French duty of vigilance law means Carrefour can be held accountable for slavery, human trafficking, torture in its tuna supply chain
On November 8th, environmental non-profit Bloom sent a notice of intent to sue to Carrefour, a French-based supermarket chain with 14,000 stores in over 40 countries, for human rights abuses in its tuna supply chain. Since the Fall 2022 term, the Clinic has collaborated with Bloom to map human rights abuses in the tuna industry and determine how to prevent such harms from continuing. Bloom alleges that Carrefour routinely purchases from suppliers who have committed abuses, including slavery, human trafficking, and torture. Bloom also alleges that Carrefour has endangered the health of its consumers and engaged in unsustainable and destructive fishing practices.
The French duty of vigilance law, enacted in 2017 in response to the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, applies to publicly traded corporations in France who employ, directly or through subsidiaries, at least 5,000 people in France, or at least 10,000 people globally. These companies are required to annually publish vigilance plans detailing risks of human rights abuses and environmental harms in their supply chains, and describing measures the company is taking to prevent or mitigate those risks. If a company fails to comply with its legal obligations and implement appropriate actions, then individuals who have been harmed, as well as non-governmental organizations, may bring suit.
“This is a novel law, and the courts are still grappling with its contours. So it has been a particularly exciting time to engage with stakeholders to advance corporate accountability in supply chains,” notes clinical student Danielle Norgren JD ‘24.
Over the past 18 months, the Clinic has worked closely with Bloom to document the prevalence of human rights abuses in the tuna industry. Many retailers, including Carrefour, rely on tuna suppliers with known records of human rights abuses—including slavery, human trafficking, forced labor, child labor, torture, wage withholding, debt bondage, inhumane working hours and working conditions, and limited access to food, water, and healthcare aboard ships.
Clinical students have worked under the supervision of Aminta Ossom and Susan Farbstein to ground these abuses in international human rights standards and to apply the duty of vigilance law to these harms. Students have interviewed experts on business and human rights, engaged directly with Bloom on a trip to Paris, and collaborated with a team of French lawyers at TTLA & Associés to prepare the notice of intent to sue.
Clinical student Nikki Santos, JD ’24, who has worked on this project for the past year, described her experience as “an incredible opportunity to explore pathways for corporate accountability and to dive deeply into the world of international human rights law.”
In May 2023, Bloom published Canned Brutality, a report which drew on the Clinic’s research to demonstrate the abuses that permeate the tuna industry, as well as the failure of companies to respond with meaningful action to prevent such harms. The report called on companies like Carrefour to implement concrete measures to end human rights abuses by making their supply chains transparent and traceable, establishing effective complaint systems accessible to all workers, and banning the transshipment of fish at sea.
Per the duty of vigilance law, Carrefour will now have a minimum of three months to engage in negotiations with Bloom to resolve the problems identified within its duty of vigilance plan. Among other requests, Bloom has demanded that Carrefour cease its harmful purchasing practices and source tuna from sustainable suppliers that protect workers’ basic human rights. If Carrefour fails to take reasonable measures to mitigate the risks of abuse, Bloom can sue Carrefour for violating the duty of vigilance law.
According to clinical student Zoe Shamis, JD ‘24, “the hands-on strategizing and drafting we’ve done on this project has been an amazing learning experience, and shows the potential of cross-disciplinary advocacy at the front lines of corporate accountability law.”