Complaint procedure regarding OECD principles: National Contact Points in comparison
As is widely known, the international level lacks legally binding instruments to coerce enterprises to respect human rights. The guidelines defined by the OECD since the mid-1990s are therefore of certain importance. These OECD principles define important principles of human rights, labour law and environmental law and are a norm for responsible entrepreneurial conduct.
National contact points
Every member state also has to establish a complaints office. Whoever discovers human rights violations in connection with transactions of Swiss companies in a third country can file a lawsuit with the National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD guidelines in Switzerland. The NCP is a section of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and its purpose is to react to respective reports and to mediate between the parties
All OECD guidelines signatories have NCPs of this type. Up to now, little was known on their ways of proceeding and on their efficiency. A German human rights organisation with enough experience and knowledge due to its lawsuits in different states regarding a case of systematic forced child labour in Uzbekistan (see the article Forced child labour in cotton production – companies are held accountable) has for the first time compared the practices of various European NCPs. The results of the comparison are of great help in the further development of the Swiss contact point.
Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom in comparison
Following the mediation reports performed in several countries in connection with Uzbekistan, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin compared the methods of operation of three of the four involved NCPs. The comparison reveals the differences in the functioning of the national OECD contact points in Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland. The ECCHR assessed the different NCPs’ work with regard to such principles as transparency, impartiality and predictability and published the results in a position paper. The aim of this comparison of complaint procedures is to achieve a certain standardisation, and therewith to contribute to the streamlining of procedures at the various NCPs, as the ECCHR declares.
The position paper contains a variety of recommendations for the attention of the NCPs. They concern procedural conditions and differences, for example with respect to the transparency of procedures, but also relating information which is passed on to other parties in the mediation process and the independence of the mediator.
United Kingdom exemplary
The position paper also focuses on the structural differences in the organisation of the national contact points, highlighting the British Contact Point as being particularly well organised. Its work is supervised by a steering committee in which five different ministries are represented. The steering committee also includes one representative from the business world, the trade unions and the NGOs. The British National Contact Point therefore is a good example for the other national authorities in many respects.
The ECCHR praise Switzerland for improving the mediation process because for the first time an external mediator has been brought in. But the NGO still sees need for improvement in the field of transparency: important aspects of the Swiss process management still were not completely clear to all parties involved.
- Business and human rights
Collected information on the ECCHR homepage
- A comparison of National Contact Points - Best practices in OECD complaints procedures
ECCHR Policy paper by ECCHR, November 2011 (pdf, 12 pages)
- Forced child labour in cotton production – companies are held accountable
Article on humanrights.ch, 1 February 2012