Erik Solheim, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC)
Extreme poverty has been halved in a few decades and more than 600 million people have been brought out of poverty in China alone. Child mortality was also halved and children born today will reach 70 years of age on average. The enormous development progress over the past decades is one of the most significant achievements in human history and business and private investments have played an integral part.
Business and private investments under strong national leadership have been instrumental in all the greatest development success stories. Just think of Singapore, Korea, China, Ethiopia, Turkey and Rwanda. More and better business and investments will be crucial to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 and implement the sustainable development goals to be agreed at the United Nations later this year. Only businesses can provide jobs for the around one million young Africans joining the labour market every month. Private investments are hugely important to green our agricultural systems and invest in clean energy for billions of people with little or no access to electricity. Private business is generally a huge force for good. But strong national leadership and responsible business conduct is necessary to avoid super-profits, exploitation of workers and degradation of the environment.
More of the $20 000 billion estimated to be invested around the world annually over the coming years must be directed to green investments in developing countries. Good investment policies are the most important thing. China now receives much more foreign direct investment in a single day than it did in the whole of 1980. Investments to Ethiopia have increased 15 times in just seven years as a result of good policies and focus on manufacturing, agriculture and energy. Development assistance can also help by reducing risk and mobilizing much more private investment. By blending public and private investments, the EU used $2billion in aid to mobilize around $40 billion for things like constructing electricity networks, financing major road projects and building water and sanitation infrastructure in recipient countries.
We also need better investments and better business conduct. Corporate super-profits, corruption and tax avoidance must be stopped. Far too often, profits are private while the destruction of forest, pollution of rivers and the effects of climate changing gasses are borne by the public. Workers must make decent wages, work in safe environments and have the right to join unions.
The OECD has developed the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which set out recommendations on what constitutes responsible business conduct in areas such as employment and industrial relations, human rights, environment, information disclosure, combating bribery, consumer interests, science and technology, competition, and taxation.
Mechanisms are in place to deal with grievances and the Guidelines have had some great successes. The UK-based oil company Soco decided to halt oil exploration in Africa’s Virunga national park until UNESCO and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo agree that oil production does not threaten the unique biodiversity in the area. G4S, a major global security guard employer, stood accused of underpaying and denying rights to employers in Malawi, Mozambique and Nepal while blacklisting union members. After mediation by a global union of 900 national unions, G4S agreed to improve employment standards across the company and to help improve the standards in the whole global security industry. The Norwegian salmon farming giant Cermaq stood accused of inadequately considering the environment and the human rights of indigenous people in Chile. The company agreed to enter into mutually beneficial agreements with indigenous peoples and to even further minimise risk of any environmental damage. The parties also agreed that certain claims about the company made by civil society groups were baseless and that future dialogue should start with mutual trust and clarification of facts, a win-win solution for both parties.
States must be responsible for framing the market in such a way that companies can make a healthy profit and provide jobs while protecting the environment and people’s rights. But companies can also be advocates for more responsible business conduct. The world moves forward when the best companies push others to improve social and environmental standards. Wilmar, the largest palm oil producer in Asia, became an advocate for conservation and after they themselves committed not to cut down rainforests.
Such business norms works best when leading global companies take the initiative. Last year, China was ranked by Forbes as home to the three biggest public companies in the world and five of the top 10. The OECD and China are now working on moving towards common standards for businesses. More global guidelines would make a huge difference because China now provides 1 out of every 5 dollars invested in Africa. Chinese companies are building important infrastructure around the world like the East African railroad linking Kenya with Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. Chinese companies are increasingly moving manufacturing plants to Ethiopia and Rwanda.
More and better private investment is necessary to eradicate poverty and provide food, electricity and jobs for a future 9 billion people without destroying the planet. More responsible business conduct is a hugely important part of that.
The Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct 18-19 June 2015 is held to strengthen international dialogue on responsible business conduct (RBC) and provide a platform to exchange views on how to do well while doing no harm in an effort to contribute to sustainable development and enduring social progress.
Today’s post is by Roel Nieuwenkamp, Chair of the OECD Working Party on Responsible Business Conduct (@nieuwenkamp_csr)
The global economy has evolved at an impressive rate over the past several decades. Supply chains spanning dozens of countries are a common feature of businesses large and small. However, global regulatory frameworks have largely not kept pace with these trends. Rule of law remains weak in many developing countries and significant uncertainty and enforcement issues continue to exist in the context of transnational litigation and arbitration.
