April 2, 2024

Conferences

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 Full ReferenceM.-A. Frison-Roche, "Les voies d'innovations juridiques face aux nouveaux "défis climatiques" ("Innovative legal solutions to the new "climate challenges""), in C. Arnaud, O. de Bandt et B. Deffains (dir.), Nouveaux défis - Regards croisés : Droit, Économie et Finance. Quel Droit face au Changement Climatique ? (("New challenges - Crossed perspectives : Law, Economics and Finance. What Law in the Face of Climate Change?"), Banque de France (French Central Bank) and CRED/Paris Panthéon-Assas University, Paris, Centre de Conférence de la Banque de France, April 2, 2024

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🧮See the full programme of this event

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🔲see the slides, basis of this conference (in French)

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 Summary of this conference: In response to the question of how the Law can produce 'innovations' to meet the 'climate challenges', the process is based on the three traditional sources of Law, which are, firstly, laws and regulations, secondly, the commitments of individuals, mainly contracts, and thirdly, court rulings.

At first sight, the Law in its traditional conception and practice is weak in the face of climate change. This weakness is inherent in the nature of climate change, which is at once future, global and systemic, in the face of these three sources of Law, which do not address all three dimensions at once. The scale of the legal innovation required to ensure that one or more articulated sources can grasp the future, the global and the systemic is therefore clear. And yet this is what is happening.

As far as laws and regulations are concerned, they do not seem very appropriate because they are, by their very nature, a territorial limit, and international treaties are very difficult to negotiate. The interweaving of European regulations, for example the CSRD and the CS3D, which mirror each other, may be more effective. As far as 'commitments' are concerned, a concept which in Law is not very precise outside of contracts and liability cases, contracts are above all a means for companies to fulfill their legal obligations, and a contract always implies a judge. At first sight, however, the judge is the least well placed to respond to 'climate challenges', particularly in France where he is said or wished to be powerless, where he rules on the past and where, especially the civil judge, he settles a one-off dispute between two singular parties.

But a major change has occurred with the emergence of a new branch of law: the Compliance Law, a teleological branch of Law whose legal normativity is lodged in the Monumental Goals that it pursues, namely the preservation of systems, for example the climate system. In France, the so-called "Sapin 2" law in 2016, followed by the so-called "Vigilance" law in 2017, illustrate this. And the Judge is at the centre of it all.

In this global, systemic, extraterritorial perspective, the object of which is the future - Compliance Law is, moreover, rejected by many legal experts - the legislative innovation is major. Indeed, the law of 23 March 2017, known as "Vigilance" designated large companies, because they are "powerful", because they are "in a position to act" to "detect and prevent" breaches of the environment and human rights. The 2017 law copied the "compliance tools" put in place by the Sapin 2 anti-corruption law: risk mapping, plans, alerts, audits, internal investigations, and so on. 

Only large companies are subject to the Compliance Law, notably the Vigilance Law, since they are the only ones in a position to act, in this case "parent companies or principals", and borders are no longer limits since the obligation, creating personal liability for the company, extends throughout the "value chain". The notion and fact of "systemic dispute" is emerging before the courts. In France, the Paris Court of First Instance has exclusive jurisdiction. European legislation is proving more difficult to draw up, because although it is compulsory to provide information on these "extra-financial" subjects (CSRD), the directive on the duty of vigilance, which has just been adopted, does not go any further than the French law of 2017.

On the second point, that of commitments, we are only at the beginning. Judges do not transform ethical statements into "unilateral legal commitments", and vigilance does not transform company law into co-management. But contracts do form a global network through which companies adjust their various legal obligations. This is why arbitrators, the only "global judges", will soon be involved in this systemic litigation, and more general case law is to come on "contracts and compliance clauses".

