What does the new Supply Chain Act mean for companies?

Collapsed textile factories, polluted rivers, child labor. For a long time, compliance with social and ecological standards by suppliers of globally active companies was voluntary. New legislation is to oblige companies to prevent human rights violations and environmental damage along their entire supply chain. In February 2022, the European Commission presented the draft for a European Supply Chain Law. What does this mean for companies in concrete terms? How can companies champion new regulations set under the revised Supply Chain Law? Scroll down for an overview.

What does the new Supply Chain Act mean for companies?

The Supply Chain Law - Definition 

In the past, compliance with social and ecological standards by suppliers of globally active companies was a voluntary act. However, experts in human rights, society, and politics believe this has led to unfavorable outcomes. The revised Supply Chain Law aims to create a legal framework through which human and environmental rights along global supply chains will be improved.

History, Status Quo & Outlook


September 2019: Founding of the “Supply Chain Law Initiative” on Sept. 10, 2019, consisting of 63 organizations from the fields of human rights, environment, religion, and development; December 2019: German companies fail monitoring by the German government – only 20 percent of German companies voluntarily comply with human rights requirements


January 2020: Calls for parameters for a German Supply Chain Law are growing louder in both the social and political domain; February 2020: Legal experts set out legal framework for German Supply Chain Law; March 2020: Chancellor's office temporarily suspends German Supply Chain Law as Corona pandemic begins;  May 2020: EU Commissioner Reynders announces a draft for the EU Supply Chain Law for 2021September 2020: The “Initiative Supply Chain Act” protests with more than 222,222 signatories at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin
January 2021: On Jan. 27, 2021, the EU Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs votes by a large majority in favor of a “legislative initiative report”; February 2021: Bundestag agrees on German Supply Chain Law; June 2021: The German Bundestag passes the German Supply Chain Law with a large majority on June 11, 2021


February 2022: The proposal of the European Commission regarding a European Supply Chain Law is presented

The European Supply Chain Law

On March 10th, 2021, the European Parliament adopted the legislative proposal Legislative Report on Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence Obligations of Businesses. The proposal of the European Commission followed on February 23rd, 2022. The European Parliament and the European Council will discuss the Commission's draft in the next step. If a European supply chain law is enacted, the governments of the respective countries are required to transpose it into national law. This would mean that existing supply chain laws such as the German Supply Chain Act, the Dutch Supply Chain Act or, for example, the French Loi de vigilance would have to be adapted to adhere with the regulation of European directives.

The German Supply Chain Law 

On June 11th, 2021, the German Bundestag passed the "Act on Corporate Due Diligence in Supply Chains". This means that companies headquartered in Germany with 3,000 employees or more will in the future be required to analyze human rights risks in their supply chains, take preventive and remedial measures, establish complaint procedures, and report on these activities. 

A comparison of the German and European Supply Chain Laws

Both drafts fundamentally aim to ensure that human rights are respected in business and that global supply chains are presented more transparently. However, there are significant differences between the two approaches in terms of size and scope of application for the obligated companies.

Unlike in Germany, the EU Commission requires all EU companies with more than 500 employees and sales of over 150 million euros to test their primary products. For companies operating in certain resource-intensive sectors, such as textiles, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, or in the extraction of mineral resources and metals, the threshold is 250 employees and net sales of 40 million euros. The law would apply on the same principle to companies from third countries operating in the EU and generating a corresponding turnover within the EU. This proposal applies not only to the companies themselves, but also to their subsidiaries and the activities in the value chain carried out by companies with which the company has a business relationship.

The German Supply Chain Act: Area of application: From 2023, initially for companies with 3,000 employees; to be gradually extended to SMEs from 2024. ; The European Supply Chain Act: Area of application: According to the current status (March 2022), the law applies to companies with more than 500 employees and turnover over 150 million €. The threshold is lower (250 employees and 40 m turnover) for companies active in the following sectors: textiles (also whole sales), agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (and related food production and wholesale sectors); extraction of mineral resources and metals (including trade). The directive applies also to non-EU companies with and equivalent turnover in the EU (see threshold above). Area of responsibility: Tiering according to the level of influence. Indirect suppliers up to the raw material producer are only to be included if the company is informed of human rights violations at this level. In the end, it depends on the exact depth of analysis required. ; Area of responsibility: Obligations for companies regarding actual and potential human rights adverse impacts and environmental adverse impacts, with respect to their own operations, the operations of their subsidiaries, and the value chain operations carried out by entities with whom the company has an established business relationship. Scope: Protection of the environment is covered in the law as soon as environmental risks can lead to human rights violations and is additionally integrated via two international agreements on protection from the health and environmental hazards of mercury and persistent organic pollutants.; Possible consequences: Fines amounting to around ten percent of their turnover; up to three years' exclusion from public tenders.; Scope: The environmental and social field are addressed, including fair wages, safe working conditions, children rights, forced labor, slavery, and environmental degradation with effects on natural resourced for food production, access to safe drinking water, deforestation. ; Possible Consequences: According to the area or responsibility, the civil liability is limited to direct supplies.

Pros and cons for companies

In principle, the European Supply Chain Law would have an impact on competition in that there would be more legal certainty for companies as a result of EU-wide harmonization of due diligence and accountability obligations. Disadvantages for companies in European competition, such as those currently resulting from existing national supply chain laws, would, in some cases, be eliminated. Competitive disadvantages for companies that already invest voluntarily in sustainable supply chain management could also be reduced. However, it should also be noted that it is an enormous challenge for globally active companies with highly fragmented supply chains to identify deficiencies that exist along their supply chain. To meet the corporate due diligence obligation under the German Supply Chain Law as well as to prepare for the upcoming EU directive, companies need a holistic overview of their social and environmental impacts. This enables them to derive targeted measures that also help meet the requirements of various stakeholders such as consumers, investors, and NGOs.