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France – E and CC

The French NAP includes a large number of references to the environment and climate change. A number of these include:

I. The State’s Obligation to Protect Human Rights

Introduction [page 12]

France helps reinforce human rights and social and environmental standards at the national, European and international levels, offering constitutional, legislative and regulatory protections …

 

The International Framework

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

… 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.

5. International Organisation of La Francophonie

At their 12th summit in Quebec in October 2008, OIF [International Organisation of La Francophonie] Heads of State and Government formally undertook to “promote social/societal and environmental corporate responsibility, in particular by encouraging the companies from La Francophonie Member States to adhere to the relevant instruments and international standards and principles, as well as by promoting their harmonization.”

France therefore supports social and environmental corporate responsibility, as stated in the final declarations of the 2008 and 2014 summits. The OIF could be encouraged to cooperate with national consultative human rights commissions on these issues.

Actions underway [page 16]

  • 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.
  • As outlined in the UN Guiding Principles, France encourages embassies to be vigilant with respect to the human rights and environmental performances of French economic actors. In particular, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development has sent the CSR guide to all diplomatic posts since 2015.

Actions to be implemented

  • Implement the UN Guiding Principles in the battle against climate change, following commitments made during COP 21.

 

The European Framework

7. European Union (EU) [pages 17-18]

… [France has] promoted the inclusion of social, environmental and governance standards in trade and investment agreements …

8. Trade and Investment Agreements [page 19]

… As for the National CSR Platform, [the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH)] issued the following recommendations:

  • Ensure social and environmental clauses are included and respected under these agreements

European trade agreements incorporate CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] and adherence to international conventions on labour and the environment. EU free trade agreements all include sustainable development chapters, which contain provisions on labour law and environmental protection. These chapters also refer to CSR. Provisions mainly reiterate key existing multilateral agreements (for example, ILO’s fundamental conventions in the labour field and multilateral environmental agreements in the environmental field). They also set out cooperation mechanisms for the parties in order to support progress in these fields. Sustainable development chapters in EU free trade agreements and investment agreements contain two further important provisions: one prevents parties to the agreement from lowering social and environmental standards to promote trade and attract investments; the other confirms States’ right to regulate in the social and environmental fields.

From the French perspective, addressing these issues in free trade agreements results in a number of weaknesses:

  • Secondly, although trade agreements include social and environmental standards and human rights clauses taken from the main international texts on labour laws and the environment, international organizations (the UNDP, ILO, etc.) are not involved in negotiations, despite the fact they carefully monitor the implementation of these texts (through regular reports by State parties, etc.). Instead, in trade agreements, a committee meeting at least once per year is charged with monitoring the implementation of sustainable development chapters. Civil society (NGOs and nonprofit organizations) can also act as whistleblowers if these regulations are breached, although this power is not institutionalized. Discussions with civil society are generally formalized by way of an annual forum or consultative committee bringing together stakeholders from different backgrounds.

To respect human rights and support responsible practices, social and environmental costs must be included in cost prices. The EU condemns social and environmental dumping and selling at a loss. France must encourage the international bodies to which it is party to implement measures guaranteeing fair and undistorted competition.

In 2013, France issued a number of proposals to improve the way in which social and environmental standards were addressed in European trade agreements. These proposals are still relevant.

These proposals focus on five main areas:

  1. Improving cooperation with international organizations working in the labour and environmental protection fields (ILO, UNDP, UNEP, etc.). Some of these organizations, particularly UN organizations, are running cooperation projects in countries currently negotiating trade agreements with the EU. Some of these cooperation activities are oriented in such a way that they directly support the social and environmental goals set down in agreements. This is the case for some countries that have just concluded trade agreements or countries benefitting from Europe’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP).
  2. Improving the evaluation of sustainable development chapters through rigorous impact assessments. These impact assessments must provide a clear overview of social and environmental standards in countries negotiating agreements with the EU. France has completed a major revision of the European manual used to write these impact assessments. This could lead to progress in the field.
  3. Giving civil society more power to monitor these chapters. In addition to the annual forums currently planned by the European Commission, European trade agreements could give civil society (NGOs and trade unions) a formal “whistleblower” role, denouncing breaches of social and environmental standards. The Commission has decided not to look further into this option at this stage.

Actions Underway [pages 21-22]

  • France, working with other European partners who support this initiative, is building on proposals made to the previous European Commission (in March 2013) to reinforce social and environmental standards in free trade agreements and monitor their enforcement.

 

The National Framework

9.  The Protection of Human Rights and the Environment Constitutional Guarantees [page 22-23]

… The charter [Charter for the Environment, 2004, France Constitution] acknowledges a number of rights, including “the right to live in a balanced environment which shows due respect for health” (Article 1), the obligation for public policies to “promote sustainable development” and “reconcile the protection and enhancement of the environment with economic development and social progress” (Article 6), the right to “have access to information pertaining to the environment” and to “participate in the public decision-taking process likely to affect the environment” (Article 7), as well as the principles of precaution and prevention in the environmental field …

10. The Reinforcement of Legislation [pages 23-24]

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 …
  • 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”.
  • 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.

