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Commentary on the Implementation Procedures of the OECD Guidelines For Multinational Enterprises

I. Commentary on the Procedural Guidance for NCPS

II. Commentary on the Procedural Guidance for the Investment Committee

The Council Decision represents the commitment of adhering countries to further the implementation of the recommendations contained in the text of the Guidelines. Procedural guidance for both National Contact Points (NCPs) and the Investment Committee is attached to the Council Decision.

The Council Decision sets out key adhering country responsibilities for the Guidelines with respect to NCPs, summarised as follows:

  • Setting up NCPs (which will take account of the procedural guidance attached to the Decision), and informing interested parties of the availability of Guidelines‑related facilities.
  • Making available necessary human and financial resources.
  • Enabling NCPs in different countries to co‑operate with each other as necessary.
  • Enabling NCPs to meet regularly and report to the Committee.

The Council Decision also establishes the Committee's responsibilities for the Guidelines, including:

  • Organising exchanges of views on matters relating to the Guidelines.
  • Issuing clarifications as necessary.
  • Holding exchanges of views on the activities of NCPs.
  • Reporting to the OECD Council on the Guidelines.

The Investment Committee is the OECD body responsible for overseeing the functioning of the Guidelines. This responsibility applies not only to the Guidelines, but to all elements of the Declaration (National Treatment Instrument, and the instruments on International Investment Incentives and Disincentives, and Conflicting Requirements). The Committee seeks to ensure that each element in the Declaration is respected and understood, and that they all complement and operate in harmony with each other.

Reflecting the increasing relevance of responsible business conduct to countries outside the OECD, the Decision provides for engagement and co‑operation with non‑adhering countries on matters covered by the Guidelines. This provision allows the Committee to arrange special meetings with interested non‑adhering countries to promote understanding of the standards and principles contained in the Guidelines and of their implementation procedures. Subject to relevant OECD procedures, the Committee may also associate them with special activities or projects on responsible business conduct, including by inviting them to its meetings and to the Corporate Responsibility Roundtables.

In its pursuit of a proactive agenda, the Committee will co‑operate with NCPs and seek opportunities to collaborate with the advisory bodies, OECD Watch, and other international partners. Further guidance for NCPs in this respect is provided in paragraph 18.

I. Commentary on the Procedural Guidance for NCPs

National Contact Points have an important role in enhancing the profile and effectiveness of the Guidelines. While it is enterprises that are responsible for observing the Guidelines in their day‑to‑day behaviour, governments can contribute to improving the effectiveness of the implementation procedures. To this end, they have agreed that better guidance for the conduct and activities of NCPs is warranted, including through regular meetings and Committee oversight.

Many of the functions in the Procedural Guidance of the Decision are not new, but reflect experience and recommendations developed over the years. By making them explicit the expected functioning of the implementation mechanisms of the Guidelines is made more transparent. All functions are now outlined in four parts of the Procedural Guidance pertaining to NCPs: institutional arrangements, information and promotion, implementation in specific instances, and reporting.

These four parts are preceded by an introductory paragraph that sets out the basic purpose of NCPs, together with core criteria to promote the concept of 'functional equivalence'. Since governments are accorded flexibility in the way they organise NCPs, NCPs should function in a visible, accessible, transparent, and accountable manner. These criteria will guide NCPs in carrying out their activities and will also assist the Committee in discussing the conduct of NCPs.

Core Criteria for Functional Equivalence in the Activities of NCPs

Visibility. In conformity with the Decision, adhering governments agree to nominate NCPs, and also to inform the business community, worker organisations and other interested parties, including NGOs, about the availability of facilities associated with NCPs in the implementation of the Guidelines. Governments are expected to publish information about their NCPs and to take an active role in promoting the Guidelines, which could include hosting seminars and meetings on the instrument. These events could be arranged in co‑operation with business, labour, NGOs, and other interested parties, though not necessarily with all groups on each occasion.

Accessibility. Easy access to NCPs is important to their effective functioning. This includes facilitating access by business, labour, NGOs, and other members of the public. Electronic communications can also assist in this regard. NCPs would respond to all legitimate requests for information, and also undertake to deal with specific issues raised by parties concerned in an efficient and timely manner.