But the most innovative aspect undoubtedly comes from the courts. Perhaps and notably in France because it is from where we least expect it, the civil courts, that the imagination comes, but also the guarding of the great principles of the Rule of Law, because for the moment the case law is reasonable. This innovation has not come about proprio motu: the judges are not taking action, it is the NGOs that are conducting a kind of litigation policy, systematically giving formal notice to the major energy companies, but also to the major banks and insurers on climate issues, alleging non-compliance with their vigilance plans. The interim relief judge at the Paris Court of First Instance must then provide answers in systemic disputes, of which the so-called "Total Uganda" case is an example.

The courts are demonstrating a great deal of innovation. The Court of First Instance's interim relief judge has appointed amici curiae, the Paris Court of Appeal has set up a specialised chamber, and training conferences have been set up on this "Emerging Systemic Litigation".

In conclusion, the Law is in the process of being rebuilt through a new branch of Law, the Compliance Law, whose the very purpose, as an extension of and going beyond the Regulatory Law, is to preserve systems, in particular the climate system, in a profoundly renewed role for judges.

 

 

 

 

 

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Updated: March 15, 2024 (Initial publication: Dec. 15, 2023)

Publications

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 Full ReferenceM.-A. Frison-Roche, Duty of vigilance: the way forward, Working Paper, 2023.

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🎤 This working paper has been drawn up to serve as a basis for the conclusions of the colloquium Le devoir de vigilance: l'âge de la maturité? ("The duty of vigilance: the age of maturity?") organised by the University of Montpellier on 25 May 2023.

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📝 Updated and developed, it serves as the basis for the article that concludes the book Le devoir de vigilance des entreprises : l'âge de la maturité? ("The duty of vigilance: the age of maturity?"), Editions Bruylant, 2024.

 

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 Working Paper summary: In 2017 in France the so-called Vigilance law expressed great ambition. So did the draft directive. But in 2024 the European institutions moderated this ambition by refusing to increase either the type of companies subject and the constraints to which the duty of vigilance is associated. The directive has essentially halted what was for some the "march of progress". Does the ambition no longer exist? Does the future lie in an extension of the philosophy of the duty of vigilance, i.e. companies that should always be more concerned about others? This would undoubtedly be reaching the "age of maturity", where others see the age of madness, because it would be a contradiction in terms to ask a company to be concerned about anything other than its own development.

It is therefore appropriate to consider this very hypothesis of an "age of maturity" as being an ambition maintained despite a European directive which, in its adopted version, is weakened and while the oppositions are intact (I). First of all, it must be admitted that the notion of "maturity" most often conceals a value judgment when applied to a legal concept (I.A.) and that this is blatantly obvious with regard to the duty of vigilance, which is considered by some and by nature by some as a good and by others as an evil (I.B).

In order not to remain in what appears to be trench warfare, we must not get too bogged down in the reference French legislation of 2017 and what appears to be a European stutter in 2024, arguing so loudly that we can hear them reasoning in print, by paying attention to less visible and now more promising avenues of progress (II). In fact, the duty of vigilance can progress simply by the passage of time (II.A), by a better definition of the vocabulary (II.B), by the consolidation of the principles of Responsibility and Dialogue (II.C), by the uniqueness of the jurisdictional route (II.D).

This last perspective of the progress that will be made possible in France by the uniqueness of the judicial route leads to a final avenue of progress. By their very nature, laws are jolts, all the more violent for being disputed. At the moment, if we want to make progress, these two other sources - the contract and the judge - must be favoured (III). The European directive is rightly concerned with access to the courts and takes a measured view of the effectiveness of contracts as a means of making the duty of vigilance effective, with the courts having to ensure that the contract does not destroy the spirit of the system. This is what the law already organises about the relationship between the contract, the judge and the duty of compliance (III.A). What is new in Europe in 2024 is the introduction of a Supervisor (III.B). Here again, vigilance is the "cutting edge" of Compliance Law, as it is an extension of Regulatory Law. 

The result is that, through interpretation and the handling of principles, and to formulate a more general conclusion, it is the judge who holds and will hold the balance of the duty of vigilance.

 

 

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🔓read the Working Paper below⤵️