The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct (OECD Guidelines) require all OECD member and adhering governments to establish a 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 promoting and raising awareness about the Guidelines’ standards and the NCP grievance mechanism among businesses, civil society, and other stakeholders; and by handling ‘specific instances’ (complaints) against companies who allegedly have failed to meet the Guidelines’ standards.
NCPs are also expected or encouraged to engage in other activities, such as promoting national laws and policies on responsible business conduct, participating in the work of the OECD Investment Committee, and learning from peers.
- 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 dual mandate. The OECD Guidelines require that NCPs operate in accordance with seven core effectiveness criteria. NCPs must operate in a manner that is: visible, accessible, transparent, accountable, impartial and equitable, predictable, and compatible with the Guidelines. OECD Watch’s advocacy focuses on urging NCPs to uphold these requirements.
- Although all NCPs are supported by governments, 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. Others are panels of independent experts.
All NCPs are expected to be 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. NCPs should have staff with seniority and authority.
- Each NCP is required to handle ‘specific instances’ of alleged corporate non-observance of the Guidelines. A ‘specific instance’ is the OECD Guidelines’ official term for a case or complaint about a company’s alleged failure to act in line with the Guidelines’ standards.
- NCPs can handle complaints that allege non-alignment with the OECD Guidelines occurring inside the NCP’s country by a multinational enterprise headquartered anywhere else in the world.
- NCPs can also handle complaints that allege non-alignment with the OECD Guidelines occurring anywhere in the world by a multinational enterprise headquartered in the NCP’s country.
Most NCPs use mediation or conciliation techniques to facilitate dialogue between the parties to encourage them to reach agreement on past harm and future conduct. NCPs do not usually take up cases on their own initiative, but handle cases when asked to do so by adversely impacted individuals or communities, 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.