Hubertus Heil on the home office debate: “A very clear message”

Hubertus Heil

The Federal Minister of Labor says: “I am serious about proposals.”

(Photo: dpa)

Berlin Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has urgently appealed to employers to allow home offices wherever possible. “This is not just any appeal, but a very clear message from the federal and state governments to the economy,” said the SPD politician in an interview with the Handelsblatt.

Many companies acted responsibly. But there are also those who arbitrarily refused to work on the move. “That is irresponsible,” said Heil.

The request to work from home if possible is also directed at the employees – even if he understands that many would like to see their colleagues again. But it is a question of responsibility, and the employees are also deceived.

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Consumer advocates are calling for an agreement on the supply chain law

TransFair eV calls for sustainable instead of blind consumption

The working conditions in textile factories are often catastrophic.

(Photo: obs)

Berlin Consumer advocates are calling for progress in the supply chain law against exploitation, child labor and starvation wages for foreign suppliers. At Christmas, many people thought more than usual about how the gifts on the gift table would actually be produced, said the head of the federal consumer association, Klaus Müller, of the German press agency. “I don’t know any consumer who would say: Yes, I would like to buy products that contain child labor, exploitation and environmental destruction.” But the manufacturing conditions of the products are usually not obvious.

Several federal ministers had therefore proposed a new law. It is intended to oblige German companies to guarantee compliance with minimum social and ecological standards for foreign suppliers.

However, the project has been on hold for months because business associations and parts of the Union parties fear a competitive disadvantage for German companies. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had also warned in the Bundestag against burdens for companies. The question is whether and to what extent a small medium-sized company can be held liable for things that are going on somewhere in the world.

Germany is not a pioneer, but rather a bottom light, emphasized Müller. The business associations also said they did not want any exploitative or environmentally destructive production conditions. “But you don’t want to be liable for it,” he criticized. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) also recently increased the pressure to get the law through the federal cabinet.

According to the consumer advocate, the argument that companies should not be burdened additionally during the corona crisis cannot apply. “There’s never a good time,” he said. When the economy improves again, it is argued that the upswing should not be slowed down. “If you go after that, it will never be regulated,” said Müller. “Then we would still have child labor today and, in the worst case, even slavery, to make it worse.”

Müller also spoke out in favor of producing more important products in Europe. The extremely high international division of labor saves costs, but also increases uncertainty. That was noticed in the spring when buying mouth and nose covers, which were mainly produced in Asia. “In a domestic market, it is wise to be able to actually produce certain things yourself in order to influence quality and price,” said Müller. “A continent like Europe should be able to maintain critical infrastructure, at least in relevant parts.”

More: Merkel should bring a breakthrough in the dispute over the supply chain law

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Controversies: Switzerland to vote on supply chain law – politics

Is that still Switzerland? Corporations are insulted as “scoundrels”, non-governmental organizations are denigrated as murderers, a minister has to justify herself for false statements, and a parliamentarian brings the trade minister from Burkina Faso to Bern to make it clear who is really on the side of the good guys.

There is no doubt: the dispute over the so-called corporate responsibility initiative will go down as one of the bitterest voting battles in Switzerland’s history, as advocates and opponents have attacked each other so fiercely in recent months. The Swiss vote on Sunday.

If they endorse the proposed constitutional passage with a double majority of voters and the cantons, the country will soon have one of the toughest supply chain laws in the world. Internationally active companies based in Switzerland should therefore also respect human rights and international environmental standards abroad. So far, so undisputed, after all, Switzerland also stands behind the corresponding UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The group responsibility initiative wants to cast this principle into binding national law: Firstly, the companies should ensure that the subsidiaries and suppliers they control adhere to these rules. The corporations would be obliged to carry out a due diligence.

Second, the initiative wants companies to be liable for human rights violations and environmental damage that they or their subsidiaries have committed abroad. People who can prove that they have been harmed by a Swiss company or one of its partners abroad could in future sue before Swiss courts.

