Moving beyond rhetoric: Responsibility in practice


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Second Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct

26 June 2014, Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)

Dear Minister Ploumen, Dear Mr Rousseau,
Dear Ministers, CEOs, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the second Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct. One year after our first meeting, we gather once again – the representatives of governments, companies, trade unions, civil society and the OECD – to bring responsibility to the forefront of our economies.

We are here to ensure that the progress we have made thus far, defining and promoting responsible business, is reflected in practice. We are here to help our countries recover trust in corporations and governments. We are here to promote a more inclusive, more human and more sustainable economic progress.

We are facing a big challenge

A year ago, I opened the inaugural Global Forum with a heavy heart, remembering the factory workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia. Today, I think of the miners in Turkey, the builders in Qatar, the shrimp harvesters in Thailand, and many other hard working people that are suffering the consequences of irresponsible business conduct.

We are facing a very big challenge. In too many cases companies have been downsizing their corporate social responsibility and ignoring the urgent need to support society and the environment. We have witnessed, for example, instances of alleged misconduct addressed by National Contact Points (NCPs) relating to human rights in Laos, labour rights in Denmark and in Portugal; and displacement of local populations and environmental degradation in Bangladesh.

We need to move beyond rhetoric. Consensus at a policy level does not automatically translate into successful implementation on the ground. For that we need leaders from all sectors of society who are ready to champion responsible business conduct and fair competition. Many of you in this room have already demonstrated the dedication and innovative spirit needed to fix these problems. Thanks to your work, the OECD tools to promote responsible business conduct are increasingly being used, and we are seeing some positive outcomes.

Making the most of OECD tools

In the three years since their latest update, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, our main instrument for promoting responsible business conduct through a network of National Contact Points, have served their purpose well.

There’s an excellent example from just two weeks ago that highlights how powerful the Guidelines can be. Under the mediation of the United Kingdom National Contact Point, business and civil society came to an agreement to stop oil exploration in Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The parties agreed to protect the biodiversity and wildlife at this UNESCO World Heritage site and to work together with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to ensure that future development benefits both the people and the environment.

More than 100 similar cases have been submitted to the 46 National Contact Points (NCPs) since the Guidelines were updated in 2011. This figure demonstrates how the NCPs’ grievance mechanism responds to a noticeable gap and a need to provide access to remedy when other recourses are not available.

We, as well as the National Contact Points, are also working with stakeholders to boost social and environmental standards in international trade and investment through the Guidelines’ proactive agenda. The proactive agenda was included in the 2011 update of the Guidelines to help enterprises clarify the nuts and bolts of due diligence associated with particular products, regions, sectors, or industries.

It also helps them respond to new challenges and to encourage the positive contributions to sustainable development. But even prior to the inclusion of the proactive agenda, we were working on promoting responsible sourcing of minerals from conflict areas in the Great Lakes Region. Our work is most advanced in this area, although substantive progress has also been made in four additional areas of the proactive agenda: stakeholder engagement in extractive industries; the financial sector; agricultural supply chains, and the textile and garment sector. We will hold a roundtable with the ILO in September on the challenges related to the textile sector and on identifying gaps and areas for further initiatives.

We are also integrating responsibility into other areas of OECD work. Under the chairmanship of Finland and Myanmar, we are updating the Policy Framework for Investment, transforming it into the most comprehensive and systematic approach for improving investment conditions ever developed. The framework includes an entire chapter on responsible business conduct and is being updated to reflect new economic realities and to incorporate feedback from the international investment policy community.

Additionally, in a world where highly internationalised value chains have now become the norm, we are looking at what is the contribution of responsible business in global value chains. More trade and investment means more growth and better job prospects. But there is a need to better understand the role that global value chains can play in promoting responsible business and the policies that can support this relationship.

The Role of the Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct

This Global Forum plays an important role as the tool for on-going dialogue on responsible business conduct. I am pleased to announce that today, under the joint leadership of France and the Netherlands, Ministers from over 20 countries are coming together to discuss how to integrate responsibility considerations throughout government policies. Their work will contribute to protect internationally recognised fundamental rights and to ensure good governance, fair regulations, and transparency.

Ministers will also discuss how to work toward a global level-playing field, while at the same time calling on businesses to acknowledge that their freedom to operate globally also carries a responsibility for their impact locally. You will hear more about this shortly from Minister Ploumen and Mr. Luc Rousseau.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we have seen from recent tragic examples of irresponsible business conduct, competing on the least common denominator has resulted in failure to provide even the most basic safety conditions for workers. This is not an acceptable status quo. Society’s expectations of responsible business conduct cannot be ignored. Every day, citizens’ voices are louder and clearer.

Your discussions over the next two days are a crucial step for heeding that call. Thank you for being here. Have an excellent conference!


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