Citizens and policy makers urge greater corporate accountability

More than 73,000 EU citizens and 140 elected representatives and MEPs have signed a petition calling on the European Commission to hold companies operating in the EU legally accountable for any harm they cause to people and the environment around the world. The petition was delivered to the European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, vice president Antonio Tajani on July the 13th.

Citizens and policy makers urge greater corporate accountability

The petition, co-ordinated by the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ), was delivered ahead of a Round Table session hosted in the European Parliament by Richard Howitt MEP to look at conflicts in EU policies on trade, business and human rights.

Filip Gregor, the Chair of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice, said: "Citizens from across the EU are backing this call for greater corporate accountability, demanding rights for people and rules for business. Companies can be a force for good but if they are responsible for causing damage to people or to the environment they should be held accountable and victims should be able to seek justice in the EU.

He added that EU companies should be required to disclose details of their activities so that they could be held to account.

One hundred and forty MPs and MEPs from across the political spectrum have pledged to support the development of such a legal framework for corporate accountability, designed to hold companies operating in and from the EU, their subsidiaries, and their directors legally responsible for the social and environmental consequences of their operations, in particular in developing countries. Legal measures to allow corporate victims to seek justice in EU courts should also be adopted.

Paul de Clerck, Steering group member of ECCJ, added: “The proposed measures would allow people in Nigeria affected by gas flaring by the oil giant Shell, for example, to seek justice through the European courts. Although the practice of flaring endangers human health, harms local ecosystems, emits large amounts of greenhouse gases and is even a violation of Nigerian law, major oil producers have been allowed to continue this practice for decades."

The Commission is due to publish a communication on corporate social responsibility in autumn 2011. Last month businesses joined the EU in declaring their support for the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, put forward by the UN Special Representative John Ruggie and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June.

The ECCJ says the time has now come for the EU and its member states to implement their obligations to protect human rights from the activities of business corporations as clearly spelled out in the UN Guiding Principles.