Sustainability, responsibility and enterprise liability – University of Copenhagen

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Sustainability, responsibility and enterprise liability

Sustainability and CSR are current issues for all enterprises, both public and private. In recent years, the interest in and implementation of sustainable solutions have been growing at a fast pace. A large number of national and international parties contribute to this development, including national governments, EU, UN, OECD, NGOs, grass-roots organisations and private associations of people, enterprises and foundations. A main feature of CSR is that it has so far not been based on legislation (hard law) but is, on the contrary, a voluntary acceptance of guidelines, recommendations etc. (soft law), which are drawn up outside of the traditional legislative bodies. This project explores the extent to which CSR commitments, although conceived of as voluntary, may in fact generate legal effects under tort law or contract law, internalizing the principles and public law values found in international law and soft law. A separate but increasingly practically relevant question is the extent to which an enterprise can be held liable not only for its own actions but also for actions undertaken by subsidiaries (group liability) or subcontractors of the enterprise (supply chain liability). Another separate question is the role of organisations and NGO’s as driving factors in the CSR process, raising questions of both standing to sue as a means of enforcing enterprise liability and the possible liability of such groups of people.

Participants in the project


Participants:

  • Professor Vibe Ulfbeck (project leader, tort law and contract law)
  • Professor Rasmus K. Feldthusen (CSR, the law of foundations)
  • Professor Steen Treumer (public procurement)
  • Associate prof. Clement S. Petersen (procedural law)
  • Associate Professor Andreas Ehlers (tort law)
  • Assistant Professor Lone Wandahl Mouyal (International Investment law)
  • Assistant Professor Marta Andrecka (Public procurement law and CSR)
  • Assistant Professor Beatriz Romera (climate change)
  • Post doc Alexandra Hováthorá (CSR and contract law)
  • Post doc Carola Glinski (CSR, environmental law)


External partners:

  • Professor of international business law, Michael Ramsey, University of San Diego, US
  • Professor Cees Van Dam, Kings College, London

Subproject 1: Duties to pursue CSR – private law as a tool

The area of international public law is overflowing with soft law presuming companies’ responsibility to follow CSR. However, at the international law level there are no enforcement mechanisms. This subproject explores the extent to which private law can be used as a tool for establishing such duties instead of public law. It poses the question to what extent private law can create a basis for imposing liability or other private law sanctions if a company does not live up to CSR requirements. The subproject addresses the issues of possible tort liability of the parent company for the acts undertaken by a subsidiary, the emerging concept of supply chain liability, issues of contract law as a tool for enforcing CSR policies and the possible impact of voluntary measures on issues of tortious and contractual liability. 

Subproject 2: The right to pursue CSR goals – private and public law perspectives

This subproject focuses on the question of the right for corporations and other legal entities, such as states and NGOs to pursue CSR purposes and raises the question - inter alia - whether the pursuance of CSR goals in some circumstances may lead to liability. As an example, a defense that is often raised against the thought of companies being subject to CSR requirements is that companies are obliged to pursue the interests of the shareholders in optimizing profit and that the pursuance of CSR goals can be contrary to this overall objective. Consequently, it might be assumed that board members may risk being held liable if they pursue CSR goals. Another aspect is the tension between market requirements, namely free trade and competition requirements and the pursuance of CSR goals in EU and international law, e.g. in EU procurement law, international investment law and WTO law.

Subproject 3: CSR and procedural aspects

This subproject concerns procedural aspects of the enforcement of CSR goals as defined in hard law or soft law. The topic includes legal problems related to the roles of NGOs as driving forces in enforcing CSR policies, and explores the role of NGOs in civil litigation about CSR policies, including as plaintiffs (issues of standing to sue etc.), as representative for affected third parties (group actions, etc.) and as a third party interveners. Also the phenomenon of the NCPs as enforcers of CSR policies is addressed. Finally, the above described topics of parent liability and supply chain liability give rise to a number of questions with regard to jurisdiction and choice of law which are also included in the project.  

Selected publications

  • M. Andrecka
    Innovative Public-Private Partnership projects and its procurement under the new regime of Directive 2014/24/EU in Ch. Bovis (eds) European Research Handbook on Public Procurement (2016 Edward Elgar) Chapter 4
  • M. Andrecka
    Sustainable public procurement under framework agreements. in B. Sjåfjell & A. Wiesbrock (eds), Sustainable Public Procurement Under EU Law - New Perspectives on the State as Stakeholder (2016 Cambridge University Press) Chapter 6
  • Lone Wandahl Mouyal
    International Investment Law and the Right to Regulate - A human rights perspective, Routledge Research in International Economic Law - Taylor and Francis, 2016.
  • Peter Rott og Vibe Ulfbeck
    Supply Chain Liability of Multinational Corporations?, The European review of Private Law, 23 ERPL 3, 2015.
  • Lone Wandahl Mouyal
    Virksomheders samfundsansvar i kontraktretlig belysning - om Impact Benefit Agreements i Grønland,Erhvervsjuridisk Tidsskrift, Vol. 1, Nr. 2015, 01.2015, s. 79-82.
  • Rasmus K. Feldthusen
    God fondsledelse ,Bestyrelse: Håndbogen. ed. / Jacob Christensen. Børsens Forlag, 2014. p. 401-446 (Børsen Ledelseshåndbøger, Vol. 3).
  • Vibe Ulfbeck
    Virksomhedens privatretlige erstatningsansvar for overholdelse af menneskerettigheder i udlandet, Erhvervsjuridisk Tidsskrift, 4/2013, s. 315
  • Rasmus K. Feldthusen
    Tax Governance, RK 2011,Børsens Bestyrelseshåndbog Børsen Forum A/S, København, s. 1-13.
  • Steen Treumer
    Green Public Procurement and Socially Responsible Public Procurement: An analysis of Danish Regulation and PracticeiCaranta & Trybus (eds.): The Law of Green and Social procurement in Europe, 2010, s. 53-73.
  • Rasmus K. Feldthusen
    Betingelser for SRI: Social Responsible Investments, Ajour Sustainability Quarterly (2010), s. 12
  • Rasmus K. Feldthusen
    Bæredygtig skat, Skattepolitisk oversigt, nr. 3, 2010, s. 181-210.
  • Carola Glinski, The Ruggie Principles, business human rights self-regulation and tort law: Increasing standards through mutual impact and learning; Nordic Journal of Human Rights 35 (2017), 15-34.
  • Carola Glinski, CSR and the Law of the WTO – The Impact of Tuna Dolphin II and EC-Seal Products, Nordic Journal of Commercial Law (2017), 121-148.

International collaboration and networks

CEVIA co-operates with various national and international partners on the sustainability project. Partners include the following:

- Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), Columbia University, New York

- CSR-LRN

- INTRAlaw

- SMART project

Project related courses

CEVIA offers various courses that built on or are related to the sustainability project. As examples can be mentioned the following: 

Master courses:

  • Master course on Social Corporate Responsibility (contact person Alexandra Horváthová)
  • Master course on international Investment Law (contact person Lone Wandahl Mouyal)

Further information can be found in University of Copenhagen course catalogue.

Project related events

CEVIA organizes international research conferences that contribute to research outcomes of the project: