Leading by Example and Learning from our Peers on Responsible Business Conduct

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“NCPs from OECD Countries at the OECD Headquarters in Paris.
National Contact Points from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Countries at the OECD Headquarters in Paris.

Leading by Example and Learning from our Peers on Responsible Business Conduct

When PepsiCo. and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) were unable to resolve concerns about the labor practices of one of the company’s contractors in South Asia, they requested mediation from my office at the State Department. Our team of mediators was able to work with all parties to engage in constructive dialogue in an effort to find a mutually agreeable resolution. Although the parties were not able to reach a mediated agreement, they found the dialogue and mediation process to be productive and useful, and the process did lead to greater understanding of responsible business conduct principles and will result in a quicker recognition of and easier solution of such issues when they arise in the future. 

The State Department mechanism that helped PepsiCo and IUF work through their challenges is called the U.S. National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  Quite the name; I know.  As a part of its mission, the OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, and the OECD Guidelines cover issues ranging from labor rights to human rights to supply chain due diligence. Governments that adhere to these Guidelines are required to create NCPs to promote the Guidelines to stakeholders within their countries. These NCPs also receive allegations in instances where the voluntary Guidelines may not be upheld, and offer mediation, as appropriate, to resolve the questions raised. 

The U.S. NCP office has reached important milestones over the past year, including providing mediation in the PepsiCo/IUF case, as well as other cases. We also increased our staff, ramped up our outreach efforts, revamped our website, and helped launch the U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.

After working at the State Department for over twelve years, I took on the role of U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines three years ago.  In this capacity, I work with companies, foreign governments, and civil society on promoting best practices globally. I strive to serve as a useful resource for these stakeholders, leading companies, workers, and communities to meet together, discuss issues of mutual concern, and find ways to collaborate and work together moving forward. And in my efforts, I have witnessed, this collaborative approach build increased trust between these groups and raise business standards globally.

In 2015, the United States, along with other G7 governments—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom—made a commitment to strengthen the roles of our respective National Contact Points and to carry out peer reviews to ensure each of our nations are leading by example. 

That’s why we are excited to announce that the United States’ National Contact Point will undertake a peer review September 28-29, 2017. A peer review is a way for governments to assess whether or not the work of this resource for businesses and other stakeholders meets the requirements set out in the OECD Guidelines. It involves peers from other countries visiting the National Contact Point office, gathering examples of best practices, and providing recommendations for improvements. The review will assess the practical work of our efforts to promote responsible business conduct and resolve disputes between stakeholders through this business resource.

In my conversations with companies I often say that responsible conduct is about more than agreeing to abide by a set of principles—it’s about rolling up your sleeves and taking action.  Well, through this Peer Review, it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves as well and show how we’re putting principles in practice. Challenge accepted!

About the Author: Melike Ann Yetken serves as the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines and Senior Advisor for Corporate Responsibility in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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