Transparency. Transparency is an important criterion with respect to its contribution to the accountability of the NCP and in gaining the confidence of the general public. Thus, as a general principle, the activities of the NCP will be transparent. Nonetheless when the NCP offers its 'good offices' in implementing the Guidelines in specific instances, it will be in the interests of their effectiveness to take appropriate steps to establish confidentiality of the proceedings. Outcomes will be transparent unless preserving confidentiality is in the best interests of effective implementation of the Guidelines.

Accountability. A more active role with respect to enhancing the profile of the Guidelines — and their potential to aid in the management of difficult issues between enterprises and the societies in which they operate — will also put the activities of NCPs in the public eye. Nationally, parliaments could have a role to play. Annual reports and regular meetings of NCPs will provide an opportunity to share experiences and encourage 'best practices' with respect to NCPs. The Committee will also hold exchanges of views, where experiences would be exchanged and the effectiveness of the activities of NCPs could be assessed.

Institutional Arrangements

NCP leadership should be such that it retains the confidence of social partners and other stakeholders, and fosters the public profile of the Guidelines.

 Regardless of the structure Governments have chosen for their NCP, they can also establish multi‑stakeholder advisory or oversight bodies to assist NCPs in their tasks.

NCPs, whatever their composition, are expected to develop and maintain relations with representatives of the business community, worker organisations, other non‑governmental organisations, and other interested parties.

Information and Promotion

The NCP functions associated with information and promotion are fundamentally important to enhancing the profile of the Guidelines.

NCPs are required to make the Guidelines better known and available online and by other appropriate means, including in national languages. English and French language versions will be available from the OECD, and website links to the Guidelines website are encouraged. As appropriate, NCPs will also provide prospective investors, both inward and outward, with information about the Guidelines.

NCPs should provide information on the procedures that parties should follow when raising or responding to a specific instance. It should include advice on the information that is necessary to raise a specific instance, the requirements for parties participating in specific instances, including confidentiality, and the processes and indicative timeframes that will be followed by the NCP.

In their efforts to raise awareness of the Guidelines, NCPs will co‑operate with a wide variety of organisations and individuals, including, as appropriate, the business community, worker organisations, other non‑governmental organisations, and other interested parties. Such organisations have a strong stake in the promotion of the Guidelines and their institutional networks provide opportunities for promotion that, if used for this purpose, will greatly enhance the efforts of NCPs in this regard.

Another basic activity expected of NCPs is responding to legitimate enquiries. Three groups have been singled out for attention in this regard: i) other NCPs (reflecting a provision in the Decision); ii) the business community, worker organisations, other non‑governmental organisations and the public; and iii) governments of non‑adhering countries.

Proactive Agenda

In accordance with the Investment Committee's proactive agenda, NCPs should maintain regular contact, including meetings, with social partners and other stakeholders in order to:

  1. Consider new developments and emerging practices concerning responsible business conduct;
  2. Support the positive contributions enterprises can make to economic, social and environmental progress;
  3. Participate where appropriate in collaborative initiatives to identify and respond to risks of adverse impacts associated with particular products, regions, sectors or industries.

Peer Learning

In addition to contributing to the Committee's work to enhance the effectiveness of the Guidelines, NCPs will engage in joint peer learning activities. In particular, they are encouraged to engage in horizontal, thematic peer reviews and voluntary NCP peer evaluations. Such peer learning can be carried out through meetings at the OECD or through direct co‑operation between NCPs.

Implementation in Specific Instances

When issues arise relating to implementation of the Guidelines in specific instances, the NCP is expected to help resolve them. This section of the Procedural Guidance provides guidance to NCPs on how to handle specific instances.

The effectiveness of the specific instance procedure depends on good faith behaviour of all parties involved in the procedures. Good faith behaviour in this context means responding in a timely fashion, maintaining confidentiality where appropriate, refraining from misrepresenting the process and from threatening or taking reprisals against parties involved in the procedure, and genuinely engaging in the procedures with a view to finding a solution to the issues raised in accordance with the Guidelines.

Guiding Principles for Specific Instances

Consistent with the core criteria for functional equivalence in their activities NCPs should deal with specific instances in a manner that is:

Impartial. NCPs should ensure impartiality in the resolution of specific instances.

