Dissemination of the ELI Report on Business and Human Rights: Access to Justice and Effective Remedies


On 29 March 2022, ELI organised a Webinar on the above Report, the output of a project is has conducted since 2018 with input from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, FRA.

ELI President, Prof Dr Pascal Pichonnaz welcomed the speakers and participants. He explained that the ELI Report acknowledges that corporations, which can exercise economic and social influence that sometimes rivals that of States, may engage in practices that negatively impact human rights. Access to justice by victims of such violations can often be hindered in practice by a number of factors, including the inherent imbalance of power between victims of human rights abuses and large companies. President Pichonnaz emphasised that the Report formulates recommendations as to how EU, Member State and non-Member State action can address the common obstacles victims face.

Diana Wallis (Project Co-Reporter; Dispute Resolution Professional; former Vice-President of the European Parliament (EP) and former President of ELI; Chair ‘elect’ of the Law Society’s EU Committee; President of the Board of Directors of EUDisInfoLab), began by saying that if Europe is serious about its values on human rights, it needs to provide pathways to victims, enabling them to enforce their rights and to access remedies. She went on to give an overview of some of the main aspects of the ELI Report including due diligence, collective redress, private international law as well as the idea of a European level Ombudsman that can deal with such cases and that would have substantial powers to investigate (something that courts cannot do) and fine businesses that commit human rights abuses.

Her presentation was followed by that of Ilaria Pretelli (Project Team Member; Legal Counsel and Expert in Private International Law at the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law), who emphasised the fact that laws already exist to prevent the sort of corporate behaviour the project focuses on but that differences in legislation at national level are exploited so that victims face difficulties in accessing justice and remedies. Pretelli outlined possible avenues to piercing corporate borders from a private international law perspective.

Patrycja Pogodzinska (Project Team Member; Project Manager for Legal Research at the Unit for Research and Data, FRA) informed those present of the FRA’s various contributions to the field including the collection of evidence and opinions on lowing barriers to access to remedies. The resulting Business and Human Rights – Access to Remedy, which is referred to in the ELI Report, concluded that existing instruments do not take into account the reality and complexity of disputes involving big corporations, which in most cases are multinational entities with complex structures and networks of subsidiaries. There is therefore a huge imbalance of power, in particular with victims from third countries. She referred to the drawbacks of non-judicial remedies, including the fact that they remain unknown, lack effectiveness and their potential is not fully exploited due to lack of training by lawyers, meaning that judicial remedies remain the main avenue in such cases. That said, the burden of proof and the need to prove causation (which in turn often requires disclosure by companies) are significant obstacles to victims: this often equates to lack of evidence.

Heidi Hautala (Vice-President of the European Parliament; Chair of the EP working group on Responsible Business Conduct) presented the work of the European Parliament and recent EU initiatives in the field (including the new Commission proposal for a Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence). In her view, the Commission’s proposal is promising, but it will have to be improved, and the ELI and FRA reports provide helpful solutions in this regard.

Finally, John Morrison (Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Human Rights and Business) reflected on the ELI Report in the context of recent developments in the field of business and human rights and work of his Institute.

The presentations were followed by a very lively Q&A session with participants.

ELI is grateful to all the speakers for their contributions and wishes again to congratulate the Reporters and the whole Team on the completion of this timely Report.

The recording of the webinar is available below.