward,” he added. The NGO Global Witness shows its “relief” but deplores that “this legislation is only a shadow of what it should have been, because it will only apply to a fraction of companies”.