Amongst the 'stakeholders', the battle is raging over what such legislation should contain. Business Europe wants to limit the scope. If such a regulation were to be introduced, the obligations of vigilance "should not go beyond the top of the value chain, because there is a direct link between the principal and the supplier", believes Pedro Oliveira, whose organisation fears the administrative burden of such a regulation and wonders about its practical implementation. Isabelle Schömann, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, rejects these objections: "Companies are putting in place quality control procedures for products throughout the chain, so why shouldn't they do so with respect to workers' and human rights?
Another sticking point is liability. Will it be a civil liability regime, a system of administrative sanctions, or even criminal liability? Business federations fear that the European Commission will follow the European Parliament's resolution of 10 March 2021, which suggested that "the burden of proof" should be "transferred from the victim to the company". "Liability must be directly attributable to the ordering company. When there is no visibility, no possibility of control in a chain of subcontracting, then the causal link is stretched", worries a lobbyist. For Claudia Saller, on the contrary, it is very important to make this reversal, "because there are many barriers to access to justice for victims. Companies should demonstrate that they have implemented their duty of care. Other questions remain unanswered and are the subject of intense debate: will such an initiative apply to SMEs?
Within the European Commission, some voices discreetly mention the "difficulty" of regulating in such an area. Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for Justice, is the lead on this issue, headed by Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission. In June, he was joined by Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, as co-responsible. A move welcomed by business associations: "It was necessary to put some collegiality in place," says the lobbyist quoted above. Thierry Breton can bring the expertise of the Internal Market Directorate General to bear on the functioning of the company. Isabelle Schömann expresses a fear: to see the lobbying of business associations "gut the text by all means".
Trade unions and NGOs will find support in the European Parliament. The resolution put forward by Lara Woters (S&D) received a large majority in plenary on 10 March, ranging from the Left to the EPP. On the Member States' side, the situation is more confused. France, Germany, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries have come out in favour of the principle of a European regulation on the duty of care, although it is not clear what their preference is as to the scope of such a text. The others have not yet revealed their position. Everything will become clearer after the European Commission presents its proposal. The deadline for this is 15 February. Unless the deadline is postponed once again.