The OECD has, on 25 May 2011, published a revised version of its Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (the Guidelines).  These Guidelines, first adopted in 1976 and last updated in 2000, set out standards for responsible business conduct across a broad range of areas including employment and industrial relations, bribery, competition, taxation, disclosure, the environment, consumer interests, and science and technology. 

The updated Guidelines contain additional detail in a number of areas, for example in relation to disclosure of details around ownership, corporate governance and directors.  In addition, a new section is included on human rights, recommending, among other things, that enterprises should have in place a policy commitment to respect human rights and should carry out human rights due diligence as appropriate to their size and the nature and context of their operations. 

The Guidelines are voluntary only and essentially consist of a list of recommendations by the adhering governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from their territories.  Despite being non-binding however, there is a mechanism under the Guidelines whereby a third party can make a complaint where an enterprise breaches the voluntary code.  The third party must be able to show that they have a significant interest in the subject matter of the complaint.  The complaint is made to the "National Contact Point" of the country in which the alleged breach has taken place or where the enterprise is registered. Under the Guidelines, each adhering country is to have a National Contact Point, which body is to be responsible for promoting the Guidelines and to which body complaints regarding alleged breaches of the Guidelines can be made. In Ireland, the Bilateral Trade Promotion Unit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation acts as the National Contact Point for the promotion of the Guidelines.

In addition to and as a follow-up to the Guidelines, the OECD has also published a report entitled "The OECD Risk Awareness Tool for Multinational Enterprises in Weak Governance Zones", which aims to help enterprises investing or operating in zones of weak governance.

The OECD (or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is a group of countries including Ireland which acts as a forum for governments to work together to develop and co-ordinate policy across a broad range of areas in order to address prevailing economic and social challenges.

For a link to the Guidelines, please click here.

For a link to the OECD Risk Awareness Tool for Multinational Enterprises in Weak Governance Zones, please click here.