Responsibility for the protection of human rights rests with states. The UN guiding principles on business and human rights confirm that states have an obligation to protect against human rights abuses committed by third parties, including companies. Such abuse often affects people who are already particularly vulnerable. For example, it may be about indigenous peoples’ right to their land, local residents being forcibly removed making it hard for them to support their families or poor working conditions for workers in the extractive industries. States shall take necessary steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress abuses through policy instruments, legal frameworks and regulations. States must be clear that they expect that all companies established in their own territory and/or their own jurisdiction respect human rights across their operations.
According to the UN principles, states should use a “smart mix” of binding rules and voluntary guidelines to ensure that companies do not violate human rights. Swedish civil society organisations are calling for a national legislation with mandatory requirements on companies to conduct human rights due diligence, i.e. a clear process for the identification and management of human rights risks.
Such legislations have already been adopted in several other European countries. For example, the Modern Slavery Act (2016) in the UK, the Duty of Care (2017) in France, and a Dutch law about due diligence relating to child labour (2019). The Swiss parliament is currently debating a legislation proposal and in Germany a new draft law is being discussed. In Finland, a coalition of more than 140 civil society organisations, trade unions and companies launched a campaign for compulsory human rights due diligence in 2018. The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has recommended that the Swedish government reviews the possibility of drafting a law with requirements on companies to conduct human rights due diligence.
Should Sweden introduce a legislation with mandatory requirements on companies to conduct human rights due diligence? If so, should this apply to all companies or specifically companies present in sectors or countries/regions with a high risk of human rights abuses?