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France

I – The State’s Obligation to Protect Human Rights

The International Framework

1. The United Nations (UN) [page 13]

… France also chairs the Group of Friends of Paragraph 47 of the Rio+20 Declaration. This group promotes sustainable development reporting to better ensure that economic actors respect social, environmental, good governance and human rights standards. This group successfully advocated for reporting to be reinforced and extended to all SDGs …

2. The International Labour Organization (ILO) 

France is second to just one other country in its ratification of ILO conventions. It has ratified 127 conventions, including the eight fundamental conventions and the four governance conventions (considered priority instruments). It regularly publishes reports on the enforcement of these conventions, which are submitted to the organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. The observations and recommendations of this committee are taken into account when revising national regulatory instruments and practices. France is committed to seeing ILO, a source of international labour laws, establish a shared reference standard based on a common interpretation of conventions. It actively supports the universal ratification process for ILO’s eight fundamental conventions. For several years, it has also underlined the need to reinforce the organization’s supervisory system.

France is one of ILO’s more active members and has a permanent seat on the organization’s Governing Body. It adheres to and promotes the Decent Work Agenda, and fully supports the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (the MNE Declaration). The country has signed a four-year partnership agreement with the International Labour Office, which involves implementing CSR initiatives and contributing to
the Better Work Programme.

4. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) [page 15]

France actively contributed to work completed by ISO which resulted in the adoption of the ISO 26000 standard on social responsibility for businesses and organizations. This standard seeks to promote a common understanding of social responsibility, but cannot be used for certification. The ISO 26000 standard deals with seven core subjects, one of which is human rights …

… In addition, France steered work on the voluntary international standard ISO 20400, which provides guidance on sustainable procurement for organizations in the public and private sectors, through the French standardization organization AFNOR. This standard aims to establish a basic frame of reference to tackle the practices of social and environmental dumping. It was approved in late January, which paved the way for its publication.

Actions Underway [page 16]

  • France is participating in work carried out by the UN intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, which has been mandated to elaborate an international legally binding instrument, subject to the integration of parameters defined with our European Union partners, in order to ensure that the process respects the unanimity and integrity of the UN Guiding Principles (applicability to all businesses, consultation with businesses and integration of UN Guiding Principles).
  • Working with the Group of Friends of Paragraph 47 of the Rio+20 Declaration, France supports the reinforcement of reporting requirements in the environmental, social and governance fields, especially with respect to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted on 25 September 2015.
  • France actively contributes to OECD activities in the field of responsible business conduct, particularly its work on due diligence (in the textile and finance sectors) and reinforcing the OECD Guidelines to mark their 40th anniversary (from June 2016 onwards).

Actions to be Implemented

  • Work to enhance cooperation between the World Trade Organization (WTO) and ILO to better integrate international social standards on responsible production processes and methods (for example, targeting child labour and forced labour), in order to promote a level playing field that takes into account existing frameworks and regulations.

 

The European Framework

7. The European Union (EU) [page 17]

France has played an important role in ensuring that these issues are high on the European agenda, particularly with respect to the adoption of the European directive on binding non-financial reporting, which France actively supported during negotiations.

It also promoted the inclusion of social, environmental and governance standards in trade and investment agreements. It helped to ensure that the conclusions of the Council of the EU under the Dutch Presidency were adopted, supporting the enforcement of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and their integration into development policy.

France could play a key role in the adoption of a common European framework on due diligence. The French National Assembly launched a parliamentary “green card” initiative to this effect.

Actions Underway

  • France has made human rights a requirement in non-financial reporting following the transposition of European Directive 2014/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014 amending Directive 2013/34/EU as regards disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large undertakings and groups.
  • France is promoting the notion of due diligence at the European level to encourage the creation of a common framework based on the legislative framework adopted in France.
  • France has transposed the European Directive on trade secrets into national law, allowing businesses to protect trade secrets while assuring the necessary transparency of business activities and conduct, and the protection of whistleblowers acting in the public interest.

 

The National Framework

10. The Reinforcement of Legislation [page 23]

Recent public policies have led France to adopt new legislative measures supporting CSR.