Predictable. NCPs should ensure predictability by providing clear and publicly available information on their role in the resolution of specific instances, including the provision of good offices, the stages of the specific instance process including indicative timeframes, and the potential role they can play in monitoring the implementation of agreements reached between the parties.

Equitable. NCPs should ensure that the parties can engage in the process on fair and equitable terms, for example by providing reasonable access to sources of information relevant to the procedure.

Compatible with the Guidelines. NCPs should operate in accordance with the principles and standards contained in the Guidelines.

Coordination between NCPs in Specific Instances

Generally, issues will be dealt with by the NCP of the country in which the issues have arisen. Among adhering countries, such issues will first be discussed on the national level and, where appropriate, pursued at the bilateral level. The NCP of the host country should consult with the NCP of the home country in its efforts to assist the parties in resolving the issues. The NCP of the home country should strive to provide appropriate assistance in a timely manner when requested by the NCP of the host country.

When issues arise from an enterprise's activity that takes place in several adhering countries or from the activity of a group of enterprises organised as consortium, joint venture or other similar form, based in different adhering countries, the NCPs involved should consult with a view to agreeing on which NCP will take the lead in assisting the parties. The NCPs can seek assistance from the Chair of the Investment Committee in arriving at such agreement. The lead NCP should consult with the other NCPs, which should provide appropriate assistance when requested by the lead NCP. If the parties fail to reach an agreement, the lead NCP should make a final decision in consultation with the other NCPs.

Initial Assessment

In making an initial assessment of whether the issue raised merits further examination, the NCP will need to determine whether the issue is bona fide and relevant to the implementation of the Guidelines. In this context, the NCP will take into account:

  • The identity of the party concerned and its interest in the matter.
  • Whether the issue is material and substantiated.
  • Whether there seems to be a link between the enterprise's activities and the issue raised in the specific instance.
  • The relevance of applicable law and procedures, including court rulings.
  • How similar issues have been, or are being, treated in other domestic or international proceedings.
  • Whether the consideration of the specific issue would contribute to the purposes and effectiveness of the Guidelines.

When assessing the significance for the specific instance procedure of other domestic or international proceedings addressing similar issues in parallel, NCPs should not decide that issues do not merit further consideration solely because parallel proceedings have been conducted, are under way or are available to the parties concerned. NCPs should evaluate whether an offer of good offices could make a positive contribution to the resolution of the issues raised and would not create serious prejudice for either of the parties involved in these other proceedings or cause a contempt of court situation. In making such an evaluation, NCPs could take into account practice among other NCPs and, where appropriate, consult with the institutions in which the parallel proceeding is being or could be conducted. Parties should also assist NCPs in their consideration of these matters by providing relevant information on the parallel proceedings.

Following its initial assessment, the NCP will respond to the parties concerned. If the NCP decides that the issue does not merit further consideration, it will inform the parties of the reasons for its decision.

Providing Assistance to the Parties

Where the issues raised merit further consideration, the NCP would discuss the issue further with parties involved and offer 'good offices' in an effort to contribute informally to the resolution of issues. Where relevant, NCPs will follow the procedures set out in paragraph C‑2a) through C‑2d). This could include seeking the advice of relevant authorities, as well as representatives of the business community, labour organisations, other non‑governmental organisations, and experts. Consultations with NCPs in other countries, or seeking guidance on issues related to the interpretation of the Guidelines may also help to resolve the issue.

As part of making available good offices, and where relevant to the issues at hand, NCPs will offer, or facilitate access to, consensual and non‑adversarial procedures, such as conciliation or mediation, to assist in dealing with the issues at hand. In common with accepted practices on conciliation and mediation procedures, these procedures would be used only upon agreement of the parties concerned and their commitment to participate in good faith during the procedure.

When offering their good offices, NCPs may take steps to protect the identity of the parties involved where there are strong reasons to believe that the disclosure of this information would be detrimental to one or more of the parties. This could include circumstances where there may be a need to withhold the identity of a party or parties from the enterprise involved.

Conclusion of the Procedures

NCPs are expected to always make the results of a specific instance publicly available in accordance with paragraphs C‑3 and C‑4 of the Procedural Guidance.