11. The Inter-Ministerial Exemplary Administration Action Plan and the National Action Plan for Sustainable Public Procurement [page 25]

On 17 February 2015, the Prime Minister issued instructions concerning the 2015-2020 Inter-ministerial Exemplary Administration Plan, on the basis of which each ministry was requested to draw up its own exemplary administration plan. These plans must outline initiatives to be implemented by 2020 in the fields of energy saving, sustainable mobility, resource consumption, waste reduction and biodiversity preservation. They may also address social and societal impacts as part of their focus on social and environmental responsibility …

Public Procurement Policy [page 25-26]

… The National Action Plan on Sustainable Public Procurement seeks to help the State, local government and hospitals make sustainable purchases as per Ordinance 2015-899 of 23 July 2015 and Decree 2016-360 of 25 March 2016 on public procurement …

… The new legal framework for public procurement gives purchasers several ways of addressing social and environmental impacts. Having transposed Article 57 of Directive 2014/24/EU of 26 February 2014 on public procurement, French law now states that public contracts may not be awarded to economic operators that have been found guilty of fraud, corruption or the trafficking or exploitation of human beings (Article 45 of Ordinance 2015- 899). Article 59 of Decree 2016-360 obliges public purchasers to reject bids that do not comply with applicable laws, particularly in the social and environmental fields. Transposing Article 69 of the above mentioned directive, the decree also enables purchasers to reject tenders that are abnormally low because they do not respect applicable environmental, social and labour obligations established by French law, European law, collective agreements or by international environmental, social and labour law provisions (Article 53 of the above mentioned ordinance and Article 60 of the above mentioned decree). This also applies to subcontractors (Article 62 of the above mentioned ordinance and Article 133 of the above mentioned decree). Finally, over and above the analysis of tenders, Article 18 of Directive 2014/24 requires Member States to “take appropriate measures to ensure that in the performance of public contracts economic operators comply with applicable obligations in the fields of environmental, social and labour law established by Union law, national law, collective agreements or by (…) international environmental, social and labour law provisions.”

Actions Underway [page 26]

  • The State is committed to ensuring that businesses in which it holds shares respect human rights and the environment.

13. The Role of Public Agencies 

Compagnie Française d’Assurance pour le Commerce Extérieur (COFACE) [page 27]

The French export credit agency COFACE, which provides guarantees on behalf of the State, systematically applies the Recommendations of the OECD Council on Common Approaches for Officially Supported Export Credits and Environmental and Social Due Diligence (the “Common Approaches”), most recently negotiated in 2012 by the OECD Export Credits Group …

The Agence Française de Développement [page 28-29]

As mentioned above, pursuant to Article 8 of the French Act of 7 July 2014 France’s strategy for development and international solidarity, the development and international solidarity policy must take into account the social and environmental responsibility of public and private actors. Furthermore, companies must 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 activities in partner countries.

Currently, the AFD does not apply Article 5 of Chapter III of the Act on France’s strategy for development and international solidarity, in particular the requirement to implement measures promoting the financial transparency of businesses involved in operations, country by country. Instead, the financial operators and private sector actors with which the AFD Group and PROPARCO work are encouraged to disclose information on their turnover, profits, employee numbers and taxes paid in each country they are based in. This measure, called “country-by-country reporting”, is already compulsory for European banks.

Actions Underway [page 30]

  • COFACE is continuing efforts to make information on reasonable due diligence in the social and environmental fields (which include human rights) visible and accessible on its website.
  • The AFD has implemented a grievance management mechanism to deal with environmental and social complaints.
  • The AFD is reinforcing CSR and human rights criteria in 80% of pending public works contracts with high social and environmental impacts.

14. Reinforced Risk Analysis and Information [page 31]

… On 8 July 2002, France ratified the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. This convention seeks to ensure that everyone is able to receive information, participate in decision-making and access justice in the environmental field. As stated in the preamble, “adequate protection of the environment is essential to human well-being and the enjoyment of basic human rights(…).” …

Actions to be Implemented

  • Provide training, particularly to staff of the State and local government, on human rights and environmental obligations for businesses (in business schools, engineering schools, the judiciary, etc.).

15. Economic Sectors and Human Rights

The Agricultural and Food Sector – Actions Underway [page 32]

  • Recommendations in the Guide to Ex-Ante Analysis of Agricultural Investment Projects that Affect Land and Property Rights are being integrated into the AFD’s due diligence procedures in the land, social and environmental fields.

The Extractive Sector [page 34]

Extractive industries are often considered opaque and at high risk of environmental and human rights abuses. As such, they are subject to heightened due diligence measures and initiatives seeking to address sector-specific risks …

… Implementing the EITI [Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative] will help reinforce the transparency of financial flows and support dialogue between businesses, the State and civil society addressing the extractive sector’s social and environmental impacts on national territories.

