SOMO researchers Joseph Wilde-Ramsing and Joris Oldenziel spoke last week at a meeting on the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility in Oslo. This meeting was organised by the Forum for Environment and Development. Researcher Sanne van der Wal was in Brussels, where he took part in the dialogue on the development of the agriculture sector in Africa, and gave a lecture.

Corporate Social Responsibility: Moral responsibility and legal liability
NGOs and trade unions are increasingly using the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises as a tool to seek justice for victims of corporate abuses of human and labour rights and the environment. The experiences of NGOs with OECD Guidelines in "specific instances" however, have so far been overwhelmingly negative: National Contact Points (NCPs), the government bodies charged with handling complaints, have favoured business interests over those of NGOs; incorrectly interpreted the Guidelines and the related Procedural Guidance; and drawn out the procedures, costing NGOs limited time and resources. But the 2008 restructuring of some NCPs, for example in the UK and the Netherlands, and a number of recent NGO "victories" in using the Guidelines to change corporate behaviour have led to renewed interest in this corporate accountability instrument. Joseph Wilde-Ramsing analysed NGO experiences with the OECD Guidelines, discussed some of the obstacles and opportunities, and presented strategies for NGOs to use the Guidelines more effectively.

Joris Oldenziel presented a similar subject. He discussed the key shortcomings of the OECD Guidelines from an NGO perspective, and then outlined some recommendations to policy makers to fill the governance gaps that currently exist in the corporate accountability sphere. In particular, he pointed to the need to make use of the mandate of the Special Representative John Ruggie on business and human rights, as well as the financial crisis and key opportunities in the coming years to address these gaps.

European Commission dialogue in Brussels
It was the first time that NGOs had succeeded in getting the various delegates of Directorates General for agriculture, development and trade in Brussels around the table for a dialogue with social organisations. The three have jointly and each individually influence on the development of African agriculture. It was a great opportunity to identify inconsistencies and gaps in European Commission policy, for which it recently developed a framework, named Advancing African Agriculture. The SOMO lecture by Sanne van der Wal focused on discussion of the blind spot in agribusiness policy, and its influence.