The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises is an instrument of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The recommendations set forth in the Guidelines are a voluntary, multilateral framework of standards and principles on responsible business conduct.
As a member of the OECD and signatory to the Guidelines, Canada is obligated to establish a national contact point (NCP). The role of the NCP is to promote awareness of the Guidelines and ensure their effective implementation. This report provides a summary of the activities undertaken by Canada’s NCP in the past year (June 2001 - June 2002) to fulfill its responsibilities.
The Guidelines are an important element of the Government’s approach to promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR). A number of government departments are active in this area, through activities such as information dissemination, facilitation of dialogue among interested parties and support for the development of international norms. The Guidelines are a part of these activities, their contribution heightened by the fact that they represent the shared views of thirty-six national governments on what constitutes appropriate corporate behaviour. The business community in Canada is promoting CSR as well, with an increasing number of enterprises adopting codes of ethical conduct and related management strategies. The Guidelines can provide a frame of reference for private sector initiatives and efforts to encourage progress in this area internationally.
Corporate social responsibility, and the Guidelines, make an important contribution to the Government’s policy on promoting sustainable development. Achieving sustainable development requires the responsible engagement of all sectors of society, including the business community. The Guidelines encourage corporations’ contribution to sustainable development and help to strengthen the basis of mutual confidence between enterprises and the societies in which they operate. Thus, while our NCP has a clear mandate to implement the Guidelines, its activities also support other broader policy objectives of the Government.
The key responsibilities of Canada’s NCP are to promote the Guidelines, respond to inquiries and contribute to the resolution of problems that may arise in relation to the operations of multinational enterprises. Important guiding principles for the NCP’s activities include visibility, accessibility, transparency and accountability.
Canada’s NCP is an interdepartmental committee of the federal Government. It comprises representatives from a number of departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Industry Canada, Human Resources Development Canada, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the Department of Finance and the Canadian International Development Agency. The diversity of the issues covered by the Guidelines and the potentially broad spectrum of public interest (business, labour, non-governmental organizations) in Canada underscores the importance of structuring the NCP in this way. Other departments and agencies participate in NCP activities as well. Export Development Canada is a frequent participant in NCP meetings and communications, and more recently the Canadian Commercial Corporation has become involved. The NCP representatives exchange communication frequently and meet as required, depending on the issues at hand.
The Canadian NCP’s key business and labour interlocutors on the Guidelines are the Canadian Council for International Business (CCIB), the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN). A regular point of contact has not been established with the NGO community, although the Guidelines have been promoted with a number of these organizations, including Mining Watch, Oxfam, the Sierra Club and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.
4.1 Information and Promotional Tools
The Canadian NCP web site, established in June 2001, has proven to be a useful tool for promoting the Guidelines. An electronic bulletin was sent to some 100 organizations to inform them of the web site and to invite them to establish links. The web site has also become an efficient way to communicate information on the Guidelines to our overseas missions. All of our embassies and high commissions have been informed of the Guidelines and the importance of this instrument for the promotion of corporate social responsibility. Overall, the web site offers a convenient point of reference for a growing number of Canadian organizations and businesses that are seeking information on the issue of corporate social responsibility. The site receives about 100 visits per week.
An official Government of Canada brochure on the Guidelines has been produced and distributed to a number of stakeholder organizations, including business, labour and NGOs. The brochure is also available on-line from the NCP web site and the virtual Publications Catalogue of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
4.2 Promotion with Social Partners
NCP members travelled to Toronto in January 2002 to attend the annual meeting of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Trade Union Researchers. Two presentations on the Guidelines were made - one by a NCP member from Human Resources Development Canada and the other by a TUAC representative. The presentations generated significant interest from the audience and a number of questions were raised, such as: Who had the right to file a complaint?, Does the NCP have an investigative role and does it have a budget?, Does the Canadian International Development Agency sit on the NCP?, Are the Guidelines legally enforceable?, What is happening in regard to MNE’s operating in Burma? The speaking engagement provided the NCP with a valuable opportunity to make the Guidelines better known in the labour community in Canada. The participation of TUAC added greatly to the success of the event.
The OECD Guidelines were highlighted during an across-Canada "Business Integrity Workshops" tour, April-May 2002, sponsored by Export Development Canada. The workshops were designed to help businesses operating internationally to manage human rights, environmental and labour issues in challenging conditions. The Ottawa session featured a keynote address on the OECD Guidelines by the President of the Canadian Council for International Business.
Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service now includes corporate social responsibility as an important aspect of its promotional activities. Guidelines brochures are made available to companies that participate on trade and investment promotion missions abroad, and consideration is being given to further integrating corporate social responsibility activities into these missions. The missions normally include government Ministers and attract many Canadian firms interested in doing business abroad. As a result, they are an excellent forum for the promotion of the Guidelines in cooperation with the business community.
4.3 Promotion Within the Government
Promoting the Guidelines within the government is an essential aspect of the NCP’s responsibility to raise awareness of the instrument. A number of departments and agencies interact directly with the business community and NGOs through their programs and consultative activities. This is an important channel for alerting these groups of Canada’s commitment to support the Guidelines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) has integrated the Guidelines into its activities to promote corporate social responsibility at the international level. The Department provides information sessions on the Guidelines for its overseas trade officials. The provision of Guidelines information is also a part of human rights training for government officials preparing for overseas postings. A formal training program on CSR targeted at trade officials is planned, and will include a session on the application of the Guidelines abroad. The Guidelines are also an important element of the Department’s strategy to promote sustainable development.
