Answer given by Mr Tajani on behalf of the Commission
The Commission has committed to presenting a new policy initiative on corporate social responsibility (CSR) during 2011. This could take the form of a new communication.
Amongst the issues that would be addressed in such a communication are better implementation of the United Nations Business and Human Rights Framework, the global dimension of corporate responsibility, and company disclosure of environmental, social and governance information.
Reports recently carried out for the Commission, on responsible supply-chain management and on the legal framework for human rights and the environment applicable to EU companies operating outside the EU, make certain suggestions relevant to the question of the legal personality of groups of companies. These and other suggestions will be examined more closely as appropriate in the context of implementing the UN Business and Human Rights Framework. It should be pointed out, however, that civil and criminal liability standards for corporate behaviour are currently governed by national law and that there is no general Union competence to harmonise this matter.
At the end of January 2011, the Commission completed a public consultation on the future of European policy regarding company disclosure of environmental, social and governance information. This builds on a series of workshops that the Commission organised on reporting, transparency and disclosure, and on a study that it is bringing to an end on sustainability reporting. The Commission is currently analysing the results of the consultation and has not yet formulated proposals for future policy. The Commission recognises, however, that one issue to be considered is disclosure of non-financial information at group level.
The Commission is aware that there can be problems of access to justice for victims of alleged human rights or environmental abuse involving EU companies. The Brussels I Regulation covers various types of civil and commercial disputes and ensures access to court in the Union in such disputes insofar as they show a close link with the Union. The regulation covers, in particular, civil liability disputes concerning the violation of human rights and compensation for damages caused by a failure to comply with environmental standards. In its proposal for a recast of the regulation, the Commission has proposed to extend the scope of the existing jurisdiction rules to defendants domiciled outside the Union, in particular in order to improve access to justice in the Union. Nevertheless, even if access to court in the Union may be available under the Brussels I Regulation, it remains a question of substantive national law to determine the liability of foreign companies and their subsidiaries.