Shift welcomes substantial alignment of the political agreement on the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive with the UNGPs

14 December 2023

Shift – the leading non-profit centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) – welcomes the provisional political agreement reached this week between the European Commission, Council and Parliament on the final outline of the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D). It lays the groundwork for a new corporate sustainability due diligence duty that is substantially aligned with the authoritative standard of the UNGPs. This is an essential step towards the implementation of comprehensive human rights and environmental due diligence in the EU single market. It is also a pivotal moment in the creation of the “new regulatory dynamic” that John Ruggie, the author of the UNGPs, intended the UNGPs to inspire.[1]

This agreement reflects hard work by the negotiators over many months, and inputs from a wide array of stakeholders from business, civil society, trade unions and international organizations. We congratulate the consecutive Presidencies of the Council, MEP Lara Wolters and the Parliament’s Shadow Rapporteurs, and Commissioner Reynders on the positive result.

In welcoming the political agreement, Shift’s Co-Founder and Vice President, Rachel Davis, said:

“Just over a decade on from the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the EU is leading the way in using them to create a binding standard – the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. The momentous political agreement reached this week lays the groundwork for a new corporate sustainability due diligence duty that is substantially aligned with the UNGPs.

To ensure that the CS3D is meaningful for workers, communities and others affected by business, as well as manageable for companies, it will be vital that guidance, accompanying policy measures and enforcement continue to interpret key concepts in the duty in line with the international due diligence standards. Importantly, there is also room to improve the alignment between the Directive and those standards in the coming years in relation to due diligence in the sale of products and services and in the financial sector. For now, this agreement confirms that companies that have been following the international standards are on the right track and can continue to rely on them.”

Throughout the debate, Shift and many other stakeholders have consistently highlighted key features of a final Directive that are central to alignment with the international due diligence standards – the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The positions of the institutional negotiators have increasingly built on those standards as the process has moved forwards. This political agreement now ensures that the new due diligence duty will be grounded in a risk-based approach that:

  • covers the different ways in which companies may be involved with adverse human rights and environmental impacts and differentiates the action that is expected of them in response, including to provide or enable remedy;
  • allows companies to prioritize impacts that are the most severe from the perspective of those who are affected, and the most likely;
  • expects companies to address how their business strategies and own activities, including purchasing practices, can enhance or reduce risks.

The duty includes other key elements that companies can and will need to interpret in line with the international standards to ensure they are effective in practice, namely:

  • when taking appropriate measures to prevent and address impacts involving their business relationships, ensuring that the use of contractual leverage is accompanied by broader capacity-building measures to support due diligence through a partnership rather than ‘policing’ approach;
  • when considering disengagement from a business relationship, investing in time-bound plans to increase leverage – while also recognizing when there are no reasonable prospects that their use of leverage can be effective;
  • when engaging with stakeholdersin the context of human rights impacts, ensuring that they focus on those who are affected (ie, workers, communities and others affected by the company’s operations, products or services) and their legitimate representatives (such as trade unions);
  • when implementing notification mechanisms and complaints procedures, ensuring that they are likely to be trusted by users by following the effectiveness criteria for grievance mechanisms in the UNGPs. 

The duty will be enforced through both civil liability – which will require a causal connection between the company’s actions or omissions and a harm – and administrative supervision. The agreement provides that the Directive will include access to justice measures in relation to representative actions, limitation periods and disclosure of evidence. It also provides that companies will be required to put in place climate change transition plans that align with the Paris Agreement.

EU Member States and the Commission are expected to adopt accompanying policy measures and issue authoritative guidance. These should draw on the past decade of interpretation and practical implementation of the international standards to ensure that the CS3D delivers on its promise of better outcomes for affected stakeholders and the environment.

