The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are an important tool in holding companies to account, yet need to be vastly improved, says the TUC in its submission to a UK Government inquiry.
Recent procedural improvements to the UK's own National Contact Point (NCP) - the national body set up under the treaty to resolve complaints - has helped workers and their unions to resolve disputes with multinationals such as Unilever and G4S. Yet, as the submission outlines, unions globally have been frustrated at the performance of NCPs generally, restrictive interpretations of the Guidelines text, and the outdated nature of the text itself.
The UK inquiry feeds into a proposed OECD review in June 2010 which itself represents an excellent opportunity for the UK to ensure its good practice is adopted globally, and to make the text meet the challenges of the 21st century. Here, the Guidelines need to press multinationals to improve the working conditions of the millions of workers in their global supply chains, ensure a just transition for workers in the battle to halt climate change and stop the behaviour that led to the financial crisis. Toughening the rules so that companies can't ignore their obligations under the Guidelines would also be a welcome improvement.
The Guidelines are standards of behaviour expected of multinational enterprises operating in or from the territory of the 40 states that have signed up to them. They cover employment and industrial relations standards, as well as broader issues like human rights, environmental protection, corruption, and taxation.
Since the Guidelines were updated in 2000, trade unions, and the national federations and global union federations that represent them have been the most frequent users of the OECD Guidelines complaints mechanisms.
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