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Respect for Human Rights: A Snapshot of the Largest German Companies

New study assesses 20 largest German companies’ human rights policies and practices ahead of a German government deadline on possible regulation.

Click here for information (including the briefing) in German.

The German government has set a 2020 target for at least 50% of German companies with more than 500 employees to have introduced effective human rights protections. The current coalition Government has agreed to pass laws and push for “EU-wide regulation” if companies’ voluntary implementation proves to be insufficient.  

Respect for Human Rights: A Snapshot of the Largest German Companies assesses publicly available information for 20 German companies based on core indicators from the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) methodology, applicable across all sectors. 

It covers three areas: Governance and policy commitments; embedding respect and human rights due diligence; and remedies and grievances mechanisms.

The study finds that 90%  (18/20) of companies assesed  failed to fully disclose how they manage their human rights risks sufficiently (due diligence). Just two companies, Daimler and Siemens, received points on all four indicators looking at human rights due diligence processes.   

Almost half (8/20) the companies scored below 40% of the available 24 points. Companies with low scores overall included household names Deutsche Post DHLRWE, and Deutsche Bank, while Volkswagen scored 10 out of the available 24 points. Siemens was the highest scoring company with 60% (14.5) of the available 24 points. 

This suggests the wider group of companies being assessed by the German government may fail its test. This could open the door to human rights due diligence legislation.  

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said:    

“German companies have the resources and capacity to lead the way in respect for human rights. However, as a measure of German businesses’ respect for human rights, these results paint a disappointing picture.”

“None of Germany’s largest companies were found to meet the basic requirements of respect for human rights, yet all of them are global businesses, many with complex supply chains where evidence shows abuse is endemic.”

“The results also suggest that the wider group of German companies being assessed by the German government will likely fall short of the German Government’s threshold. This would trigger a necessary legislative response.”

He added: “These findings lay bare the need for government-mandated human rights due diligence in Germany and internationally to raise the floor of corporate behaviour. Workers and communities that suffer corporate harm can’t afford to wait.”

The study is produced by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre & ZHAW School of Management and Law.  The main author is Herbert Winistörfer from the Center for Corporate Responsibility at ZHAW School of Management and Law who undertook the indicator assessment. The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark team provided guidance and feedback. 

ZHAW School of Management and Law

Business & Human Rights Resource 2019

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