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On January 1, 2023, the so-called Supply Chain Due Diligence Act (Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz) (the “Act”) will go into effect in Germany. Many companies doing business in Germany will need to ready their compliance operations in the coming months. The Act is also part of a broader trend in the European Union (EU) towards establishing mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requirements, particularly for supply chain operations.
Applicability of the Act
The Act applies to a broad range of companies doing business in Germany, including certain German companies and their U.S. subsidiaries. Specifically, from 2023, the Act applies to companies (including foreign) that have their head office, main establishment, administrative headquarters, statutory seat, or a branch office in Germany, and employ more than 3,000 employees. From 2024, the Act expands to include such companies with more than 1,000 employees. Notably, this includes temporary workers assigned for more than six months and employees dispatched to other countries, such as the United States.
Importantly, the Act is also likely to have an indirect impact on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that do not meet the employee size thresholds. Large companies will likely include new contractual terms in supply chain operations agreements with SMEs to ensure compliance with the Act. Moreover, because the Act requires that large companies’ suppliers and their sub-suppliers comply with certain requirements, regardless of whether they meet the abovementioned employee size thresholds, many SMEs are likely to impacted. Altogether, the Act is likely to have a broad extraterritorial reach outside of Germany.
Compliance Requirements Under the Act
The Act introduces several new compliance requirements across human rights and environmental issues intersecting with supply chain operations. Even for companies that already have robust compliance architectures, implementation of these new requirements will likely involve meaningful internal planning and investment.
Under the Act, companies must undertake risk management activities across a broad spectrum of identified risk areas including, but not limited to, forced labor, discrimination, and environmental damage. These activities must be supported by an internal infrastructure that, among others, defines relevant internal roles and responsibilities, establishes complaints procedures, and satisfies documentation and reporting obligations.
Companies also have obligations to prevent, minimize, and remedy any negative human rights and environmental impacts that have been identified by these risk management activities. Companies must not only monitor and act upon violations in their own operations, but also in operations of their direct suppliers, starting from the extraction of raw materials to the delivery to end customers. What is more, if a company has substantiated knowledge of possible violations of human rights or environmental standards by an indirect supplier, it must immediately conduct a risk analysis for these violations.
The Act provides for various fines and sanctions for noncompliance. Fines can amount to up to EUR 800,000 against natural persons and up to EUR 8 million against legal entities, and can be scaled upwards based on annual turnover. Upon a confirmed violation, companies may be excluded from participation in public tender opportunities in Germany for up to three years. Finally, German companies may also face claims under Section 823 of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch – BGB) on the grounds of a breach of a duty of care and claims under foreign law, due to noncompliance with the Act.
Related EU Trends
The Act is part of an increasingly active compliance environment in the EU for human rights due diligence. In addition to Germany, the Netherlands (Dutch Child Labor Due Diligence Law), France (French Duty of Vigilance Act), Switzerland (Swiss Due Diligence Law), and Norway (Norwegian Transparency Act) have each adopted human rights due diligence laws in recent years. While these laws differ in certain respects, each represents a notable “hardening” of soft law obligations regarding human rights for both individual company activities and broader supply chain operations.
The European Commission (the “Commission”) has also recently proposed its Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (the “Directive”). Similar to efforts on the national level, the Directive would require EU Member States to adopt legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence involving companies, their subsidiaries, and their value chains, based on employee size and annual turnover thresholds. The Commission estimates that the Directive will cover approximately 13,000 EU companies and 4,000 third-country companies. The proposal must now be presented to both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU for their respective approvals. If adopted, the Directive could come into effect as early as 2024.
What Should You Do Before January 1?
At a minimum, companies doing business in Germany should assess whether they are likely to be included within the scope of the Act. Potentially affected companies should consider conducting a preliminary assessment to determine the steps needed to satisfy new compliance requirements and compile a list of direct suppliers.
If your company has not done so already, it may also want to conduct a baseline risk assessment, considering your suppliers’ locations, the nature of their businesses, their employees, and the conditions of employment. If you are proactively developing or enhancing policies to address adverse human rights and environmental impacts, make sure to design them to be flexible enough to meet changing requirements.
Moreover, if your company conducts business elsewhere in the EU, you should assess the potential applicability of other human rights due diligence laws, if you have not already, and monitor ongoing developments in this space, such as the Directive.
This alert is not intended to provide legal advice, and no legal or business decision should be based on its contents. Please consult with your legal counsel for guidance. For assistance related to the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, please contact Nick Diamond at email@example.com, Manny Schoenhuber at firstname.lastname@example.org, or any member of the International practice.
Meet Our Authors
Nicholas J. Diamond maintains a global practice focused on regulatory, public policy, and ethics issues impacting the U.S., the Asia-Pacific region (APAC), Latin America, the European Union (EU), and the Middle East. He is internationally recognized for his thought leadership on business and human rights issues in the context of national and international laws, international trade and investment agreements, and major international guidelines, such as the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Manny Schoenhuber acts as outside general counsel to his European clients. He works closely with European companies and their subsidiaries in Texas, and European investors in the United States. As a native German, Manny enjoys representing fellow European clients and helping them to navigate market entry, contract negotiations and drafting, litigation, and dispute resolution.
Since 1887, Jackson Walker has grown to become the largest law firm in the state of Texas. For over 130 years, we have helped businesses of all sizes navigate the increasingly complex legal landscape, solving our clients’ challenges in a way that is straightforward, cost-effective, and strategically tailored to their specific needs. Our attorneys have represented foreign and U.S. clients in a wide array of industries in structuring, negotiating, and documenting business transactions and arrangements around the world, with international transactional experience in more than 85 jurisdictions. Jackson Walker also has an established network of correspondent law firms and is a founding member of Globalaw™, a network of independent law firms located in nearly 60 countries—including in the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East—to provide the global reach our clients need from the local firm they trust. For more information, visit JW.com/Globalaw.