Business and human rights in Europe 2011-2021: A decade in review

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Business-related human rights abuses remain endemic in Europe and globally. European actors have implemented measures to address business-related human rights abuses both prior and subsequent to the United Nations 2011 Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a central reference point of the emerging field of business and human rights. This article reviews steps taken in Europe towards preventing and redressing business-related human rights abuses in the European Union, Council of Europe and nationally. Its analysis discloses a decade of conceptual change, legislative and policy innovations that encompass some concrete advances in the regulation of specific value chains, technologies and forms of abuse. It shows a downwards cascade from international to regional norms, but also endogenous and regionally-specific European initiatives, and the lack of uniform or linear transposition of the UNGPs across European states, value chains and institutions. It also demonstrates the complex goals and diverse regulatory approaches applied to secure respect for human rights in Europe’s market sphere, and their reliance on the capacities and involvement of a multiplicity of public, private, local and transnational actors. Highlighting challenges to the normative, doctrinal and institutional coherence of human rights law and policy attendant on the transmission of human rights norms and standards into the market sphere, it identifies conflicts and dilemmas for human rights scholars, practitioners and policy-makers. Ten observations are advanced on a decade of business and human rights in Europe relating to: the extension of human rights’ normative horizon; concomitant doctrinal challenges; hard and soft law; impacts for Europe’s regional human rights systems; divergencies between intra-EU and ‘global’ business and human rights agendas; financialisation of business and human rights accountability; remediation; implications for UN business and human rights treaty; and business and human rights knowledge and research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Yearbook of Human Rights 2021
EditorsPhilip Czech, Lisa Heschl, Karen Lukas, Manfred Nowak, Gerd Oberleitner
ISBN (Print)9781839701627
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Human rights
  • tech giants
  • platforms
  • corporate responsibility to respect human rights
  • UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  • responsible business conduct
  • European Union
  • governance
  • Council of Europe
  • regional
  • due diligence
  • non-financial reporting
  • ESG
  • trafficking
  • value chains


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