The commission has been urged to hold companies operating in the EU legally accountable for any “harm” they cause to people and the environment around the world.
The demand is made in a petition signed by 73,000 people which has been delivered to the commissioner for enterprise and industry, Antonio Tajani.
The move comes in the wake of a recent debate in parliament on “conflicts in EU policies” on trade, business and human rights.
Filip Gregor, of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ), which organised the petition, said, “Citizens from across the EU are backing this call for greater corporate accountability, demanding rights for people and rules for business.
“Companies can be a force for good but if they are responsible for causing damage to people or to the environment they should be held accountable and victims should be able to seek justice in the EU.”
He added that EU companies should be required to disclose details of their activities so that they could be held to account.
Some 140 MPs and MEPs from across the political spectrum have pledged to support the development of such a legal framework for “corporate accountability.”
This, said Gregor, is designed to hold companies operating in and from the EU, their subsidiaries, and their directors legally responsible for the social and environmental consequences of their operations, in particular in developing countries.
Legal measures to allow corporate victims to seek justice in EU courts should also be adopted, says the ECCJ.
Paul de Clerck, a member of the ECCJ steering group, said, “The proposed measures would allow people in Nigeria affected by gas flaring by the oil giant Shell, for example, to seek justice through the European courts.
“Although the practice of flaring endangers human health, harms local ecosystems, emits large amounts of greenhouse gases and is even a violation of Nigerian law, major oil producers have been allowed to continue this practice for decades.”
The commission is due to publish a communication on corporate social responsibility in the autumn.
The ECCJ says the time has now come for the EU and its member states to “implement their obligations to protect human rights from the activities of business corporations”.
Source: Martin Banks, The Parliament