However, there are some critical gaps between the Directive and the UNGPs where there is a need to improve alignment in the coming years. In these areas, it will be important that companies continue to look to the international standards to inform their approach. In particular:

  • while the duty covers all impacts arising in a company’s ‘upstream’ business relationships (including design), it covers some but not all ‘downstream’ impacts. It does cover those arising from distribution, transport and waste management, but impacts arising from sale are not explicitly covered;
  • while the duty applies to companies across all sectors of the real economy, it will not apply to any downstream business relationships in the financial sector. However, a review clause requires this to be revisited in due course and financial institutions will be expected to adopt climate plans;
  • while the duty will apply to the largest companies headquartered or operating in the EU, and additional companies in some higher-risk sectors, this is only a sub-set of the companies that are already required by new EU reporting standards to disclose how they are managing their sustainability impacts.

It will be essential for the EU to revisit these aspects of the scope of the legislation in the coming years; at the same time, they do not negate the significance of the political agreement on the core of the new due diligence duty. 

Shift looks forward to remaining constructively engaged to support the formal adoption of the final CS3D text, its transposition into national laws, and the development of guidance, accompanying policy measures and enforcement regimes.

[1] Keynote address at the conference by the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the EU in Brussels in 2019

Call for the ISSB to prioritize development of a thematic social-related disclosures standard

The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) has issued a proposed set of future Agenda Priorities for public consultation. These include both ‘human capital’ and ‘human rights’ with regard to social issues. Shift, the B Team and the World Benchmarking Alliance share a concern that this approach will foster further confusion and complexity in the market given the extent to which these two categories are overlapping and intertwined. 

In this set of ‘key messages’ we jointly highlight the important opportunity ISSB now has to set the right foundations for disclosures on social matters by starting with a general thematic standard, much as it did for climate. This would enable a clear architecture for social issues and deliver the contextual information that investors need regarding those aspects of corporate governance, strategy, risk management and metrics that are particular to social matters. Our three organizations are disseminating these messages in the hope that they resonate with others who may be responding to the ISSB consultation. We invite everyone to draw from them as they see fit.

Announcement of the John Ruggie Fellowship Program 2023 Host Organizations and Application Process

New York, NY, May 25, 2023 – John Ruggie was a preeminent scholar-practitioner in the field of international affairs. He was, among other roles, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on business and human rights, the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the founding chair of Shift, the nonprofit, mission-driven organization dedicated to implementing the UNGPs. In 2022, together with John Ruggie’s family, Shift announced the establishment of the John Ruggie Fellowship Program to honor John’s life and legacy and enable talented business and human rights students to advance their careers and contribution to the field. It particularly seeks to support students who may otherwise lack access to such opportunities.

Each year, Shift will partner with a small number of leading organizations to support the placement of individual Fellows. Shift is pleased to announce that the host organizations for the first year of the John Ruggie Fellowship Program are:

  • Accountability Counsel, a nonprofit organization that amplifies the voices of communities around the world to protect their human rights and environment. As advocates for people harmed by internationally financed projects, they employ community-driven and policy-level strategies to enable access to justice.
  • PepsiCo, a leading food and beverage company that recognizes they have a clear responsibility to respect human rights throughout their business and broader value chain. To help ensure that they are in the best position to prevent, identify, and address potential impacts across their value chain, they have established a global human rights management approach that is guided by the UNGPs.
  • Verité, a nonprofit organization that illuminates and addresses serious human rights and labor rights violations in factories, farms, and other workplaces around the world. They work with private and public sector clients by building their understanding of labor rights problems in global supply chains and developing their abilities to solve those problems.

The organizations are reflective of the diversity of actors in the business and human rights field, and share a demonstrated commitment to the implementation of the UNGPs. They all have considerable experience running fellowship and internship programs and are committed to delivering a high-value immersive experience for the Fellows.

We are confident that each of these host organizations will provide a rich learning experience for individual Fellows looking to gain practical experience and access to ideas and networks that will support their growth in the field of business and human rights. We look forward to working with them to ensure a successful inaugural year of the John Ruggie Fellowship Program.

