Failing corporate sustainability was the most important topic at the General Consultation (AO – Algemeen Overleg) on CSR held in the Dutch House of Representatives on 19 September. It became clear that the government policy – aimed at stimulating companies in adopting CSR – does not yet have a satisfactory answer to corporate-related human rights abuses and violations.
Labour conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh and the blood coals fuelling Dutch power plants were at the centre of the debate. Minister Ploumen’s call to high-risk industries to present plans for improvement and her initiatives to sit down around a table with the companies involved are seen as excellent first steps by most parties. Nonetheless, MVO Platform observes that there are still many questions and concerns about the government policy that remain unanswered.What came first? In late June 2013 the government policy paper Corporate Sustainability Pays Off was published, which unfortunately did not provide a clear cabinet vision on CSR. It is still unclear how the Dutch government wants to carry out the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGP). The House has been waiting since late 2012 for the promised National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of the UNGP. The UNGP encompass three principles: the state duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and access to remedy for all victims, the responsibility being shared by governments and corporations. ‘The policy paper does not discuss these three principles, while this should form the basis of the policy. At the AO on 19 September, Ploumen promised to have the NAP ready by Christmas recess, but made no promises with regards to content. MVO Platform is of the opinion that it is time to leave this freedom of obligation behind and finds that ‘access to remedy for victims may no longer be missing from the NAP,’ says Gisela ten Kate of MVO Platform.
World map of abuses and violations
Sector-specific risk analyses are the most important point of Minister Ploumen’s policy: the Ministry will commission an external party to chart the abuses per sector and then consider per sector what the best approach is to tackling these abuses. On the basis of the findings Ploumen will enter into dialogue with the relevant companies and sectors to reach agreements regarding their impact on the chain. The garment industry in Bangladesh and the coal supply chain will now serve as examples of how Ploumen will flesh out the agreements with the sectors. ‘That sounds positive, but MVO Platform remains sceptical, as do the various participants in the AO (article at site MVO Platform only in Dutch). What if companies do not want to cooperate and don’t stick to the agreements? MVO Platform feels that in addition to the commitment of the involved companies, monitoring and regulations from the side of the government will be necessary. The efforts should not be free of obligation and there should be supervision of the covenants. Companies that do not adhere to their agreements should experience real consequences, as should companies that are not entering into such agreements.’
Clarifying what is expected of companies
In its response to the policy paper, MVO Platform indicates that many companies are having difficulty achieving compliance with international norms in practice. So in addition to providing clear definitions, the cabinet must also communicate clearly and consistently about the conduct expected from companies and to let this resonate through all components of its CSR policy. ‘One of the recommendations is to use a handout or implementation guideline – based on the OECD Guidelines and other relevant guidelines – to further clarify what exactly is expected of the corporate world.
Commitment made by the Minister
Minister Ploumen made a commitment to the House of Representatives to produce the following letters: about the progress of the agreements being reached with garment factories; about companies that join trade missions meeting CSR standards; about the Sector Risk analysis she is having done; and, about the possible expansion of the mandate of the National Contact Point (OECD Guidelines complaint mechanism).
Read more about the viewpoints of MVO Platform and the various stakeholders present at the AO on 19 September (article only in Dutch).