When the NCP, after having carried out its initial assessment, decides that the issues raised in the specific instance do not merit further consideration, it will make a statement publicly available after consultations with the parties involved and taking into account the need to preserve the confidentiality of sensitive business and other information. If the NCP believes that, based on the results of its initial assessment, it would be unfair to publicly identify a party in a statement on its decision, it may draft the statement so as to protect the identity of the party.

The NCP may also make publicly available its decision that the issues raised merit further examination and its offer of good offices to the parties involved.

If the parties involved reach agreement on the issues raised, the parties should address in their agreement how and to what extent the content of the agreement is to be made publicly available. The NCP, in consultation with the parties, will make publicly available a report with the results of the proceedings. The parties may also agree to seek the assistance of the NCP in following‑up on the implementation of the agreement and the NCP may do so on terms agreed between the parties and the NCP.

If the parties involved fail to reach agreement on the issues raised or if the NCP finds that one or more of the parties to the specific instance is unwilling to engage or to participate in good faith, the NCP will issue a statement, and make recommendations as appropriate, on the implementation of the Guidelines. This procedure makes it clear that an NCP will issue a statement, even when it feels that a specific recommendation is not called for. The statement should identify the parties concerned, the issues involved, the date on which the issues were raised with the NCP, any recommendations by the NCP, and any observations the NCP deems appropriate to include on the reasons why the proceedings did not produce an agreement.

The NCP should provide an opportunity for the parties to comment on a draft statement. However, the statement is that of the NCP and it is within the NCP's discretion to decide whether to change the draft statement in response to comments from the parties. If the NCP makes recommendations to the parties, it may be appropriate under specific circumstances for the NCP to follow‑up with the parties on their response to these recommendations. If the NCP deems it appropriate to follow‑up on its recommendations, the timeframe for doing so should be addressed in the statement of the NCP.

Statements and reports on the results of the proceedings made publicly available by the NCPs could be relevant to the administration of government programmes and policies. In order to foster policy coherence, NCPs are encouraged to inform these government agencies of their statements and reports when they are known by the NCP to be relevant to a specific agency's policies and programmes. This provision does not change the voluntary nature of the Guidelines.

Transparency and Confidentiality

Transparency is recognised as a general principle for the conduct of NCPs in their dealings with the public (see paragraph 9 in 'Core Criteria' section, above). However, paragraph C‑4 of the Procedural Guidance recognises that there are specific circumstances where confidentiality is important. The NCP will take appropriate steps to protect sensitive business information. Equally, other information, such as the identity of individuals involved in the procedures, should be kept confidential in the interests of the effective implementation of the Guidelines. It is understood that proceedings include the facts and arguments brought forward by the parties. Nonetheless, it remains important to strike a balance between transparency and confidentiality in order to build confidence in the Guidelines procedures and to promote their effective implementation. Thus, while paragraph C‑4 broadly outlines that the proceedings associated with implementation will normally be confidential, the results will normally be transparent.

Issues Arising in Non‑Adhering Countries

As noted in paragraph 2 of the 'Concepts and Principles' chapter, enterprises are encouraged to observe the Guidelines wherever they operate, taking into account the particular circumstances of each host country.

  • In the event that Guidelines‑related issues arise in a non‑adhering country, home NCPs will take steps to develop an understanding of the issues involved. While it may not always be practicable to obtain access to all pertinent information, or to bring all the parties involved together, the NCP may still be in a position to pursue enquiries and engage in other fact finding activities. Examples of such steps could include contacting the management of the enterprise in the home country, and, as appropriate, embassies and government officials in the non‑adhering country.
  • Conflicts with host country laws, regulations, rules and policies may make effective implementation of the Guidelines in specific instances more difficult than in adhering countries. As noted in the commentary to the General Policies chapter, while the Guidelines extend beyond the law in many cases, they should not and are not intended to place an enterprise in a situation where it faces conflicting requirements.
  • The parties involved will have to be advised of the limitations inherent in implementing the Guidelines in non‑adhering countries.
  • Issues relating to the Guidelines in non‑adhering countries could also be discussed at NCP meetings with a view to building expertise in handling issues arising in non‑adhering countries.

