31 January 2017

Where Are We Now?: The U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct

On December 16, 2016, the Obama Administration released a National Action Plan (NAP) to promote responsible business conduct abroad. The NAP was two years in the making and aims to be consistent with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which are some of the few sources of human rights standards for corporations that work in a global environment.

On January 12, 2017, I spoke at an event co-hosted by a number of our colleagues and shared reflections on the NAP, informed by Accountability Counsel’s extensive engagement during the NAP development process. While the NAP achieved only modest commitments, follow through is all the more critical now, given the Trump Administration’s evident retreat from a commitment to rights, transparency, and independence from conflicts as hallmarks of good corporate governance.

While the NAP provides a solid baseline for U.S. government promotion of responsible business conduct, much more action is needed to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected and have access to accountability. For instance, the NAP points to the Export-Import Bank’s (Ex-Im) new Environmental and Social Project Information and Concerns portal as an avenue for people to submit feedback on transactions. While the portal is a promising development and a step toward greater accountability at Ex-Im, and one that Accountability Counsel has worked hard to move forward, it is not yet a robust accountability mechanism in line with best practice.

Similarly, while the U.S. National Contact Point (U.S. NCP), the grievance mechanism stemming from the OECD Guidelines, made some positive commitments in the NAP, including a commitment to undergo a peer review in 2017, it still needs to address some fundamental ongoing barriers to remedy, including overly strict confidentiality requirements for complaints.

I noted USAID’s strong new commitment in the NAP to developing a social safeguards screening questionnaire to ensure due diligence on social and human rights issues. This is an important first step for the agency to ensure that projects properly account for social and human rights risks. USAID should take the next step and ensure that affected communities and individuals have access to meaningful remedy through an effective accountability mechanism. We look forward to partnering with USAID as they move to modernize their due diligence and accountability framework.

Accountability Counsel will continue to press the U.S. government under the Trump Administration to provide access to effective accountability mechanisms. We welcome you to find out more about Accountability Counsel’s advocacy on Ex-Im and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), as well as our advocacy on the U.S. NCP.