FACT SHEET: National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct
In September 2014, President Obama announced that the United States would develop a National Action Plan to promote and incentivize responsible business conduct (RBC). RBC is a broad concept based on the idea that businesses can perform well while doing good and that governments should set and facilitate the conditions for this to take place. Following a thorough process that prioritized consultations with stakeholders from around the country, as well as coordination among more than a dozen federal agencies, the United States government (USG) has published its first National Action Plan (NAP) on Responsible Business Conduct. The U.S. NAP provides a framework by which the USG intends to increase its commitment to coordinate and promote RBC work with partners in the private sector, as well as other stakeholders.
Over the past eight years, the Administration has taken a number of steps to promote fair play, the rule of law, and high standards for global commerce. Moreover, U.S. companies are recognized as global leaders in acting responsibly in the communities in which they do business.
The U.S. NAP presents the many ways in which the USG, in partnership with business, labor, foreign governments, and other stakeholders, supports open and accountable business practices that demonstrate principled governance, respect for human rights, and a commitment to transparency. It underscores the ways U.S. companies can promote positive change within the communities in which they operate, which bolsters the American brand. The U.S. NAP also features new initiatives that build on this strong foundation, and outlines how the USG, businesses, and other stakeholders can strengthen efforts to promote high standards.
This NAP is based on domestic and international best practices, including those found in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles). These best practices provide the basis for how governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders can work together to set and attain high standards of RBC.
The NAP is divided into five categories. Each category highlights ongoing initiatives while also including new actions that the USG intends to undertake. In short, the USG intends to: (1) continue to refine the ways in which the USG purchases and finances responsibly; (2) work with companies, civil society, and foreign governments to share best practices and support high standards; (3); highlight the success stories of leading companies; and (4) seek to provide effective mechanisms to address negative impacts when they occur.
Leading by Example
Through our laws, policies, and international commitments, as well as through the purchasing of goods and services, the USG promotes high RBC standards. The NAP discusses a number of ways in which the USG leads by example, including:
- Strengthening laws preventing the import of goods produced by forced labor to ensure products made under exploitative conditions do not gain U.S. market access.
- Updating social and environmental standards criteria for financing through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to promote high standards through U.S.-supported private investment.
- Creating guidance on social safeguards for USAID’s development programs.
- Funding efforts to promote awareness and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
- Publishing, for the first time, an annual report by the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines.
- Identifying means through trade agreements to encourage companies to engage in RBC.
- Enhancing information sharing with sub-national governments on public procurement best practices, to ensure that governments at all levels promote RBC through purchasing.
Collaboration with Stakeholders
In order to achieve shared RBC goals, it is essential for governments to work with the private sector, as well as with civil society, labor, and other stakeholders, to leverage each other’s resources and strengths. The USG’s measures to collaborate with such stakeholders include:
- Establishing a formal mechanism for increased government participation in “multi-stakeholder initiatives” that promote RBC in various sectors and regions.
- Convening stakeholders to develop and promote effective metrics for measuring and managing labor rights impacts in supply chains.
- Facilitating a dialogue with stakeholders on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Promoting worker voice and empowerment in global supply chains via new tools that allow workers in national supply chains to directly report potential labor abuses and workplace safety violations, as well as leveraging public-private partnerships to more fully incorporate the perspectives of workers.
Facilitating RBC by Companies
The USG encourages companies to follow the best domestic and international practices and is supportive of company efforts to voluntarily report on certain aspects of their operations. The USG produces a number of reports that can be useful for companies as they seek to uphold high standards, sometimes in challenging environments. The NAP sets forth an illustrative list of USG initiatives to further that work, including the following commitments:
- Creating an online database containing government reports on issues such as human rights, human trafficking including forced labor, child labor, and investment climates so that companies can more effectively make investment decisions and mitigate risk.
- Providing new and increased training for USG officers and officials, including those who serve abroad, on RBC issues so that government officials are well-equipped to advise companies on considerations such as the status of labor rights, human rights and transparency, in a particular operating environment.
- Training for USG officials on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related issues.
- Updating country-level public land governance profiles that explain land laws, land use patterns, gender concerns, land administration, and land markets within a given country. These profiles are an important tool for businesses making responsible land-based investments in a given country.
Recognizing Positive Performance
U.S. companies make tremendous contributions to communities around the world by generating economic growth, creating jobs, spurring innovation, and providing solutions to pressing challenges such as access to clean energy, healthcare, and technology. The USG recognizes and highlights when companies achieve high standards with meaningful results for workers and communities. Such examples of recognition include:
- Modernizing the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence to include thematic categories that more closely reflect international best practices on RBC and that align with the State Department’s interest in promoting high standards globally. The award is now in its seventeenth year and is awarded annually to U.S. companies.
- Developing an online mechanism to identify, document, and publicize lessons learned and best practices related to corporate actions that promote and respect human rights.
Providing Access to Remedy
Even when governments and companies seek to act responsibly, challenges can arise. Both governments and companies should have mechanisms in place by which affected parties can raise concerns, report problems, and seek remedies, as appropriate. Through the NAP, the USG is furthering its commitment to this objective by:
- Improving the performance of the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, including by announcing a fall 2017 peer review, organizing workshops to promote RBC, and publishing an outreach plan.
- Hosting a forum for dialogue with stakeholders on opportunities and challenges regarding issues of remedy, as well as how the USG can best support effective remedy processes.