France – Constitutional Court on law obliging big companies to identify and prevent human rights violations and environmental damages

On 21 February 2017, the Assemblée nationale adopted a law obliging companies registered in France with at least 5,000 employees (10,000 for subsidiaries of foreign groups) to draw up a vigilance plan to prevent serious environmental damage or human rights violations by their subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers. Non compliance with the new law would be sanctioned with a fine of up to 10 million euros and 30 million if the absence of a plan caused an identifiable harm.(pollution of a watercourse, accidents at work, etc.). The judge could order the publication of the sanction.

On 23 March 2017, the Conseil constitutionnel declared the provisions of the law providing for fines contrary to the Constitution : « In view of the vagueness of the language used by the legislature in defining the obligations it created, the Constitutional Council could not accept the constitutionality of the provisions imposing a fine. The Constitutional Council found that:
– on the one hand, that the words used by the legislature, such as “reasonable vigilance measures” and “adapted risk mitigation actions” were very general;
– on the other hand, that the reference by law to violations of “human rights” and “fundamental freedoms” was broad and indeterminate;
– finally, the scope of the companies, undertakings and activities falling within the scope of the infringement was very wide.
In these circumstances, in spite of the incontestable general interest objective pursued by the legislature, the Constitutional Council, applying its case-law on the principle of the legality of offenses, held that the legislator had defined the obligation it Insufficiently clear and precise terms for a sanction to be imposed in the event of a breach » (free translation).

The full press release is available via the following link: Link

See also: Le Monde