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Sherpa and ECCHR v. Devcot

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Sherpa and ECCHR v. Devcot

Court/Judicial Body:
France National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises grievance mechanism

DEVCOT, 21 septembre 2012, Communiqué du Point de contact national français chargé du suivi des principes directeurs de l’OCDE à l’intention des entreprises multinationales

21 September 2012

Instruments Cited:
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises 2000, Chapters II (General Policies) and IV (Employment and Industrial Relations)

Case Summary:

Between October 2010 and January 2011, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (“ECCHR”), with partners, launched OECD complaint proceedings against a number of European cotton trade houses, alleging that they had purchased Uzbek cotton harvested through forced child labour in violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (see ‘Notes’ section below for information about all the complaints).

One complaint was filed by ECCHR and the French association for the protection of victims of economic crimes – Sherpa – against the company Devcot before the OECD National Contact Point (NCP) for France. The complaint alleged that the company had breached Chapters II and IV of the Guidelines which requires enterprises to “respect the human rights of those affected by their activities consistent with the host government’s international obligations and commitments” and to “contribute to the effective abolition of child labour and to the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour”.

Issue and resolution:
Child labour. Whether the company had violated the Guidelines by purchasing cotton harvested by children under poor working conditions. No violation was established, however, the company committed not to purchase any cotton until the problem of child labour in Uzbekistan is resolved.

Court reasoning:
Devcot stated that they had not actually purchased any cotton from Uzbekistan in the last few years and expressed a commitment to refrain from trading with Uzbekistan cotton until child labour is eliminated. Therefore, no violation of the Guidelines was established in this case, but the NCP made several important comments about companies’ obligations under the Guidelines with respect to ensuring there is no child labour in their supply chain.

The NCP’s final statement noted that child labour and forced labour constitute a flagrant violation of the OECD Guidelines. Cotton traders, such as Devcot, therefore should strive with reasonable diligence to prevent or mitigate any negative impact directly related to their activities, including their dealings with commercial partners.

The NCP asked Devcot to inform the OECD of the measures which the company proposed to put in place to ensure that any future partners and cotton suppliers do not employ children for cotton harvesting and of any plans to resume the purchasing of cotton from Uzbekistan.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”) is an intergovernmental organisation, comprising 43 countries, which develops social and economic policies. The OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises set recommendations to ensure that companies undertake business responsibly in their worldwide operations.

The Guidelines represent a collection of voluntary principles and standards which should be pursued in order to ensure the responsible business conduct of multinational enterprises. The Guidelines advocate sustainable development throughout the supply chain, respect for the human rights of those affected by the activities of the enterprise and the abolition of child and forced labour. Whilst the Guidelines are not legally binding, OECD governments and a number of non-OECD governments are committed to encouraging multinational enterprises operating in or from their territories to observe the Guidelines wherever they operate, whilst taking into account the particular circumstances of each host country.

For more information about this OECD grievance process, read the joint guide by CRIN and ICJ for civil society on the General Comment no. 16 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Between October 2010 and January 2011, ECCHR submitted seven complaints to National Contact Points (NCPs) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Germany, Switzerland, France and Great Britain. A full list and details about the cases are available on the ECCHR website.

Apart from the Devcot case, in the six other cases the ECCHR and the Cotton Traders agreed, as part of the mediation procedure moderated by the respective National Contact Points, that a significant problem exists in Uzbekistan with regards to forced child labour and the Cotton Traders should take specific action to positively influence the situation on the ground. The companies admitted to directly or indirectly trading Uzbek cotton and agreed to adopt specific measures negotiated in detail with ECCHR in order to have a positive effect on the situation in Uzbekistan. ECCHR reserved the right to file new OECD complaints in case it does not find the traders ́ measures to have been effective.

The ECCHR undertook an evaluation of the impact of all the complaints brought against cotton traders in relation to child labour in Uzbekistan. The ECCHR stated that: “due to disagreements between ECCHR and the traders over the commitment required to address the situation in Uzbekistan, ECCHR was forced to cease cooperation with cotton traders after the one year implementation phase”.

Link to full judgment:

This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

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