The Financial Sector – Actions Underway [page 36]

  • France is examining whether to extend environmental, social and governance reporting requirements for institutional investors in Europe to cover human rights.

 

II- Business’ Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

Introduction [page 37]

… In March 2015, the National CSR Platform agreed on the following points with respect to due diligence:

Parent companies and outsourcing companies should undertake due diligence (which some considered should be voluntary and reasonable, and which others considered should be compulsory) with respect to subsidiaries and subcontractors in order to improve human rights and environmental risk prevention.

This due diligence could include the following measures:

  • Defining the operational content of reasonable due diligence processes for companies in due diligence plans. These plans would distinguish between subsidiaries and subcontractors given the different due diligence processes applicable to each of these cases. The goal of these plans would be to identify and prevent human rights and environmental risks resulting from business operations. The French NCP’s work on the textile and garment sector could be a useful reference. Parent companies and outsourcing companies would have to disclose the due diligence processes they implement, in compliance with the European directive on non-financial reporting.

4. International Framework Agreements [page 42]

An international framework agreement is an instrument negotiated between a multinational enterprise and a global union federation. It defines the rights of those working for the group’s subsidiaries and subcontractors around the world, as well as the social and environmental standards the parties wish to comply with. Generally, the agreement includes a monitoring mechanism involving trade union participation. International framework agreements enable businesses to make international commitments to human rights by working with employees and trade unions and respecting the same standards in all the countries they operate in. Businesses should be encouraged to conclude such agreements …

5. Employee Representatives [page 43]

… Under current legislation, judges sitting on interim matters can rule on the admissibility of claims by stakeholders outside of the company (in other words, they can name these stakeholders “interested parties” in specific circumstances). A number of different laws contain provisions on whistleblowers: Article L 1161-1 of the Labour Code applies to corruption; Article L 5312-4-2 of the Public Health Code applies to the safety of certain health products; Article L 1351-1 of the Public Health Code and Articles L 4133-1 et seq. of the Labour Code apply to serious public health and environmental risks; Article 25 of the Act of 11 October 2003 applies to conflicts of interest; and Article L 1132-3-3 of the Labour Code applies to tax fraud and serious economic and financial crime …

6. Reporting [page 44]

… 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.

 

III. Access to Remedy 

Introduction [page 46]

In its 2013 opinion, the CNCDH made the following recommendations:

  • The CNCDH recommends that consideration be given to the possibility of extending the exception to the principle of legal independence of companies, which is currently limited to environmental issues, to the field of human rights.
  • Drawing inspiration from the duty to protect and remedy in the environmental sphere, the CNCDH recommends that a duty of vigilance on the part of the parent company with regards to its subsidiaries be legally imposed with the aim of preventing any violations of human rights that might occur over the course of its activities.

 

1. Judicial Mechanisms – At the National Level

1.4. Proceedings

The jurisdiction of French courts to hear criminal matters [page 49]

… French legislation is strict in combating human rights violations by legal entities. Under French law, it is a criminal offence for companies to engage in activities that breach people’s rights (violations of human dignity, working conditions that violate human dignity, forced labour), equality laws (gender discrimination, anti-union discrimination, denying the freedom to work, corruption), environmental laws (pollution), or social, health and safety laws (hindering organizations representing employees, concealed work, involuntary injuries or death due to workplace accidents) …

Collective Actions [page 51]

In its opinion dated 24 October 2013, the CNCDH recommended “extending collective action, to matters relating to the environment and health in particular. It is also essential that any French or foreign individual or legal entity residing in France or abroad be able to get involved in any collective action initiated against a French company.”…

… Given the different fields of application mentioned in the bill, collective actions will become a tool allowing plaintiffs to stop or remedy discrimination in the labour field and elsewhere, including with respect to the provision of services, accommodation, transport, etc. Collective actions will also be possible in the environmental, health, and personal data protection fields.

 

2. Non-Judicial Mechanisms – At the International Level

2.1 The OECD National Contact Point (NCP) [page 54]

… NCPs are set up to promote and monitor compliance with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. They are non-judicial dispute resolution bodies that support remedial measures by offering their good offices and, where possible, giving parties access to mediation. Successful remedial measures rely on an environment of trust being established between the parties and constructive dialogue being initiated between the parties and the NCP, to improve compliance with OECD recommendations.

France’s NCP is tripartite, involving government, trade union and business representatives. This structure was praised by OECD Watch in its report “Remedy Remains Rare” (June 2015). Since the French NCP was created, the State’s involvement has enabled it to adopt a balanced multi-sectorial and inter-ministerial model that is relatively unique among its peers. Its members include representatives of the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour and Employment, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. Another unique feature of the French NCP is its broad representation of labour groups, with six national trade unions featuring among its members. The employers’ organization MEDEF represents French businesses. The French NCP’s decisions are all consensual …

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