Tackling the key challenges of the 21st century requires efforts by all parts of society. Neither policy-makers nor the private sector nor civil society is able to rise to global challenges like climate change, the fight against poverty or the protection of human rights alone. Along with political action and civil society activism, it is above all responsible businesses with activities in their home country and abroad which make crucial contributions to resolving social problems. An example of such a contribution is compliance with internationally recognised social and environmental standards, even though the producing country lacks laws in this field or does not enforce them.
Promoting sustainable business practices
For many years, the Federal Government has been promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR) as part of its policies. As a result of the economic and financial crisis, people have increasingly called for a more responsible behaviour by companies. These demands had also been voiced at the Heiligendamm summit in 2007 during Germany's G8 Presidency. This was when the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs became the lead ministry for CSR within the Federal Government. Our ministry established the National CSR Forum as a body bringing together various stakeholders to work on corporate responsibility. The Forum provided important support to the Federal Government in developing a National CSR Strategy. On the basis of the Forum's recommendations, the Federal Government adopted the CSR Action Plan in 2010. It was implemented in the following years, spreading CSR more widely in Germany.
A new focus: corporate due diligence
Since then, the understanding of CSR has undergone major changes both in Germany and internationally. One reason was a number of tragic disasters at the production sites of Western companies in emerging and developing countries. Today, society increasingly expects its companies to act in a responsible manner. At the same time, international requirements have become more stringent. The UN Human Rights Council for example adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and in 2011 the OECD revised its Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. As a results of these steps and developments, there is now a stronger focus on corporate due diligence when it comes to compliance with labour, social and environmental standards. The EU defines CSR as "the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society" (2011 EU communication), building on this changed understanding of CSR and influencing the national debate in Germany significantly.
On 21 December 2016 the Federal Cabinet adopted the 2016-2020 National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP). In the NAP the Federal Government sets out, for the first time, the responsibility of German companies along supply and value chains. With the Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains the responsibility of German enterprises to respect human rights in global supply chains has been put on a legal footing. The law was published on 22 July 2021 after completion of parliamentary procedure.