Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OECD National Contact Points

In August 2008 the United Kingdom’s National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) issued its Final Statement in Global Witness v. Afrimex Ltd. This case was the topic of a recent ASIL Insight (much of which is summarized here), describing the background on the case, the basic outlines of the NCP’s decision and its potential implications. The NCP found Afrimex had failed to abide by the OECD Guidelines and, more specifically, had failed to respect the human rights of the populations most affected by their activities, had failed to contribute to the economic, social and environmental progress of its host location, had not worked to encourage its business partners and suppliers to apply rules like the Guidelines, and had failed to exercise sufficient due diligence in its supply chain, as evidenced by Afrimex’s use of child and forced labor. The NCP made a number of recommendations, including that Afrimex adopt a corporate code of conduct, make use of the OECD’s Risk Awareness Tool and exercise it influence over contracting parties to ensure that their supply chain is free of child and forced labor.

Among the notable features of the NCPs decision is the reference it makes to the recent report of the UN SRSG on the issue of Business and Human Rights (SRSG Report), about which Naomi Norberg and I have previously blogged here and here. The decision uses the report as an indicator of the kinds of due diligence Afrimex might undertake in order to include human rights concerns in its policies and operations. This is important in two respects. First, and obviously, because it is another example of the spaces in which the Report is having an influence. Perhaps more important is the attention the combined punch of the Report and the Afrimex decision will bring to NCPs as access points for communities aggrieved by corporations that are failing to respect human rights.

NCPs have been used more than might be known. According to an October OECD document (available here), since NCPs were established by a June 2000 OECD Council Decision, well over 100 “Specific Instances” (complaints) have been considered by NCPs in 28 countries. The decisions – or Final Statements – of the NCPs are similarly under-reported and relatively unknown. The SRSG Report has identified the potential of NCPs, if they are made more robust (and, presumably, if their work is better known), to serve as non-judicial or quasi-judicial points of access to remedies. Through the Afrimex case, Global Witness (which has advised various aspects of the SRSG’s work) has demonstrated how NCP Specific Instances and Final Statements might be used as another source of light for illuminating the misdeeds of companies like Afrimex.

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