Tuesday, November 2, 2010

U.S. Contact Point & corporate accountability

(Many thanks to IntLawGrrls for the opportunity to contribute this guest post.)

Corporate accountability for environmental and human rights abuses abroad is often elusive.
As IntLawGrrls Rebecca Bratspies and Naomi Roht-Arriaza have posted (here and here), recent court rulings now limit the scope of the Alien Tort Claims Act in some jurisdictions, at least temporarily. Non-judicial, ‘soft law’ mechanisms thus have become even more important.
Among the latter accountability mechanisms is the U.S. National Contact Point, or NCP, an office of the Department of State created to take complaints regarding corporate compliance with the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprise issued in 2008 by OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
The United States is required to maintain the NCP to resolve disputes about the OECD Guidelines, which cover human rights, environmental, labor, and consumer issues, as well as other topics. Like other countries' NCPs, the U.S. office is tasked not only with assisting to resolve disputes about corporate compliance with the Guidelines, but also with issuing Final Statements about compliance at the end of the process. In the language of international financial institution accountability mechanisms, this gives NCPs both a problem-solving and compliance review function.
To date, the U.S. NCP has never assisted in the resolution of a single case. In contrast, as IntLawGrrl Christiana Ochoa has posted in other countries like the United Kingdom, NCPs have successfully participated in the resolution of major global issues. If transformed, the U.S. NCP could be a valuable tool for communities around the world. Among those communities are clients of my organization, Accountability Counsel, which represents persons harmed by U.S.-headquartered multinational enterprises.
Over the past year, Accountability Counsel has led a coalition of civil society groups to reform the U.S. NCP. Our direct talks spurred the office to published its rules of procedure. As we had anticipated, those rules:
► Fail to meet basic standards for transparency and independence;
► Lack details sufficient to result in a predictable process; and
► Are unlikely to lead to effective results.
The official State Department review is under way, with a new policy governing the U.S. NCP is expected sometime in 2011. In Washington, a public meeting will be held today, November 2, and comments on the U.S. NCP will be accepted at input@state.gov until this Friday, November 5.
Accountability Counsel already has submitted its comments to the State Department regarding suggestions for reform of the U.S. NCP. Based on our work with similar mechanisms at the World Bank Group, the regional development banks, and study of other NCPs, we demonstrated that key elements that are needed to bring this accountability mechanism to the ‘best practice’ level that civil society groups have worked decades to create. Our recommendations focus on:
► Increasing transparency;
► Setting timelines and rules of procedure;
► Providing for review of decisions; and
► Monitoring and enforcement in the event of a finding of non-compliance.
Accountability Counsel is also working on these issues as a member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy, which will issue a report with recommendations for reform. Similarly, our group has worked with the United Nations' Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie (prior IntLawGrrls posts), to create a page on the Business and Society Exploring Solutions site for the posting of comments and for debate about the U.S. NCP. The effort is aimed at improving transparency around this review.

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