OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises

Persuade non-OECD countries to apply the guidelines

The OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises comprise recognised principles for responsible business conduct in relation to foreign investments, inter alia in the areas of human rights, labour standards, environment, anti-corruption, taxes and consumers. The voluntary OECD guidelines gain their special status from the fact that the governments of OECD countries commit to promote them and have established national contact points (NCPs) to monitor compliance with their obligations. Alongside OECD countries, states including Egypt, Argentina and Brazil have also signed up to the guidelines. The task now is to work for worldwide dissemination of the guidelines beyond OECD’s borders.
In a globalised economy, a particular importance attaches to the OECD guidelines on the behaviour of multinational enterprises vis-à-vis society. The practical approach strengthens consciously responsible action by businesses. The task now is to disseminate the guidelines as recognised principles for responsible business conduct in relation to foreign investments worldwide beyond OECD Member States. In particular, upcoming countries such as China and India should now be persuaded to apply the guidelines and put in place responsible framework conditions for international trade. Obviously, the OECD guidelines are not capable of securing a level playing field around the world. The underlying environmental and social standards have to be enacted and enforced by states. But the guidelines have to potential to support these efforts. This potential should be better used.

In addition to the OECD guidelines, there are a series of further reference texts and guidelines which serve as a guidance framework for responsible action by companies in their day-to-day practice. The main ones to be mentioned are the tripartite declaration of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the UN Global Compact. Implementation of the guidelines is voluntary. But this does not mean that implementation is arbitrary. On the contrary, many companies develop their own in-house rules in order to ensure that this guidance framework is implemented effectively around the world. Networks and initiatives – such as regional Global Compact networks, national contact points for OECD guidelines and ILO activities – also promote the dissemination and implementation of this guidance framework.

NCP procedure to create constructive solutions

In the framework of the OECD guidelines, the national contact points help where there are inconsistencies or complaints linked to implementation by mediating and arbitrating. The guidelines are the only internationally agreed code of conduct which is supported by such an implementation mechanism. The procedure before the NCP was created for constructive solution of problems in connection with international investments and not to generate legal disputes. The NCP structure must not be misused for general campaigns. This would constitute a misuse of guidelines which are intended to encourage and promote fair behaviour. In Germany, the NCP is rightly accommodated within the Federal Economics Ministry. This maintains the link between international investment activity and at the same time ensures appropriate stakeholder involvement.