Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


UK aims for lead role in OECD guideline reforms

December 2009

The UK government has opened a consultation on possible changes to the OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises.

In a process lasting until 25 January, the Business Innovation and Skills Department has invited companies, trade unions, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to help ‘identify options for possible technical or more substantive updates to the text of the OECD guidelines’.

An OECD committee overseeing the guidelines is to review the text next year. There have been calls over recent years, including from John Ruggie, the United Nations special representative on business and human rights, for an update of the guidelines (EP10, issue 3, p3). The UK consultation is intended to help the British government come to a position on how the guidelines should be revised.

In a document explaining the consultation, the government says it believes there is a need for an update to reflect changes to the world economy since 2000, when the guidelines were last reviewed.

The UK hopes to play a major role in determining the new text and sees the consultation as one way of enhancing its input. It also feels the UK’s National Contact Point (NCP) for the guidelines – which examines allegations of breaches involving British companies – has a relatively good reputation, and that this will contribute to its influence.

The consultation document says that among UK priorities for changes will be more mention in the guidelines of sustainable development, plus measures to raise the performance of NCPs in other OECD countries, thus ‘promoting a level playing field for UK multinationals’.

The OECD itself is also likely to  want to tighten up the way NCPs operate. Two years ago Manfred Schekulin, chair of the OECD investment committee, which oversees the guidelines, said ‘enhancements’ were needed in this area – a demand that has grown in recent months.  

OECD Watch, an NGO that is one of the main critics of the guidelines, has said ‘fundamental changes are needed to harmonize performance of NCPs’, which often diverge quite dramatically in outlook from country to country.

OECD Watch has welcomed the idea of a review of the guidelines, which it says should  ‘address some of the instrument’s current shortcomings’. However, it has also warned of the dangers of placing too much emphasis on the potential influence of the guidelines. ‘Even with improvements, the OECD guidelines cannot be regarded as a panacea for ensuring that human rights are universally respected or providing effective remedies for those adversely affected by irresponsible corporate conduct,’ it said.

The OECD is holding a guidelines consultation meeting in Paris this month. Britain’s NCP will be represented.

Department for Business Innovation and Skills | UK & NI Ireland | Codes of conduct

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