Enforcing responsible business conduct

This is the only corporate responsibility instrument to have been adopted by all 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD),  as well as eleven non-OECD countries. RAID was instrumental in establishing and is now instrumental in taking cases forward using National Contact Points, the implementation mechanism that each adhering government is obliged to establish to receive complaints brought under the Guidelines.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (‘the Guidelines) are government-backed recommendations to enterprises regarding responsible business conduct in their worldwide operations. They are the only corporate responsibility instrument to have been adopted by all 34 member countries of the OECD, as well as eleven non-OECD countries. By endorsing the Guidelines, governments convey an expectation that multinational companies should follow these standards of good conduct in their operations worldwide.

Compliance with the Guidelines is voluntary for companies. The implementing National Contact Points (NCPs) have no powers to impose sanctions or award compensation, so a satisfactory resolution depends on the goodwill of the company involved. NCPs are often not sufficiently independent of governments and have little or no training in international human rights law or international humanitarian law to enable them to achieve effective redress for complainants.

In some cases, mediation under the Guidelines has mitigated the harms caused by corporate misconduct. However, complainants still face huge difficulties in bringing and substantiating a case, and the system as a whole lacks teeth. Whilst progress has been made in the structure and organisation of some NCPs (for example the UK, Norway and the Netherlands) NCPs are frequently not sufficiently independent of business interests and government, and lack the powers to compel companies to act responsibly.

Each adhering government has clear implementation obligations, which include establishing a ‘National Contact Point’ (NCP) to promote adherence by companies and investigate allegations of non-compliance. RAID was instrumental in establishing the NCP complaints mechanism, and in 2002 became the first NGO to file a complaint under the Guidelines. RAID is now one of principal groups taking cases forward, having been involved in around two dozen complaints.

RAID’s landmark report Unanswered Questions: Companies, conflict and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2004) was influential in publicising the existence of the Guidelines and the workings of the NCP complaints mechanism. The report also highlighted a number of serious shortcomings both with the Guidelines themselves and with the way in which they are interpreted and put into practice.

The process of updating the Guidelines in 2011 provided an opportunity for RAID to work with OECD Watch and the OECD’s Trades Union Advisory Committee to develop position papers calling for positive revisions. As a result of this process, the text was considerably improved, in particular through the addition of a human rights chapter. The revised Guidelines of 2011 also include a new provision on stakeholder engagement.

RAID’s Executive Director, Tricia Feeney, has been an independent expert for the UK’s National Contact Point since 2008, monitoring and advising the NCP in order to ensure that procedures are properly followed. In 2013 she was appointed as a member of the Advisory Group to inform the development and implementation of a User Guide for Stakeholder Engagement in the Extractive Sector.

RAID continues to work for stronger, mandatory Guidelines and for NCPs with more independence and transparency.

The OECD has also produced and adopted Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas. Details