Joint answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Ashton on behalf of the Commission Written questions : E-007865/11 , E-007997/11
1. The EU Treaties do not confer any general power upon the High Representative to conduct enquiries into alleged human rights violations by private companies. However, the Treaties provide that the protection of human rights is an objective of Union external action. In this light, the High Representative is naturally concerned by any allegations that the behaviour of EU companies may have contributed to human rights violations in third countries.
2. Information and communication technologies (ICT) have an inherently dual nature, in that they have the potential both to foster democracy and to promote human rights or to enable repressive governments to increase violations of human rights. Certain items, for example, may be employed either to enable individuals to gain access to censored information and to disseminate such information quickly or by national authorities to restrict access to information or to increase surveillance over Internet users.
3. The EU has already taken steps to introduce human rights considerations into the licensing of dual-use technologies, including telecommunications and ‘information security’ technologies. Regulation 428/2009 setting up a Community regime for the control of exports, transfer, brokering and transit of dual use items provides that authorisations for the export of dual use items may be refused on a variety of grounds, including for reasons of human rights considerations.
The Commission is currently assessing how human rights considerations could be integrated more strongly into the dual-use export control system. On 30 June 2011, the Commission adopted a Green Paper on the EU dual-use export control system. The Green Paper launches a broad public consultation concerning the functioning of the system. The Green Paper is divided into three parts: the first setting out the overall context of export controls, the second dealing with specific issues under the current Dual-Use Regulation, and the third elaborating on a mid‑ to long-term vision of export controls in the EU. Stakeholders are invited to provide responses on all of the issues set out in the document. The deadline for comments is 31 October 2011.
The continuous review and updating of lists of potential harmful technologies is not within the remit of the High Representative as they are the subject of a Commission proposal. It is worth mentioning that these lists actually implement internationally agreed dual-use controls which are regularly updated and implemented in EU legislation.
The possible establishment of an ‘early warning mechanism’ goes beyond the scope of the implementation of the Dual-Use Regulation and should be dealt with in a wider framework.
4. It is in general incumbent upon European companies to comply with the provisions of the Dual-Use Regulation and any implementing national legislation, and to ensure that they have put in place appropriate compliance mechanisms to this end. Moreover, Article 20 of the regulation, in particular, requires companies to establish records of their exports for the purpose of compliance. Article 24 of the regulation requires the Member States to establish appropriate and dissuasive penalties at the national level in the event of breach.
The EU is a strong supporter of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. The High Representative expects all European companies to comply with these principles and in particular that business:
avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved;
seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts;
Where business enterprises identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for, or cooperate in, their remediation.
The Commission has also stated that it will adopt a communication on Corporate Social Responsibility by the end of 2011, which will further advance the EU’s actions on business and human rights, including on an effective implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.
In the light of the extremely complex issues involved concerning either legal regulation of exports of ICT or the development of a code of conduct for the ICT industry in the EU, the possibility of establishing an inter-service group with the relevant services to study this issue will be explored by the EEAS and the Commission. Moreover, the Council Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) will discuss the issue of the freedom of expression and the use of new information and communication technologies before the end of 2011.