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Focus on Regulation

Hogan Lovells leads conversation with roundtable on the French duty of vigilance and corporate civil liability for human rights

On 17 May 2018, an unprecedented round table took place to discuss the “French duty of vigilance and civil liability in human rights matters” at our Paris office.

Alongside Julianne Hughes-Jennett, London Partner and Head of our Business and Human Rights group, this event gathered Horatia Muir Watt – Professor of international private law and comparative law at Sciences Po – and Gerald Pachoud – former Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General’s special representative on human rights and business and now managing partner of a boutique consultancy firm in Switzerland. The panel was moderated by Christelle Coslin, a Counsel in Hogan Lovells’ Paris litigation team.

The event, organized in partnership with Sciences Po Law School, was a chance to discuss the French law on the duty of vigilance (see our previous blog here) as well as recent international legal developments concerning corporations’ impact on human rights, in particular the due diligence increasingly required from companies and the associated risks of civil liability actions for not satisfying a duty of care.

The conference was opened by a short introduction by Christelle Coslin on the main features of the French statute. All speakers agreed that the statute is a clear implementation into hard law of the UN Guiding Principles adopted in 2011. Interesting exchanges followed regarding the scope of application of the French law and the circumstances under which it should be held applicable. There was consensus among the panellists that case law will be crucial in clarifying the scope of application and implementation of the statute, in particular to determine when a company’s vigilance plan will be deemed to include “reasonable measures” which can satisfy the legal requirement and avoid civil liability actions.

More generally, Pr. Horatia Muir Watt, Gerald Pachoud and Julianne Hughes-Jennett shared their insight on current international trends, such as the Jesner vs. Arab Bank ruling on the Alien Torts Act by the US Supreme Court (see our previous blog here), case law developments on parent company liability in the UK (for the latest news, see here) or draft bills in Switzerland (see our previous blog here). The current negotiations at the UN and the more general prospect of seeing an international treaty adopted in the future were also topics of discussion.

The debate moved on to cover how companies could adapt to this new environment and how they can better protect themselves by effectively identifying and preventing human rights risks before they occur. Speakers gave practical, effective and implementable recommendations on how to prepare the vigilance plan required of corporations that fall within the scope of the French law. For example, companies should focus on their operations rather than the actors in their supply chain when conducting their human rights risks mapping, and there is a balance to be struck between explaining the process for identifying human rights impact versus specifically identifying all instances of human rights risk.

We will continue to provide updates on developments and guidance on this topic. In the meantime, feel free to contact us with any questions. We are available to provide personalized and fine-tuned advice on specific situations wherever helpful.