Ethical Performance
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Human rights concerns feed into OECD review

November 2010

Seventeen new alleged corporate breaches of the guidelines for multinationals of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) were accepted for investigation last year.

The figures appear in a report of the annual meeting of National Contact Points (NCPs), the bodies formed by national governments to investigate alleged breaches.

The meeting concluded that although the number of cases is neither increasing nor decreasing significantly over time, there is a growing number of allegations of human rights breaches, especially in the resources sector. The report says this adds weight to the OECD’s decision to concentrate on human rights in its revision of the guidelines, which should be completed in late 2011.

However, it says most cases being considered by NCPs are still focused on employment and industrial relations issues.

Altogether, 42 countries now have NCPs, including smaller nations such as Chile, Estonia, Iceland, Peru and Slovenia. The most active since 2000, when the last revision took place, have been those in the US, which has considered 26 cases, the UK (21), the Netherlands (19) and Brazil (18). Of the 161 cases handled in that time 138 have been concluded or closed.

The report suggests that, in general, NCPs are now having more success in resolving cases – in particular, they have made strides in persuading companies and complainants to choose mediation. Nine of last year’s 17 cases took that route, and most had ‘positive outcomes for all parties involved’.

In instances where complaints cut across national jurisdictions, relationships between NCPs, claims the report, are becoming ‘smoother and more productive’.

Canada, Israel and Norway are praised for improving the way their NCPs operate, and Italy, Norway, Peru, Poland and Spain have all made noticeable efforts to become more transparent and increase awareness of their activities.

Despite criticism from various quarters that NCPs operate in widely different ways, the report argues there is a ‘broad consensus’ among governments that their different characters and methods should continue.

However, it acknowledges that there should be more ‘predictability’ on the structure of handling complaints and the timeframes within which decisions are reached.

This may be one issue addressed by the revision of the guidelines, now being conducted by a working party of the OECD Investment Committee with help from an advisory group of interested governments and representatives of the OECD’s business and industry and trade union advisory committees.

The pressure group OECD Watch, which has consistently criticized the effectiveness of the guidelines, will also join the advisory group.

Terms of reference have been agreed for the revision, and a global consultation exercise has begun.

The final recommendations will need approval from the governments of all participating countries at an enlarged session of the investment committee.

Non-adhering countries that have announced their intention to observe the updated guidelines will be invited to participate.

Organisation of Economic Co-operation & Development | Global | Standards

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