External Trade

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

1) Introduction

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) are the most comprehensive set of government-backed recommendations on responsible business conduct in existence today. The governments adhering to the Guidelines aim to encourage and maximize the positive impact MNEs can make to sustainable development and enduring social progress. The Guidelines are supported by representatives of business, worker organizations and non-governmental organizations.

The Guidelines are a part of the 1976 OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises, a policy commitment by adhering governments to provide an open and transparent environment for international investment and to encourage the positive contribution MNEs can make to economic and social progress.

The Guidelines were first adopted in 1976 and have been reviewed 5 times since then to ensure that they remain a leading tool to promote responsible business conduct in the changing landscape of the global economy. The recent 2011 update of the Guidelines took place with the active participation of business, labour, NGOs, non-adhering countries and international organizations. The update was adopted on 25 May 2011.

The Guidelines are far-reaching recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries. They provide voluntary principles and standards for responsible business conduct in areas such as employment and industrial relations, human rights, environment, information disclosure, combating bribery, consumer interests, science and technology, competition, and taxation. Observance of the Guidelines by enterprises is voluntary and not legally enforceable. Nevertheless, some matters covered by the Guidelines may be regulated by national law or international commitments. MNEs are expected to fulfill the recommendations set out in the Guidelines and the countries adhering to the Guidelines make a binding commitment to implement them.

 

2) Content of the Guidelines

The Guidelines are the only existing multilaterally agreed corporate responsibility instrument that adhering governments have committed to promoting in a global context. They cover all major areas of business ethics. Their recommendations are set out in 11 chapters:

1. Concepts and principles

This chapter sets out the concepts and principles that put into context all of the recommendations in the subsequent chapters. They are the backbone of the Guidelines.

2. General policies

This chapter is the first to contain specific recommendations to enterprises in the form of general policies that set the tone and establish a framework of common principles for the subsequent chapters. It includes important provisions such a implementing due diligence, addressing adverse impacts, engaging stakeholders, and others.

3. Disclosure

Clear and complete information on the enterprise is important to a variety of users. This chapter calls on enterprises to be transparent in their operations and responsive to the public’s increasingly sophisticated demands for information.

4. Human Rights

Enterprises can have an impact on virtually the entire spectrum of internationally recognised human rights. As such, it is important that they meet their responsibilities. This chapter, introduced during the 2011 update, draws on and is aligned with the United Nations "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework and the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights that operationalise that framework.

5. Employment and industrial relations

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the competent body to set and deal with international labour standards and to promote fundamental rights at work as recognised in the ILO 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This chapter focuses on the role the Guidelines have in promoting observance among MNEs of the international labour standards developed by the ILO.

6. Environment

The environment chapter of the Guidelines provides a framework for MNEs to raise their environmental performance and help maximise their contribution to environmental protection through improved internal management and better planning. It broadly reflects the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21.

7. Combating bribery, bribe solicitation and extortion

Bribery and corruption are damaging to democratic institutions and the governance of corporations. Enterprises have an important role to play in combating these practices. The OECD is leading global efforts to level the playing field for international businesses by fighting to eliminate bribery. The recommendations in this chapter are based on the extensive work the OECD has already done in this field.

8. Consumer interests

The Guidelines call on enterprises to apply fair business, marketing and advertising practices and to ensure the quality and reliability of the products that they provide. This chapter draws on the work of the OECD Committee on Consumer Policy and the Committee on Financial Markets, and on the work of other international organisations, including the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Organization for Standardization and the United Nations.

9. Science and technology

This chapter recognises that MNEs are the main conduit of technology transfer across borders. It aims to promote technology transfer to host countries and contribution to their innovative capacities.

10. Competition

This chapter focuses on the importance of MNEs carrying out their activities in a manner consistent with all applicable competition laws and regulations, taking into account the competition laws of all jurisdictions in which their activities may have anti-competitive effects. Enterprises need to refain from anti-competitive agreements, which undermine the efficient operation of both domestic and international markets.

11. Taxation

The Guidelines are the first international corporate responsibility instrument to cover taxation, contributing to and drawing upon a significant body of work on taxation, most notably the OECD Model Tax Convention and the UN Model Double Taxation Convention between Developed and Developing Countries. This important chapter covers fundamental taxation recommendations.

 

3) National Contact Points and Specific Instances

Adhering countries are obliged to set up National Contact Points (NCPs) that are tasked with furthering the effectiveness of the Guidelines by undertaking promotional activities, handling inquiries, and providing a mediation and conciliation platform for resolving issues that arise from the alleged non-observance of the Guidelines (so called "Specific Instances"). This makes the Guidelines the only international corporate responsibility instrument with a built-in grievance mechanism.

Adhering countries have flexibility in how they organize their NCPs as long as such arrangements provide an effective basis for dealing with the broad range of issues covered by the Guidelines and enable the NCP to operate in an impartial manner while maintaining an adequate level of accountability to the adhering government. To ensure that all NCPs operate in a comparable way, the concept of “functional equivalence” is used. NCPs report to the OECD Investment Committee and meet regularly to share their experiences.

Specific instances are not legal cases and NCPs are not judicial bodies. NCPs focus on problem solving - they offer good offices and facilitate access to consensual and non-adversarial procedures (ex. conciliation or mediation).

Any party can submit a specific instance to an NCP regarding the alleged non-observance of the Guidelines. The concrete procedure on how a NCP has to handle a specific instance is laid out in the Guidelines' Procedural Guidance chapter.

Cases completed by the Austrian National Contact Point:

 

4) The OECD Guidelines in Austria

Austria attaches considerable importance to the OECD Guidelines and played a leading role in their revision in 2000, with aspects such as the recognition of the special role of SMEs and the high-profile role of consumer protection being attributable to Austrian initiatives.

Following the 2011 update of the Guidelines a wide consultation process on the future organization of the Austrian NCP involving all relevant institutions, social partners and stakeholders was launched. As a result of this process, a new unit was created within the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy (BMWFW) - and took over the functions of the Austrian NCP on March 1st 2012.

In addition, the former NCP Advisory Committee was reorganized. The new NCP Steering Committee is chaired by a senior official of the BMWFW and includes representatives of the Federal Chancellery, the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour, the Austrian Trade Union Federation, the Federation of Austrian Industries, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture an Austrian-based member organization of OECD-Watch as well as one external expert in the field of extrajudicial dispute resolution. It held its constituting session on May 3rd 2012.

Both the Austrian NCP and the NCP Steering Committee were given new terms of references.

 

Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy                                         AustrianNCP for the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
Stubenring 1
1010 Vienna

E-Mail: NCP-Austria@bmwfw.gv.at
Tel:+43 (0)1 71100 - 805240 or 805050
Fax: +43 (0) 1 71100 - 8045050