Are you or your community being intimidated, harassed, threatened, or otherwise harmed for opposing a development or business activity? Whether the harm comes from a business, government, or other group, the OECD Guidelines may help you fight for your right to be heard.

What the OECD Guidelines say about reprisals and human rights defenders

The OECD Guidelines promote rule of law and safe civic space. They call on companies to respect the rights of human rights and environmental defenders, avoid and help remediate harm from reprisals, and promote safe space for those raising awareness about harmful business activity. You can use the OECD Guidelines to demand that companies:

  • Refrain from taking reprisals (including strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs)) against opponents of business activity.
  • Provide or contribute to remedy for harm from reprisals against opponents of the business activity, in addition to remediating harm from the business activity itself.
  • Encourage their business partners (including governments) to stop and prevent reprisals against opponents of the business activity.
  • Promote safe space where communities and human rights defenders can express concerns.
  • Pay special attention to potential harms from their business activity to human rights defenders among other marginalised and vulnerable groups.

The Guidelines also call on governments to ensure that their National Contact Point complaints body takes all appropriate steps to address the risk of reprisals against parties in complaints.


Businesses have a role to play in discouraging reprisals by governments, even if those governments aren’t business relations. Civil society should refer to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other United Nations and civil society guidance about the positive influence and impact companies can have in such cases. To strengthen your complaint or advocacy, you can also provide companies and complaints bodies examples of steps companies can take to prevent and address reprisals, such as adopting zero tolerance policies, privately and publicly discouraging business partners and states from retaliating against opponents, and engaging meaningfully with all impacted communities and defenders throughout the planning and implementation of the business activity. Then you can explain whether or not the company has taken those steps and demand better performance.

Read the text

  • Preface: paragraph 6
  • Chapter II (General Policies): paragraphs 9 and 10; commentary 14
  • Chapter IV (Human Rights): commentary 45
  • Part II (Procedures): paragraph I.C.9; commentaries 26, 27, 28, and 47

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:

  1. multinational enterprises headquartered in a country that follows the OECD Guidelines, or
  2. 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.

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