Canada's Department of Industry has publically committed to promoting the OECD Guidelines in its Sustainable Development Strategy for 2000-2003. This involves not only identifying concrete deliverables regarding the Guidelines (e.g. developing promotional material and identifying opportunities to promote the Guidelines with the Canadian business community), but also reporting publically on these efforts.
Industry Canada has promulgated the Guidelines throughout the department, particularly to all areas which are involved in investment development activities. These groups have been requested to hotlink their respective web sites to Canada’s National Web Site on the OECD Guidelines for MNEs and to circulate the Government’s brochure on the Guidelines to client groups on an as-requested basis.
Members of the NCP made a presentation on the Guidelines to the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA’s) Industrial Cooperation Program. This Program is an important point of contact for CIDA with the Canadian business community. A key objective of the Program is to encourage the contribution of businesses to sustainable development in developing countries. The OECD Guidelines can provide guidance to companies as they carry out their activities in partnership with CIDA.
Export Development Canada (EDC) is developing a corporate social responsibility framework to make CSR a more integral part of its corporate strategy. Through its web site, EDC is promoting corporate social responsibility principles, including the recommendations of the Guidelines. EDC has established a link between its web site and that of Canada's NCP. Also, as noted above, EDC sponsored an across-Canada tour to promote business ethics which included promotion of the Guidelines.
4.4 International Events
Corporate social responsibility is an important theme that the Government of Canada, and other governments, promoted at the G8 Summit in Kananaskis. In the lead-up to this high profile event, the NCP ensured that references to the OECD Guidelines were included in Summit documentation.
Canada is a key supporter of the Americas conference on corporate social responsibility scheduled for September 2002 in Miami. It is being organized by the Inter-American Development Bank, Organization of American States and the World Bank. Key international codes of conduct, including the OECD Guidelines, will figure importantly in the discussions.
Members of the NCP attended a Global Mining Initiative conference in Toronto in May 2002. The GMI, launched in 1998 by nine mining companies from around the world, set out to re-define the role of the global mining industry in relation to sustainable development. The Toronto conference, which was the third and final component of the three year GMI, was attended by a cross-section of society sharing a common resolve to work towards achieving a greater contribution to sustainability by the sector. The importance of international standards and norms to guide corporate operations was discussed, and in this context attention was drawn to a role for the OECD Guidelines for MNEs. The outcome of the GMI process will contribute to the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development.
A number of inquiries about the Guidelines have come to the NCP in the past year. Inquiries received via e-mail are often from think-tanks and academic institutions looking for information on Canada’s experiences with the Guidelines. Other inquiries come through meetings with businesses or non-governmental organizations. The purpose of such meetings is usually to discuss issues related to corporate social responsibility, and in this context an inquiry will be made about the OECD Guidelines and their relevance to the situations in question. As well, the Guidelines are occasionally raised in the public’s correspondence to Ministers.
Canada’s NCP received one notice of a specific instance of MNE conduct in relation to the Guidelines. The notice, which was received in July 2001, was the first in the history of the Canadian NCP. It was brought to the attention of the NCP by an international non-governmental organization through its affiliated Canadian organization. After a preliminary assessment the case was deemed to merit further examination.
The case involved the operations of a copper mining company in Zambia. The company, formerly state-owned, was acquired jointly by two foreign firms - one Canadian, one Swiss - in March 2000. The Government of Zambia retained a minor stake in the operations. The NGO reported that the operations of the company were not respecting three OECD Guideline recommendations: 1) Chapter II, paragraph 2, regarding respect for human rights; 2) Chapter II, paragraph 7, regarding development of practices that foster confidence and trust between companies and the societies in which they operate, and; 3) Chapter V, paragraph 2(b), regarding communication and consultation with communities on environmental, health and safety policies. The central underlying issue that gave rise to these charges was the impending removal of poor local farmers from company-owned land.
To address this issue, the Canadian NCP facilitated a flow of communications between the company’s headquarters in Canada and the Canadian office of the NGO. All communication flowed through the office of the NCP. Both Canadian parties in turn communicated with their operations in Zambia where face-to-face meetings took place. While there was a variance in the facts and opinions reported on each side, a resolution was reached after the company met with groups from the affected communities and worked out an approach whereby the farmers could continue to use the land, at least for the short-term. The Canadian NCP sent a final communication to the Canadian company, copied to the Canadian NGO, that welcomed the spirit of cooperation demonstrated by both parties. We also encouraged the company to maintain an open line of communication with the Canadian NGO and other groups concerned about the welfare of people affected by the operations of the Zambian mining company. Throughout the process, the Canadian NCP kept its counterpart in Switzerland informed of developments.
The NCP has shared communications with its French counterpart concerning a Canadian company’s former operations in France. The matter is the subject of ongoing discussion between the two NCPs.
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises has become an important element of the Government’s approach to promoting corporate social responsibility, domestically and internationally. The interdepartmental structure of the NCP facilitates the promotion of the Guidelines within the Government and with departmental constituencies, including business, labour and NGOs. The NCP looks forward to further promotional activities in the coming year.
Canada’s one experience with a Guidelines case resulted in a positive outcome. The approach adopted by the NCP to facilitate a resolution drew significantly from the Procedural Guidance annex of the Guidelines Decision. With the full cooperation of the parties concerned, this approach offered a non-judgmental process for confronting a complex social problem related to a foreign investment activity. Essentially, the process facilitated a dialogue, and the dialogue led to a resolution.
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