The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) require all OECD member and adhering governments to establish a functioning National Contact Point (NCP) – a government-supported office whose core duty is to advance the effectiveness of the OECD Guidelines.
NCPs advance the effectiveness of the Guidelines in two ways: by raising awareness among businesses and other stakeholders about the the Guidelines’ standards and the NCP grievance mechanism, and by handling ‘specific instances’ (grievances) against companies who allegedly have failed to meet the Guidelines’ standards.
NCPs also have other obligations, such as engaging in peer learning and participating in the work of the OECD Investment Committee.
- Requirements for NCPs
The OECD Guidelines allow member and adherent governments flexibility to structure their NCP in any way that fits their domestic situation. However, all NCPs must be “functionally equivalent” in their ability to accomplish their core purpose of promoting adherence to the Guidelines. The OECD Guidelines require that NCPs operate in accordance with four core criteria of visibility, accessibility, transparency and accountability.
Additionally, NCPs must help resolve disputes in a manner that is impartial, predictable, equitable, and compatible with the Guidelines. OECD Watch’s advocacy focuses on urging NCPs to uphold these requirements.
- NCP structures
Although all NCPs are government offices, they are not structured or organized in the same way.
Some are housed in a single agency or ministry, such as the ministry of economy or trade. Other NCPs are inter-agency bodies. Others have tripartite or quadripartite structures involving business, union, or civil society stakeholders.
All NCPs are expected to be impartial and equivalent to each other in their ability to handle the broad range of issues covered by the Guidelines. However, in our years of work with the NCP grievance system, OECD Watch has found that the structure and location of an NCP can influence how it handles complaints. OECD Watch recommends that NCPs not be housed in a single government department to avoid conflicts of interest (real or perceived) with the goals of the Guidelines. OECD Watch advocates that NCPs be independent in nature and have an oversight body such as an ombudsman, steering board, or multi-stakeholder group that can advise on issues raised in complaints or on general procedures for handling complaints. Ideally, the NCP should have staff with seniority and authority.
- NCPs’ duties as a grievance mechanism
- Each NCP is required to handle ‘specific instances’ of alleged corporate breach of the Guidelines. A ‘specific instance’ is the OECD Guidelines’ official term for a case or complaint about a company’s alleged breach of the Guidelines.
- NCPs can handle complaints that allege breaches of the OECD Guidelines occurring inside the NCP’s country by multinational enterprises headquartered anywhere else in the world.
- NCPs can also handle complaints that allege breaches of the OECD Guidelines occurring anywhere in the world, by a multinational enterprise headquartered in the NCP’s country.
The Guidelines’ complaint process focusses primarily on resolving alleged breaches of the Guidelines through conciliation or mediation, facilitating dialogue between the parties.
NCPs do not usually take up cases on their own initiative, but handle cases when asked to do so by adversely impacted individuals, unions, or non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs and trade unions from around the world have used the complaint process to address adverse social and environmental impacts caused by corporate misconduct. NGOs have also used the complaint process to raise awareness about the internationally-recognised standards enterprises should – but often fail – to meet.