130 human rights, development and environmental groups support the popular initiative

The orange flags with the white yes on Swiss balconies have been fluttering for more than four years: only a few popular initiatives have occupied the country as long as this one. Several dozen human rights, development and environmental groups launched the project in 2015, and today the support association has grown to 130 organizations.

In addition, there are the left and green forces in parliament who are in favor of the initiative. On the other side: the Swiss government, the big business associations and the conservative parties. A kind of battle of the giants has gripped the country, and indeed there is a lot at stake.

The voting proposal, which is only a few paragraphs short, leaves a lot open. For example, it is not entirely clear whether the rules would apply to all companies in the country, i.e. not only the large multinationals but also the many small and medium-sized enterprises.

At this point, many opponents are bothered: They fear that the initiative would paralyze the Swiss economy with the extensive due diligence process and an alleged wave of lawsuits. Small companies in particular, so the argument goes, could hardly meet the requirements. The concrete form of the proposal would ultimately be a matter for Parliament, which would have to turn the initiative into a law if it were adopted.

So far only a few countries have really catchy company rules for activities abroad. In France, for example, a law has been in force since 2017 that also obliges companies to carry out due diligence and makes them liable in the event of violations. In the UK, since 2015, larger companies have had to demonstrate what they are doing to combat human trafficking.

There is no liability mechanism, but a case law that has repeatedly punished companies for violations abroad. And in Germany, the development and labor ministries are currently working on a supply chain law that also provides for company liability, but so far the ministry of economics has been opposed to this. So Switzerland would not be alone if the initiative got through – but its set of rules would be among the strictest in the world.

And that with a considerable density of large corporations. Nestlé is based in Switzerland, as are the pharmaceutical giants Roche and Novartis, the agrochemicals group Syngenta, the building materials manufacturer Lafarge-Holcim and, last but not least, the high-turnover raw materials traders: Glencore, Cargill, Gunvor, Mercuria, Vitol. All of these companies would definitely be affected by the new regulation. And: Many of them have already been associated with problematic behavior abroad.

Given this phalanx of adversaries, it is remarkable that the initiative has a real chance. The latest polls see proponents at at least 51 percent. However: The no-camp is catching up. It will be tight on Sunday – the nerves are accordingly bare.

First, the liberal-progressive movement “Operation Libero” received heavy criticism for calling all opponents of the duty of care for companies to be scoundrels. Then Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter stood out with statements that experts later had to correct. Some lawyers therefore accused the government of giving unfounded reasons for rejecting the initiative.

And finally the thing with the videos: Since October, drastic films of unclear origin have been circulating on the Internet, showing the proponents of the initiative as violent rioters and associating non-governmental organizations with executions and rape. Sunday will show who won this rough voting battle.

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New attempt for agreement (new-deutschland.de)

Young Cambodian seamstresses inspecting pajamas made for the European market in a textile factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Young Cambodian seamstresses inspecting pajamas made for the European market in a textile factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Photo: dpa / Arjay Stevens

Berlin. On Thursday evening, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD), Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU) and Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) will meet to talk about a solution for the planned legislation, according to government circles.

In addition, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) called for strict environmental requirements. There is still too much environmental pollution distributed over the entire production route, she complained in the »Süddeutsche Zeitung« (Thursday). Germany should not live at the expense of human rights and the environment in other countries, she added on Twitter.

At the end of August, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) said that the project had her support. Heil und Müller in particular are campaigning for such a law. They want a guarantee of compliance with human rights by German companies – in global supply chains for the manufacture of clothes, chocolate and electrical appliances, among other things.

Altmaier fears a weakened economy

But Minister of Economics Altmaier warns of too great a burden on the economy. According to reports, his department urges that the law – contrary to what Heil and Müller planned – does not apply to companies with more than 500 employees, but only to companies with more than 5000 employees. Another point of contention is up to which stage of a supply chain German companies should be liable for compliance with human rights. dpa / nd

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