Some international instruments, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (the OECD Guidelines) and the UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights and Business (UNGPs) have been important tools for filling these regulatory gaps. For example the OECD Guidelines establish an expectation that businesses behave responsibly throughout their supply chains, not just within their direct operations, extending to activity in potentially institutionally weak contexts where international standards and domestic laws may not be adequately enforced.
Recently domestic law has also begun to follow suit in this regard by introducing legally binding obligations. Section 1502 of the US Dodd-Frank Act represents one of the first examples of legislation incorporating due diligence regarding human rights along the supply chain. Section 1502 provides that companies must report on whether they source certain minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) from conflict areas. The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas which was adopted as an OECD Recommendation in 2011 was the first instrument to define responsibilities in this context and is explicitly referenced in section 1502. Currently the EU is considering introducing similar obligations in a proposal aimed at regulating the import of conflict minerals into the EU. The proposed initiative will go through three separate reviews within the EU Parliament before being submitted to the EU Council level later this year.
Another example in the extractives sector where non-binding initiatives have acted as the harbinger for binding law is in the context of revenue transparency. The Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), founded in 2003 was one of the first efforts to encourage government and private sector reporting on revenue streams of extractive operations as a strategy for battling corruption. Section 1504 of Dodd Frank, passed in 2010, requires that companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must publicly report how much they pay governments for access to oil, gas and minerals. The EU has since mandated similar obligations through Accounting and Transparency Directives and Norway and South Korea have expressed interest in doing the same.
In Drilling down and scaling up in 2015, I mentioned that the trend of hardening of soft law was among the top 5 issues to watch in RBC for 2015. I also noted that the UK, Switzerland and France had proposals in the pipeline to make due diligence regarding aspects of RBC mandatory. Since January, interesting progress has been made on these initiatives.
The Swiss motion, which proposed mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence for Swiss corporations was recently narrowly voted down in the Swiss Parliament. The deciding vote was 95 against and 86 in favour. In response to this result, the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice has announced that it will begin collecting signatures for a popular initiative on the proposal. If they gather 100,000 signatures in 18 months, the measure will be put to a binding public referendum.
The UK Modern Slavery Act was approved and enacted into law in March of this year. This act provides that commercial organisations must prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement annually detailing, among other matters, their due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in their operations and supply chains.
The broadest scheme of the three remains the French legislative proposal which aims to mandate supply chain due diligence in accordance with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, thus covering a comprehensive range of RBC issues. Under the law French companies employing 5,000 employees or more domestically or 10,000 employees or more internationally would be responsible for developing and publishing due diligence plans for human rights, and environmental and social risks. Failure to do so could result in fines of up to 10 million euros.
An amended proposal approved by the French National Assembly will now be sent to the Senate, which might turn it down. However, in this case the National Assembly could still overrule the Senate. My assessment is that the proposal is likely to be adopted.
If such a law is passed in France there is speculation that it could generate spillover effects within the EU. The rapporteur for this proposal, Dominique Potier, has indicated that he will push the European Commission to develop a EU directive along similar lines.
The move from soft to hard law is a concern for many businesses. However, when it concerns the more severe issues of responsible business conduct, the jump between the two is not that high. Many companies already have due diligence systems in place. This means that the playing field for the more progressive companies will be levelled. That was one of the reasons why many British businesses supported the Modern Slavery Act. In addition, the UN Guiding Principle 23(c) already provides specific guidance on how companies should manage the risks of the most severe impacts; it says that businesses should “Treat the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue wherever they operate”.
Another concern that businesses may have is that all these proposals will create a mess of different hard and soft standards. A proliferation of obligations (national, regional and international) has the potential to generate regulatory disarray and create challenges for businesses in navigating their obligations.
Uniformity and clarity around obligations and expectations will be important for establishing a level playing field for business. A large imbalance or contradictions in obligations regarding due diligence or reporting across jurisdictions may unfairly penalise companies operating in multiple jurisdictions or subject to more onerous standards. In ensuring that standards are aligned, administrative burdens for business will be eased and competitive risks will be mitigated.
Additionally such laws must be drafted carefully in order to be practical and fairly enforceable. Presently the language included in both the French legislation and UK law is highly general and therefore the obligations under the law remain somewhat abstract.
In order to ensure that such regulation is realistic, reasonable and effective, the regulations and guidance that will accompany these laws should be developed on the basis of carefully drafted non-binding standards, such as the UNGPs and the OECD Guidelines. They will also need multi-stakeholder input. In the context of the OECD, all due diligence guides interpreting the expectations of the Guidelines are developed in consultation with industry, government, civil society and worker organisations. This process has ensured that recommendations included in the guidance are endorsed by businesses, the ultimate users of the guidance, and that they are ambitious yet reasonable. Additionally, the role of non-binding instruments, as well as the organisations that crafted and implemented them should not be overlooked. The UN and OECD will be important sources of guidance on these issues.
