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Strengthening corporate accountability

Sherpa was born out of a fundamental observation: the gap between the political, economic and social existence of multinational companies and their legal non-existence. There is no legal definition of "enterprise", "group", or "multinational". Only the company is defined in the law and endowed with legal personality. This situation guarantees their impunity in a globalised world.

In particular, the veil created by the principle of autonomy of legal persons exempts them from liability and prevents the consistent attribution of liability within groups, especially when their activities cause environmental or human rights abuses abroad.

The gradual emergence of corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards has not fully overcome these difficulties and reflect the complex structuring of transnational economic activity, as well as its legal consequences.

The majority of new transparency measures and vigilance obligations are neither appropriate nor sufficient, and tend to become merely compliance measures. They focus on prevention, through the implementation of internal risk management processes, and are often coupled with mechanisms aimed at enabling parent companies to avoid liability when violations occur.

Thus, Sherpa's experience, particularly in litigation, has shown that the law still contains many obstacles, which guarantee a form of impunity for multinationals responsible for human rights violations committed abroad by entities within their  corporate group or supply chain.

Establishing the liability of parent companies, particularly civil liability, still faces some limits, despite new initiatives such as the duty of vigilance of parent and instructing companies. Adopted in 2017 primarily thanks to the work of Sherpa and our partners, this law requires certain large companies to identify and prevent serious human rights and environmental risks and abuses in their value chain. But in practice the law’s  adoption of the common regime of civil liability for fault makes it complex for victims to access justice.

Furthermore, despite a growing awareness of the criminal risks posed by multinationals, there are numerous obstacles to holding parent companies criminally liable for human rights and environmental abuses committed abroad.

Finally,  the activities of multinationals are largely facilitated by intermediaries, such as legal, financial, and tax advisors and social and environmental auditors. Their role in aiding criminal activities  and certifying practices that violate human rights abuses must be addressed.

Support Sherpa: help us promote justice for all communities and the environment 



Proposal 1Create and strengthen parent and instructing companies’ obligations and civil liability regime towards groups and supply chains

Proposal 2Facilitate the criminal liability of legal persons and strengthen the arsenal of penalties for human rights, environmental, and ethical violations perpetrated by economic actors

Proposal 3Strengthen the obligations and liability of social and environmental auditors and the various financial, legal, and fiscal intermediaries who facilitate the concealment of economic crimes committed by multinationals

Handbook of proposals

2nd Edition


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