The year 2020 started with an important development in the Netherlands as the Dutch Child Labour Act came into force. This Act introduces a duty of care to any Dutch or foreign company that sells or provides goods or services to Dutch end users to prevent the supply of those goods or services which have been produced using child labour. It concerns a generic duty to exercise due diligence and a duty to notify the appointed regulator that such due diligence has been exercised. The regulator publishes the respective corporate human rights due diligence statements in an online public registry. The Act furthermore introduces criminal sanctions for a failure to act upon an instruction from the regulator in relation to the due diligence, any issues found or any complaints made in this respect.
In June 2020 the initiative ‘Against Slavery and Exploitation’ was proposed by certain members of the Dutch House of Representatives which is aimed at implementing a legislative basis for international responsible trade and corporate social responsibility. It covers human rights, child labour and environmental impact. Whether, how and when this will be further taken on in the Dutch legislative process is however still unclear. The initiative in any case enjoys the support from a large group of Dutch businesses.
The increase in attention on Business and Human Rights has resulted in many of the larger companies in the Netherlands implementing sustainability statements and codes of conduct including policies on the broad spectrum of the topics involved: human trafficking, child labour, sustainability, human rights, etc. Other than the Child Labour Act mentioned above there is little ‘hard’ law on these topics, and guidelines and approach to corporate social responsibility is mainly dealt with within the various business sectors and the related business associations.
What do you predict for 2021?
Taking all developments over the past year together, we expect this topic to continue to evolve quickly in the Netherlands. Important in that respect is also the advice of the Dutch Social Economic Council that it has rendered at the request of the Minister of Foreign Trade in October 2020. The reports includes the council´s advice on proposed future Dutch policy on international responsible trade and sustainability. The council proposes to further develop and strengthen the current Child Labour Act, implement a broad (EU) legislative due diligence obligation and to support further sector-driven and business-to-business cooperation. Finally it advises to further anchor the OECD Guidelines by enhancing transparency and reporting obligations for companies. Whether and how this advice will be taken on by the Dutch government is yet unclear.