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BRUSSELS – Finland should use its Presidency of the EU to push for the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) at European Union level. That’s the opinion of a group of international civil society organisations, which want more robust systems in place for multi-nationals to have accountability for human rights issues in supply chains. Such a move would have huge implications for the global apparel industry where much production is outsourced to Asia in countries with questionable human rights regimes.

The European Coalition for Corporate Justice, ActionAid International, Anti-Slavery International, Clean Clothes Campaign, the European Trade Union Confederation, the International Trade Union Confederation, Fair Trade Advocacy Office, and Fairtrade International claim Finland has a chance to “show its increasing commitment to and leadership in the area of business and human rights.”

In an open letter to the Finnish government, the groups say: “Finland was one of the first countries in adopting a National Action Plan to implement the UNGPs. It was also one of the Member States which in 2017 called on the Commission to adopt an EU Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.

“In contrast, the EU has not yet acted on its own commitment to come forward with an EU action plan on the implementation of the UNGPs. This is despite increasing recognition that business, while playing a role in the social and economic development of modern societies, can significantly damage the environment and violate human rights.

“In fact, an estimated 21 million people are victims of forced labour in the supply chains of global businesses. Countless other human rights violations such as gender-based violence or poverty wages are taking place daily in the supply chains of European companies.

“Nevertheless, the EU still lacks a coherent and comprehensive policy framework to ensure business’ respect for human rights, now almost eight years after endorsing the UNGPs. In the absence of EU leadership, several European countries have taken initiative at national level and have adopted or are currently assessing legislation that would require companies to prevent adverse human rights and environmental impacts, whilst ensuring access to remedy for people who are harmed by business in their operations, their subsidiaries and along their supply chains.

“Finland has a unique opportunity during its EU Presidency to ensure that business and human rights will be part of the next European Commission’s priorities, and specifically to advance the debate on the need for Human Rights Due Diligence legislation at the EU level. In particular, a High-Level Conference would allow for Member States, the EU, and other stakeholders to discuss recent legislative processes and explore the way forward for a common EU approach to mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence.”

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