Caroline Rees & Rachel Davis, Shift co-founders

Application Process:

Each host organization will provide detail on their John Ruggie Fellowship Program opportunity and application process. Interested individuals should follow the host organization’s guidance. When available, that information can be found at:

Shift will add links to fellowship postings on this page, as available.

About the John Ruggie Fellowship Program:

Professor John Ruggie was a preeminent scholar-practitioner in the field of international affairs. As a political scientist, his work focused on the impact of globalization on international rule-making. Professor Ruggie applied his theoretical work to complex global governance challenges directly through his work at the United Nations (UN). This included his appointment in 2005 as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative (SRSG) on business and human rights. During his six-year mandate, he authored the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which were unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, establishing them as the authoritative global standard on business and human rights. In the years since, the UNGPs have provided the basis for the field’s convergence around a shared set of expectations with regard to companies’ impacts on people and have been increasingly integrated into other international standards, industry commitments and guidance, and national and regional policy frameworks and legislation.

Throughout his career, John was a tireless champion of both students and practitioners in the fields in which he worked. He consistently sought out, consulted and supported individuals from all backgrounds and perspectives, to grow and enrich the community of people working to turn the vision of the UNGPs into a reality. The John Ruggie Fellowship Program was created by Shift – the non-profit, mission-driven organization dedicated to implementing the UNGPs of which John was the founding chair – in collaboration with John’s family to honor his life and legacy.

For more information on the John Ruggie Legacy Fund and John Ruggie Fellowship Program, please visit the webpage.

Operationalizing Remedy for Financial Institutions with the Equator Principles Association 

On 25 October the Equator Principles Association (EPA) released a suite of new due diligence tools designed to enhance access to grievance mechanisms and enable effective remedy in project finance transactions. Shift was pleased to partner with the EPA’s Working Group on the development of the tools, which will be valuable for Equator Principles Financial Institutions (EPFIs), their clients and consultants. The tools provide guidance for users to enhance remedy at various stages of a transaction and due diligence process.

The Equator Principles:
The Equator Principles set the financial industry benchmark for identifying, assessing and managing environmental and social risks in projects. The Principles are adopted by 137 financial institutions in 38 countries, and apply globally, to all industry sectors and to various project-related financial products.

The tools mark a notable step in the evolution of the standards and guidance of the EPA. They reinforce the importance of improving outcomes for people affected by projects financed by financial institutions in line with international standards (UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and OECD Guidelines). They do so by focusing specifically on human rights impacts in projects and on seeking to ensure that people affected have access to remedy.

These tools should help financial institutions address a persistent “remedy gap”: namely, that in too many cases, remedy is not available for people who are harmed by business activities that are part of projects they finance. The guidance draws from existing practice amongst leading financial institutions that already understand and demonstrate the important role they and their peers can play by using their leverage to enable remedy. This can have a critical role in strengthening the remedy ecosystem, resulting in better outcomes for vulnerable workers or communities affected by projects.

Two of the five tools (RM1 And RM2) specifically address the need to “front-load” for effective remedy.  Practice has shown that financial institutions can assess a client’s preparedness for remedy upfront in the due diligence process, and then use leverage to enhance higher risk clients’ capacity and commitment to provide remedy should it become necessary. The tools provide concrete guidance to execute this approach.

Importantly, the EPA also sets these tools in context. They provide guidance that will most typically apply in the common scenario where financial institutions are linked to a harm, but have not contributed to it by enabling or incentivizing the actions that led to it. They also recognize, however, that there may be situations where financial institutions contribute to harm and that they will then have a direct role to play in providing remedy. This distinction is important in light of the persistent myth that financial institutions will never cause or contribute to impacts in their portfolio, whether through their actions or omissions. This notion has been rebutted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OECD, which have a mandate to interpret the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Guidelines respectively, looking at both commercial banking as well as development finance contexts.

