Are you seeking accountability or remedy for a company’s harms to your community or environment? Do you want the public to be aware of the irresponsible business conduct you are experiencing? Are you trying to talk to a company, but facing closed doors? The OECD Guidelines have a complaints procedure that may help you achieve your goals.
How can you file a complaint under the OECD Guidelines?
All governments that follow the Guidelines must establish a complaints body, called a National Contact Point (NCP), to help resolve disputes between communities or workers and companies they believe are not following the Guidelines’ standards. About the complaint process:
- The complaint process has five stages:
- Coordination between NCPs – For complaints involving multiple NCPs, the NCPs will coordinate with each other to decide the lead NCP and supporting NCP(s). Indicative timeline: Two months.
- Initial assessment – The lead NCP considers whether it can accept the complaint. Indicative timeline: Three months or longer.
- Good offices – The lead NCP supports dialogue (usually mediation) between the complainant(s) and the company(ies) to reach a mutually-agreeable, Guidelines-compatible agreement. Indicative timeline: Timeframe will be determined by the NCP in consultation with the parties (usually 6-12 months).
- Final statement – The lead NCP publishes a public statement about the complaint and good offices process (including any agreement reached). Final statements may include recommendations for the company on meeting the Guidelines’ standards, as well as the NCP’s determination on whether the company breached the Guidelines. Indicative timeline: Three months after the conclusion of good offices.
- Follow-up – The lead NCP usually follows-up on any agreement reached or recommendations/determinations made. Indicative timeline: Timeframe will be determined by the NCP in consultation with the parties (usually 12 months after the final statement).
- NCPs can accept complaints:
- Against companies that are headquartered in their country, OR against companies operating in their country.
- About all responsible business conduct topics covered in the Guidelines.
- From individuals or groups that have an “interest” in the matter. This can include an NGO “interested” in climate change, not just a directly-affected person.
- The complaint process can result in:
- Company commitment to remedy past harm (including through financial remediation), OR avoid or reduce harm and improve its policies and practices in future.
- Ongoing dialogue with the company and/or its investors about the issues raised.
- A statement by the NCP determining whether the company breached the Guidelines and/or recommending steps to correct the harm or improve practices in future.
- Increased public, media, government, investor, and industry awareness of the situation.
- Follow-up on the matter by the NCP.
- NCPs are expected to meet effectiveness criteria, such as to be transparent, impartial, accountable, and accessible.
The OECD Guidelines’ complaint procedure is voluntary for companies, and NCPs do not have authority to require companies to participate in the process, remedy or avoid harms, or change their policies or practices in future. Remedy of past harm is rare, as are statements by NCPs determining whether the company breached the Guidelines. The NCPs vary between each other in how effectively they operate and how successful they are in helping parties resolve the issues raised.
To overcome these limitations, civil society should follow OECD Watch’s guidance on when and how to file strategic complaints. Civil society should file a complaint only if it supports and fits within a broader strategy (typically involving outreach to media, investors, and policymakers) to achieve remedy. As much as possible, civil society should collaborate with each other across regions and topics to increase their expertise and outreach potential. Civil society should manage their own and communities’ expectations about how little might be achieved from the Guidelines complaint process itself (versus the broader strategy). Civil society should also seek the best complaint handling process possible from the NCP, by urging the NCP to adopt the many strong recommendations for NCPs made in the Guidelines’ Procedures.
Read the text
- Procedures (part II of the OECD Guidelines)
Additional important information
What are the OECD Guidelines?
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct (OECD Guidelines) are recommendations from governments to companies on how to act responsibly. The OECD Guidelines set non-binding standards for responsible business conduct across a range of issues important to communities, such as human rights, workers rights, and the environment, and also cover issues such as corruption and taxation.
Governments that follow the OECD Guidelines must establish a non-judicial complaints body called a National Contact Point for Responsible Business Conduct to promote the Guidelines and handle complaints about harmful business activity. The Guidelines set good standards for all companies, but complaints can only be filed against two types of companies operating across borders:
- multinational enterprises headquartered in a country that follows the OECD Guidelines, or
- multinational enterprises operating in a country that follows the OECD Guidelines.
How can you use the OECD Guidelines?
Civil society can use the Guidelines to:
- Raise community awareness about company standards.
- Talk to companies to demand better conduct.
- File complaints when companies fall below the standards.
- Advocate for strong laws and policies on corporate responsibility.