Legislative proposals related to existing international instruments should not seek to reinvent the wheel, but to reinforce it. Existing instruments that are widely recognised and proven to be effective and reasonable should represent a foundation for their legally-binding counterparts.
Two questions today: which fictional character helped bring down a colonial empire and gave his name to a food label? If you’re Dutch, you probably know the answer, if not, I’ll save you an Internet search by telling you: Max Havelaar, eponymous protagonist of Multatuli’s Max Havelaar, of de koffi-veilingen der Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappy, translated into English as Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Dutch government ordered farmers in its East Indies, modern-day Indonesia, to grow quotas of export crops rather than food. The Dutch also reformed the tax system, creating a public-private partnership that allowed tax commissioners to keep a share of what they collected. The result was the misery and starvation the book denounces. Max Havelaar helped change attitudes to colonial exploitation in the Netherlands and was even described as “The book that killed colonialism” by Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer in the New York Times Magazine.
The name Max Havelaar was adopted by the Dutch Fairtrade organisation and other European members of their network. The movement describes itself as “an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers. When farmers can sell on Fairtrade terms, it provides them with a better deal and improved terms of trade”. The movement has its critics. For instance in this article on Fairtrade coffee in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Colleen Haight argues that “strict certification requirements are resulting in uneven economic advantages for coffee growers and lower quality coffee for consumers” and that while some small farmers may benefit, farm workers may not.
Which brings us to the second question: what’s that got to do with the OECD? We’re asking for comments on the draft FAO-OECD Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains. Government, business and civil society representatives, international organisations, and the general public are invited to send comments by email to coralie dot david squiggly sign oecd dot org by 20 February 2015. I’d like to say that winning entries will receive a guinea, but they won’t. We will however publish a compilation on this web page from the OECD division in charge of the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs).
The world’s population is increasing and, human biology being what it is, so is the demand for food. Agriculture is expected to attract more investment, especially in developing countries, and human nature being what it is, some rascals may be tempted not to trade fairly. Or as the call for comments puts it: “Enterprises operating along agricultural supply chains may be confronted with ethical dilemmas and face challenges in observing internationally agreed principles of responsible business conduct, notably in countries with weak governance and insecure land rights.”
Apart from the OECD MNE Guidelines, the guidance considers half a dozen other sets of standards and principles from the FAO, UN, and International Labour Organization among others, designed to encourage “responsible business conduct”. Intended users include everybody from farmers to financiers, in fact the whole supply chain from seed sellers to grocers. The guidance as it stands today was developed by an Advisory Group with members from OECD and non-OECD countries, institutional investors, agri-food companies, farmers’ organisations, and civil society organisations.
The aim is not to create new standards, but to help enterprises respect standards that already exist “by referring to them in order to undertake risk-based due diligence”. Some unfamiliar language/jargon/special terminology is inevitable in a document like this, but the authors of the guidance have taken care to explain it all. “Due diligence” here refers to the process through which “enterprises can identify, assess, mitigate, prevent, and account for how they address, the actual and potential adverse impacts of their activities” (and those of their business partners).
The draft proposes a five-step framework for risk-based due diligence, covering management systems, identifying risks, responding to them, auditing due diligence, and reporting on due diligence. Some of the concrete proposals will provoke little or no discussion I imagine, such as “respect human rights”. On the other hand, “promote the security of employment” is likely to see a frank and open exchange of views. (The 2013 OECD Employment Outlook has a chapter on enhancing flexibility in labour markets.)
The human rights and labour sections could apply to any sector of the economy, as could most of the proposals on governance (we’re against corruption) and innovation (we’re for appropriate technologies), but there are a number of proposals targeting agriculture in particular, for example “promoting good agricultural practices, including to maintain or improve soil fertility and avoid soil erosion”. Again, some of the draft focusing on agriculture is uncontroversial (respect legitimate rights over natural resources), but I can’t imagine owners of factory farms agreeing to grant animals “the freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour”.
I’m sure you’ll find plenty to agree or disagree with, so let us know and we’ll rid the agricultural supply chain of, as Multatuli would say, all the “miserable spawn of dirty covetousness and blasphemous hypocrisy”.
The OECD Cleangovbiz Initiative “supports governments to reinforce their fight against corruption and engage with civil society and the private sector to promote real change towards integrity”.
OECD Integrity Week, 23-26 March, brings together stakeholders from government, academia, business, trade and civil society to engage in dialogue on policy, best practices, and recent developments in the fields of integrity and anti-corruption.