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AchACT: "A new legal framework would ensure equality between all companies"

Do you know AchACT? This non-profit organisation was created in 1996 to ensure that the fundamental rights of workers in the supply chains of brands and retailers are respected. AchACT recently set up shop at Mundo-n in Namur.

This April, AchACT launched a campaign in Belgium to demand the establishment of a law on the duty of vigilance. We interviewed Zoé Dubois, Advocacy Officer of the association, to better understand the stakes of this campaign.

Could you describe your campaign in a few words?

When companies are guilty of human rights and environmental abuses, it is now extremely difficult to hold them accountable and therefore impossible for victims to obtain compensation for the damage they have suffered. 

We all remember the Rana Plaza disaster, a building housing garment factories that collapsed and buried several thousand workers on 24 April 2013. While this event was deeply shocking in its scale and horror, the only reparations obtained by the survivors and families of the victims have been the result of pressure from civil society. No judge has recognised the responsibility of the companies that used the factory. 

We are campaigning for binding legal frameworks at the international, European and national levels to ensure that companies are - at last - held accountable for human rights throughout their value chain and for abuses that occur. 

What impact will this new legal framework have on Belgian companies?

A new legal framework, especially in Belgium, would ensure equality between all companies, as they would all be subject to the same rules. Many companies, especially Belgian ones, are already trying to make their activities more sustainable and respectful of human and social rights; however, they have to compete with other companies that are sometimes much less scrupulous. A Belgian law would therefore have the merit of clarifying these obligations and putting an end to this phenomenon of unfair competition between so-called "respectful" companies and those that are not, or only on paper. 

You talk about "voluntary initiatives" which have existed but which have proved insufficient: why? How can citizens, at their level, contribute to this fight? 

There are indeed many so-called voluntary initiatives today that aim to "encourage" companies to respect human rights. The problem with these initiatives is that they rely on the goodwill of companies and do not provide for any accountability mechanism in case of failure to meet these so-called voluntary commitments. 

The companies themselves choose the standards they commit to, which undermines the universal nature of human rights. A sort of à la carte system is being created, outside of any democratic control, which is mind-boggling given the stakes involved. 

This is why we are calling for a binding framework, applicable to all companies and requiring them to respect human rights throughout their value chain, while guaranteeing legal recourse for the victims of these companies in the event of abuse.

Today, citizens can help us bring this advocacy to our political representatives, either by challenging them directly or by helping us spread our messages. 

Finally, how can the Mundo community be useful to help you in your campaign?

We are proposing several activities in the framework of this campaign, a video show available online and on our Facebook page to better understand and share the issues we are raising in this #StopBusinessImpunity campaign. We are also preparing a Pedagogical Guide to better equip activists and campaigners to carry out this debate. The Mundo community can participate in these activities or help us promote them! 

We are also always open to think about ad-hoc activities with groups that might be interested in our themes, like our Fast Fashion Tours in the streets of Brussels and in Wallonia. Feel free to write to us or knock on our office... 
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