Luxembourgh Times
Human rights

Businesses promise greater attention to human rights

Voluntary agreement by 50 Luxembourg companies falls short of what NGOs demanded

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn © Photo credit: Guy Jallay

Fifty Luxembourg companies and institutions on Wednesday signed a voluntary pledge to focus more on meeting human rights expectations, a step that falls short of the legal requirements in force in other European countries.

The voluntary national scheme and European Union efforts to hold companies accountable for human rights violations have come as Luxembourg has so far opted against a due diligence law similar to other EU member states despite pressure from many advocacy groups.

Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn two years ago presented a plan to promote respect for human rights within Luxembourg businesses after national leaders declined to investigate a spyware firm linked to the notorious killing of a Saudi dissident.

Signatories of the voluntary pact to implement a better respect of human rights include tech company Hitec and state-owned companies including air-freight giant Cargolux, national energy company Encevo and railway company CFL.

It also includes the special waste service SuperDrecksKëscht, which has been at the centre of accusations of political favouritism as it may have operated illegally for years. The Luxembourg Red Cross and the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce are also signatories.

The pact "is a voluntary commitment aimed at business leaders wishing to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights", the government said in the press release.

Companies subscribing to the pact commit to raise awareness among staff and stakeholders about human rights, appoint a person responsible for human rights within their business, provide employee training, and publish a standardised annual report on the implementation, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a press release.

Companies can benefit from their "visibility as a signatory" to the agreement, can consult an external expert, and get confidential feedback on their annual report, the ministry said.

A directive the European Commission proposed in February sets out due diligence requirements for companies with more than 500 employees and a turnover of more than €150 million, or 250 employees and a turnover of more than €40 million for firms in sectors considered high-risk. The directive has not yet been adopted.

"This limits the number of Luxembourg companies that would fall within the scope of the proposed text", Economy Minister Franz Fayot and Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said in response to a parliamentary question on the effects of the Commission's proposal.

The government said last year in response to a separate lawmaker's questions that it wanted to exclude the 50,000 financial holding companies in Luxembourg from any future human rights due diligence rules. That was despite a government-commissioned report that urged the inclusion of the so-called soparfis.

In April, Luxembourg said it was not responsible for monitoring controversial pornography giant MindGeek, which has faced allegations linked to sexual abuse and human trafficking, and which is headquartered in the Grand Duchy through a holding company.

The spyware firm NSO Group - which has numerous connections to Luxembourg and has been accused of human rights abuses and crackdowns on dissidents, journalists and politicians globally - cannot be blacklisted in Luxembourg, like it has been in the US, despite significant operations in the country, because the Grand Duchy's legislation "does not provide" for such a procedure, the government said.

Luxembourg-based CAE Aviation is also described by the French investigative journalism platform Disclose as providing manpower and equipment for a secret French-Egyptian mission that had targeted terrorists but killed civilians, with the government saying that companies based in the Grand Duchy can work with other governments without needing to seek permission.