OECD Guidelines and Protection of Indigenous Rights

IMG_3403When we talk about the dealings between business and human rights for indigenous people, the task of addressing issues and implementing ‘protection mechanism’ seems almost unsurmountable. However, ‘it depends on what perspective and the context of the place from where we are looking at the issues’ says Hans Petter Graver, the Chair of OECD National Contract Point Norway. In the seminar titled “Businesses and human rights of indigenous peoples: challenges and protection mechanisms” organized by The Rainforest Foundation Norway and Forum for Development Cooperation with Indigenous People on 4th of November 2014 in Oslo, Graver gave an interesting presentation on how OECD guidelines have served to protect the rights of indigenous people and what responsibilities OECD guidelines play in Norwegian companies and investment institutions.

He remarked that these guidelines and binding actions may seem like small almost invisible steps in a larger context but nevertheless, they are steps that counts while dealing with these problems that are important in relation to business and indigenous rights. Talking mainly about the characteristics of the OECD guidelines, he illustrated where they stand in the jungle of different corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards and how they are different. Being the government backed recommendation for responsible business conduct, OECD guidelines are similar to UN guiding principles developed through multi-stakeholder process supported by government, trade unions, business organizations and NGOs. They are applicable worldwide and the striking feature that makes them unique is the ‘implementation mechanism’ they take through National Contact Point (NCP). Through 42 NCP which are active in most parts of the world, this implementation mechanism reaches beyond OECD countries and are also open to non-OECD members. Focusing on the array of issues including environment, human rights, consumer interest, employment, bribery and extortion, science, technology, competition and taxation, NCPs help to ensure the effectiveness of the guidelines. They also assess the complaints, if any person or a group is affected by operations of the business, and provide a formal mediation of the dialogues between the parties in conflict in order to resolve any issues under the guidelines. NCP has dealt with about 260 such cases and the rate is increasing each year where issues on environment and human rights seem to be more dominating.

He concluded by addressing two issues raised during the Q&A session. One very important issue is the relation between ILO 169 and the OECD guidelines/UN guiding principles esp. for a country like Norway which has ratified the ILO convention, he stated ‘there is an expectation on Norwegian businesses to dare to respect the rights that are entailed in the ILO convention also in their operations in the countries that are not ratified the convention.’ Secondly, the effect of adopting the UN guiding principles or OECD guidelines. He remarked that it depends on the context and the perspective we look at it from. The effect might not be visible in perspective of the people who are affected adversely by business operations whereas, it might be visible in perspective of the countries through which these operations originated from. He stressed on the necessity of instruments like OECD guidelines, though binding convention is established, in order to address the expectation of the society which surpasses legal obligations related to environment, human rights and other important issues.

By Eman Udaya, the writer for the FDCIP  website and a student of Master’s in Indigenous Student Program at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.