  • For approximately ten years, French legislation has required all large companies to publish detailed information on their CSR policies. The 2001 Act on New Economic Regulations, otherwise known as the NRE Act, requires listed companies to disclose specific social and environmental information in their management reports. The Act of 12 July 2010, also referred to as the Grenelle II Act, reinforced transparency requirements in two ways:
    • Under Article 224 of this act, the annual reports of asset management companies must mention the ways in which their investment policies take into
      account environmental, social and governance criteria.
    • Under Article 225 of this act and the decree of 24 April 2012, companies must provide more detailed information, non-listed companies that exceed thresholds (for example, the threshold of 500 employees) must respect transparency obligations, 11 and independent third parties must check the
      information published.
  • Articles 70-IV and 173-IV of the Act on Energy Transition for Green Growth of 17 August 2015 extended reporting requirements by introducing the concept of the circular economy and asking companies to provide information on how the use of their goods and services affected climate change. An implementing decree was adopted in August 2016 to clarify these obligations.

France also played a key role in developing transparency obligations for companies at the European level. It was the main supporter of the draft directive on non-financial reporting obligations, published on 22 October 2014, which requires large European listed companies to publish reports on their social, environmental, human rights and corruption policies. France encouraged the European Commission to take an ambitious approach when adopting the guidelines discussed in the directive. The directive is currently in the final stages of being transposed into French law. This will reinforce existing non-financial reporting requirements for companies.

  • In the development field, the Act of 7 July 2014 on France’s strategy for development and international solidarity states that policy in this field must take into account “the social and environmental responsibility of public and private actors”. In addition, “France shall promote this requirement to partner countries and other donors”.
  • Furthermore, “It shall also encourage businesses with their headquarters in France and with offices abroad to implement the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”. Also under this act, “Companies shall implement risk management procedures to identify, prevent or mitigate social, health and environmental damage and human rights abuses that may arise as a result of their operations in partner countries”.
  • The Act of 21 July 2014 defined the scope of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) for the first time. The notion of an SSE enterprise now covers
  • traditional actors (nonprofit organizations, mutual societies, cooperatives, and foundations) as well as new forms of social enterprise (commercial companies which pursue socially useful goals and decide to adopt SSE principles). Under this definition, the SSE represents 10% of GDP and 2.3 million employees. After the Rana Plaza tragedy, France wished to give consumers the ability to check manufacturing conditions for goods sold in France by distributers, manufacturers and producers. Article 93 of the SSE Act, which discusses transparency obligations with respect to the social conditions of a product’s manufacture, entered into force on 1 August 2014.
  • Article 13 of the SSE Act seeks to ensure that more public purchases are made from socially responsible businesses (many of which are part of the SSE) and that better use is made of social clauses in procurement contracts. It states that, if a maximum annual procurement amount is exceeded, contracting authorities must adopt schemes promoting socially responsible purchases. This article came into force on 1 February 2015 (Decree of 28 January 2015).
    • Article 11 of the SSE Act creates a “socially useful solidarity-based enterprise” accreditation which is awarded to businesses with high social standards so they can attract private financing from socially minded investors, particularly solidarity-based employee savings. This article came into force in the first quarter of 2015 after the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State) issued a decree to this effect.
  • An act on a duty of vigilance for parent companies and outsourcing companies was promulgated on 27 March 2017. Under this act, companies that employ more than 5,000 employees in France, or more than 10,000 employees in France and abroad, must draft and implement due diligence plans. Plans must set out reasonable measures to identify risks and prevent serious abuse of human rights, fundamental freedoms, health, personal safety and the environment, arising as a result of the operations of the company, of companies under its direct or indirect control, or of subcontractors and suppliers with which it has well-established commercial relationships.

13. The Role of Public Agencies 

The Agence Française de Développement (AFD)

… Also pursuant to Article 8, the AFD must incorporate social responsibility into its governance system and operations. It must implement measures to evaluate and control the environmental and social risks of the operations it finances, and to promote the financial transparency of businesses involved in these operations, country by country. Its annual report must mention the ways in which it addresses social responsibility requirements …

15. Economic Sectors and Human Rights

The Extractive Sector [page 34]

… France’s actions in [the extractive sector] focus on multilateral and European initiatives reinforcing the legal and regulatory framework for businesses working in the extractive sector, especially in regions with fragile governance systems …

 

II – Businesses’ Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

6. Reporting [page 44]

Businesses must monitor the human rights measures they adopt and disclose on theirinitiatives in this field.

Under European Directive 2014/95/EU, human rights will become one of the pillars of CSR. This position will be reflected in French reporting requirements when the directive is transposed into national law. It should be noted that human rights reporting is already a requirement under the regulatory provisions of the Commercial Code. Decree 2012-557 of 24 April 2012 on the social and environmental transparency obligations of businesses places human rights on an equal footing with other issues.

Actions Underway:

  • France is continuing to implement monitoring indicators and communicate with external stakeholders on business commitments and enforcement under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Actions to be Implemented:

  • Implement provisions to help transpose the European Directive on non-financial reporting into French law.
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