Bangladeshis work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 19, 2018. 

© 2019 AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

Knowing where products are made is key to stopping human rights abuses in the global supply chain.  An alliance of 64 NGOs and trade unions in Germany – including Human Rights Watch – has launched a Supply Chains Law Campaign urging the German government to propose a bill by 2020 that would ensure German companies put in place human rights safeguards in their supply chains.

Seven years ago to this day, on September 11, 2012, a fire ripped through Ali enterprises garment factory in Pakistan, killing 255 workers and injuring 57. The factory supplied KiK, a well-known German clothing brand with shops offering affordable fashion on many German highstreets. While labor rights organizations successfully demanded that KiK compensate victims of the fire, the company has yet to ensure its supply chain is transparent. Human rights and environmental tragedies continue to surface in the global supply chains of German companies. 

Now is a crucial moment to push for a robust law. Germany’s government of conservatives and social democrats has already agreed to consider legislation on human rights safeguards in supply chains in its coalition agreement. The next national elections are scheduled for September 2021, which means that any new bill would have to be tabled soon. The campaign hopes to convince wavering MPs and mobilize the public to support a petition addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It will not be easy. Conservative and social democrat coalition partners have struggled to agree on a national action plan to protect human rights in company supply chains, and a mechanism to monitor its implementation. A German law would be vital to regulating company behaviour in Germany and protecting rights in the supply chains of one of the world’s largest export economies.

But a German law could prove a positive influence across the European Union. Germany will have the EU Presidency in the second half of 2020 and would be in a great position to help pave the way for EU-wide mandatory due diligence, ensuring strong, rights-respecting business practices in many more countries.