New report: Time to act

Report - 2020-10-21
In a new report, ForumCiv calls on the Swedish government to adopt a legislation that requires companies to respect human rights in their own operations and in all their business relationships.
time to act
Stone collection in Bangladesh. Photo: Insight-Photography / Shutterstock.com

The government shall conduct a review of the main elements needed in such a law and investigate how it can be integrated in the Swedish legal system. At the same time, Sweden shall actively engage in the work for an effective regulation on the EU level. 

This is urgent – it is time for the Swedish government to act.

Frequent human rights violations 

There are currently no binding rules with requirements that companies respect human rights. Across the world, we see violations of human rights in relation to business operations. Child labour, dangerous workplaces, forced evictions, violations of trade union rights, threats to indigenous people and health hazards are only a few examples. 

Companies today are integrated in the global market and often established in a range of countries, including low-income countries. The race for ever cheaper products and production methods means higher risks for human rights violations and deteriorating working conditions. Many Swedish companies have their own operations or suppliers in countries where human rights violations are frequent, labour law protection is poor and governance systems are weak.

Worsened situation following Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation for many workers worldwide. Factories across the world have been forced to close due to reduced orders, shortage of raw materials and the fast spread of the virus. Strict lockdowns have pushed millions of people into unemployment and increasing poverty. Particularly vulnerable are women, migrant workers and people who are engaged in the informal sector.

Time to act
Labors work in a cloth factory, Eastern China. Photo: Frame China / Shutterstock.com

Need for mandatory regulation

Business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout the value chain and in all business relationships. This is clearly stated in the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. However, the principles are not legally binding, and it is evident that voluntary guidelines are not enough. Today, those companies that make efforts to respect human rights have to compete on uneven terms with companies that do not consider human rights. A law with binding requirements on companies to conduct a Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) would create a level playing field. 

“We are no longer discussing whether we are in favour of or against a law, like we did some years ago. Now we are expecting that there will be a legislation.”

Representative of a Swedish company interviewed for this report

The issue of legislation on business and human rights has gained political momentum. Several other European countries have already adopted legislation or are discussing legislative proposals, and the European Commission is working quickly towards a proposal for an EU-wide law. In the report, we have interviewed some of the leading Swedish companies, all of which agree that binding regulations are needed in order to create a level playing field. But the Swedish government has not taken any active steps.

Contributing to the debate

With our report, we want to provide insight into the current debate and show why a law on business and human rights is needed in Sweden and what such a law could look like. With examples from the extraction industry, agribusiness and the textile industry, we highlight challenges within some of the sectors with high risks for human rights violations. We have also analysed legislation in a few other European countries in order to learn from these. With a concrete proposal for a Swedish HRDD-law, ForumCiv wants to actively contribute to the discussion about the content and key components of such a legislation. 

Sweden is often seen as a frontrunner in the work on human rights. Now the government needs to show that this applies to business and human rights as well. It is time to act!

We would expect no less from Sweden than to enact a HRDD-requirement, as a front-running country in the world on human rights.”

Representative of a Swedish company interviewed for this report

Enact Sustainable Strategies have written parts of the report including the proposal for a Swedish HRDD-legislation.

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