Practically speaking, contributing to remedy or supporting a client’s efforts to provide remedy will likely follow very overlapping paths – both will often require using and/or enhancing leverage with clients and working directly with them to execute remedy on the ground.  The new EPA tools provide many useful practical tips to support financial institutions in meeting those objectives.

Understanding Linkage and Responsibility for Remedy
“See the EPA Human Rights Guidance Note for a discussion of the ways in which EPFIs and other actors might be connected to adverse impacts, including the UNGPs framework of cause, contribution and linkage. As that note and additional authoritative guidance from OHCHR and the OECD highlight, financial institutions can, in some instances, contribute to project-related impacts. In such cases, EPFIs will have a responsibility not only to use leverage to encourage remedy, but to contribute directly to remedy in a manner proportionate to their contribution. EPFIs should carefully analyze their involvement with impacts in specific cases to understand their responsibility related to remedy.”
Source: EPA Remedy Tools

There are five related due diligence tools in the EPA suite of tools covering grievance mechanisms and remedy:

  • GM1: Grievance Mechanism Design: Diagnostic Questions
  • GM2: Monitoring Effective Grievance Mechanism Performance: Sample Reporting Metrics
  • RM1: Assessing Preparedness for Remedy: Diagnostic Questions
  • RM2: Strengthening Preparedness for Remedy: Sample Leverage Actions
  • RM3: Using Leverage for Remedy after Impacts Occur: Sample Leverage Actions

The tools are all available on the EPA’s website. Although written in the context of project finance, they will offer inspiration for commercial banks and development finance institutions who are working to take an ‘ecosystem’ approach to remedy.

For more on financial institutions and remedy, see Shift’s Financial Institutions Practitioners Circle publication, “FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND REMEDY: MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS”.

For more information please contact Ashleigh Owens, Financial Institutions Lead at ashleigh[dot]owens[at]shiftproject[dot]org.  

Comments by Shift on the Draft Report on Minimum Safeguards

Shift welcomes the publication of the Draft Report on Minimum Safeguards by the Platform on Sustainable Finance, and its call for feedback on the content and recommendations. The report bypasses simplistic approaches and grapples with the challenge at the center of this endeavor, which is how to assess the adequacy of a human rights due diligence process – and how to do so at scale.

There is no single or simple way to meet this challenge, not least because current data in the public arena on companies’ social performance is not up to the task. At the same time, the report rightly notes that developments relating to EU reporting requirements are set to change that reality, and should increase the availability of high-value information. Of course, in many cases, this will still require that analysts and assurance providers have the skills to contextualize and assess that information.

We believe the report’s recommendations point in the right direction, but may require further elaboration in some instances. We also recognize that a first version of the safeguards will be – and should be explicitly acknowledged as – a starting point grounded in today’s best ‘art of the possible’, that will need to further evolve in the years to come, as available data and experience with social indicators improve.

This document contains our comments on the Draft Report on Minimum Safeguards, which were submitted to the Platform on Sustainable Finance.  

IOC Announces Commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Today the International Olympic Committee (IOC) published its new Strategic Framework on Human Rights. This is informed by the strategic recommendations made by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Rachel Davis in their 2020 report for the IOC on aligning the organization’s approach with the UNGPs. 

Welcoming the IOC’s announcement, Prince Zeid and Rachel Davis said:

“Shift welcomes the IOC’s public commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, announced today in its new Strategic Framework on Human Rights. This is a significant development for the IOC and it sets an important precedent for sports bodies across the Olympic Movement to drive meaningful change in preventing and addressing risks to people. 

As the organization moves forward, new approaches will be needed to effectively tackle some of the most severe impacts facing athletes today, including harassment and abuse, voice and representation, and the need for greater access to remedy – informed by the perspectives of those directly affected. This Framework is a crucial first step. We look forward, together with other stakeholders, to supporting the IOC as it works to meet its responsibility to respect human rights in practice.”