2020 is a crucial year for International Responsible Business Conduct
Civic Engagement Alliance started a knowledge file on International Responsible Business Conduct, in cooperation with Vice Versa, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and Action Aid. The knowledge file is accessible via the Dutch journalistic platform Vice Versa where the coming months articles will be published (in Dutch). Articles which are of interest to a wider audience will be translated. To start: an article why 2020 is a crucial year for International Responsible Business Conduct.
International Responsible Business Conduct (IRBC) is a top priority of the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. This year, much is at stake: a number of aspects of the IRBC policy are due to be evaluated, including voluntary agreements. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, will present the government’s new Responsible Business Conduct policy before the budget discussions for her portfolio take place in the autumn.
One important issue is whether irresponsible business conduct should be dealt with by means of binding legislation. There are growing calls for legislation, and many of these come from the business community itself.
At the end of last year, the Government’s policy and operations evaluation department (IOB) published its ‘Evaluation of the Dutch government’s policy on international responsible business conduct (2012-2018)’. One of the IOB’s recommendations is to reward responsible business leaders and to tackle those lagging behind. It needs to be easier for those affected by irresponsible business conduct of Dutch companies to put forward their complaints.
In addition, the IOB recommends that, in countries with whom the Netherlands has intensive trade relations but are also high risk for responsible business conduct, it is made compulsory for the embassies to develop an RBC strategy and to proactively seek contact with Dutch companies doing business in these countries.
The cabinet has rejected this recommendation on the grounds that it is businesses’ own responsibility to have their ‘due diligence’ in order if they are working in other countries.
Nevertheless, reading between the lines of the rather obstinate letter that Minister Kaag sent at the beginning of April to the House of Representatives, it is clear that there is still much room for improvement. The government wants 90% of Dutch companies to endorse the OECD guidelines by 2023 and to take account of human rights violations in their international activities. According to Kaag's letter, only 35% of the large Dutch companies actually do this at the present. Some big steps still need to be taken.
The IOB evaluation is an important component in a policy review of article 1 (sustainable economic development, trade and investment) of the Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation budget. The policy review, which is expected by the end of this year or early next, should make clear whether the merging of aid and trade really has led to more impact or whether it was mainly a political compromise of the previous VVD-PvdA (Liberal-Social Democrat) cabinet.
Vice Versa will publish two articles each month on IRBC related issues: What is the importance of IRBC? What does the corona crisis mean for IRBC? What do value chains look like and what is the specific position of women within these? We also want to encourage debate on whether legislation is the stick that is needed to bring a halt to irresponsible business conduct. In addition, we will examine IRBC policy in other European countries and in the Global South; we will take a close look at the added value and essential role of NGOs and trade unions within the voluntary agreements and beyond; and we will present inspiring examples of IBRC leaders.
Author: Marc Broere, editor in chief Vice Versa
This knowledge file is an initiative of Vice Versa in cooperation with the Civic Engagement Alliance (ICCO, CNV Internationaal, and Woord en Daad), the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and Action Aid.