The operations of EU‑based multinationals profoundly impact the lives of people and the environment. ArcelorMittal’s activities at its Vanderbijlpark steel plant near Johannesburg, South Africa, raise very serious concerns regarding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and EU competence in this area. It has been reported that the Luxembourg-based and world’s biggest steel company is directly responsible for displacing hundreds of families. Evidence shows that its operations have led to the contamination of aquifers, high concentrations of carbon and sulphur dioxide emissions and large-scale industrial waste. As a result, the company’s activities have severely affected people’s health and the environment(1). ArcelorMittal is part of the steel industry consortium ULCOS, or Ultra-Low Carbon dioxide (CO2) Steelmaking. The European Commission financed 44 % of ULCOS’s budget (EUR 25 960 000) from 2004 to 2010 through its 6th Framework Programme and the Research Fund for Coal and Steel Programme. The consortium and the Commission recently decided to launch ULCOS II. The Commission is now expected to provide additional funding until 2015(2).
The Council of the European Union has recently expressed its full support for the work of the UN Special Representative on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, Mr John Ruggie(3), and has endorsed the three pillars of the Ruggie ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework: namely, the state’s duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties including businesses; the corporate obligation to respect human rights; and the need to ensure effective remedies for victims(4).
1. What steps will the European Commission take to build on its communication on CSR in order to introduce binding legislation and to implement the Ruggie framework’s three pillars, both inside and outside the EU?
2. Before granting subsidies does/will the Commission ask companies to respect the fundamental principles of CSR as defined in European Parliament Resolution (P6_TA(2007)0062) and the Ruggie framework?
3. How will the Commission hold to account companies subsidised by EU public funds that undermine people’s human rights and/or the environment?
4. How will the European Commission support the victims of human rights violations and environmental degradation and what will the Commission do to provide them with access to justice and sanction the companies which perpetrate such acts, as in the case of ArcelorMittal in South Africa?