Indicative Timeframe

The specific instance  procedure comprises three different stages:

  1. Initial assessment and decision whether to offer good offices to assist the parties: NCPs should seek to conclude an initial assessment within three months, although additional time might be needed in order to collect information necessary for an informed decision.
  2. Assistance to the parties in their efforts to resolve the issues raised:  If an NCP decides to offer its good offices, it should strive to facilitate the resolution of the issues in a timely manner. Recognising that progress through good offices, including mediation and conciliation, ultimately depends upon the parties involved, the NCP should, after consultation with the parties, establish a reasonable timeframe for the discussion between the parties to resolve the issues raised. If they fail to reach an agreement within this timeframe, the NCP should consult with the parties on the value of continuing its assistance to the parties; if the NCP comes to the conclusion that the continuation of the procedure is not likely to be productive, it should conclude the process and proceed to prepare a statement.
  3. Conclusion of the procedures: The NCP should issue its statement or report within three months after the conclusion of the procedure.

As a general principle, NCPs should strive to conclude the procedure within 12 months from receipt of the specific instance. It is recognised that this timeframe may need to be extended if circumstances warrant it, such as when the issues arise in a non‑adhering country.

Reporting to the Investment Committee

Reporting would be an important responsibility of NCPs that would also help to build up a knowledge base and core competencies in furthering the effectiveness of the Guidelines. In this light, NCPs will report to the Investment Committee in order to include in the Annual Report on the OECD Guidelines information on all specific instances that have been initiated by parties, including those that are in the process of an initial assessment, those for which offers of good offices have been extended and discussions are in progress, and those in which the NCP has decided not to extend an offer of good offices after an initial assessment. In reporting on implementation activities in specific instances, NCPs will comply with transparency and confidentiality considerations as set out in paragraph C‑4.

II. Commentary on the Procedural Guidance for the Investment Committee

The Procedural Guidance to the Council Decision provides additional guidance to the Committee in carrying out its responsibilities, including:

  • Discharging its responsibilities in an efficient and timely manner.
  • Considering requests from NCPs for assistance.
  • Holding exchanges of views on the activities of NCPs.
  • Providing for the possibility of seeking advice from international partners and experts.

The non‑binding nature of the Guidelines precludes the Committee from acting as a judicial or quasi‑judicial body. Nor should the findings and statements made by the NCP (other than interpretations of the Guidelines) be questioned by a referral to the Committee. The provision that the Committee shall not reach conclusions on the conduct of individual enterprises has been maintained in the Decision itself.

The Committee will consider requests from NCPs for assistance, including in the event of doubt about the interpretation of the Guidelines in particular circumstances. This paragraph reflects paragraph C‑2c) of the Procedural Guidance to the Council Decision pertaining to NCPs, where NCPs are invited to seek the guidance of the Committee if they have doubt about the interpretation of the Guidelines in these circumstances.

When discussing NCP activities, the Committee may make recommendations, as necessary, to improve their functioning, including with respect to the effective implementation of the Guidelines.

A substantiated submission by an adhering country, an advisory body or OECD Watch that an NCP was not fulfilling its procedural responsibilities in the implementation of the Guidelines in specific instances will also be considered by the Committee. This complements provisions in the section of the Procedural Guidance pertaining to NCPs reporting on their activities.

Clarifications of the meaning of the Guidelines at the multilateral level would remain a key responsibility of the Committee to ensure that the meaning of the Guidelines would not vary from country to country. A substantiated submission by an adhering country, an advisory body or OECD Watch with respect to whether an NCP interpretation of the Guidelines is consistent with Committee interpretations will also be considered.

In order to engage with non‑adhering countries on matters covered by the Guidelines, the Committee may invite interested non‑adhering countries to its meetings, annual Roundtables on Corporate Responsibility, and meetings relating to specific projects on responsible business conduct.

Finally, the Committee may wish to call on experts to address and report on broader issues (for example, child labour or human rights) or individual issues, or to improve the effectiveness of procedures. For this purpose, the Committee could call on OECD in‑house expertise, international organisations, the advisory bodies, non‑governmental organisations, academics and others. It is understood that this will not become a panel to settle individual issues.