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Netherlands

3.2 Policy coherence [page 16-21]

“It became apparent from the consultations that the government sometimes conveys conflicting messages about CSR and human rights – for example about the most important norms, and which ministry is responsible for which part of the policy. For civil society and implementing organisations, coherence is essential. During the consultations, specific attention was requested for international policy coherence and incorporation of the UN Guiding Principles in trade and investment agreements.

The government recognises that it must be consistent on the subject of human rights and business and in pursuing and implementing policy at both national and international level. The policy letter ‘CSR Pays Off’ clarifies the CSR framework. The OECD Guidelines provide an overarching framework for what the Dutch government expects of companies in terms of ICSR. The Guidelines incorporate other relevant provisions such as the ILO labour standards and the UN Guiding Principles on business responsibility to respect. State-controlled companies are expected to comply with the Guidelines and to report on their CSR policies. To monitor their progress, these companies are always included in the Transparency Benchmark. Companies in which the government invests in a different way, for example through export licences, are also expected to comply with the Guidelines.

CSR and human rights are always on the agenda during both preparations and annual follow-up days for attachés and diplomats assigned to the missions. An e-learning course is currently being developed for both civil servants operating at international level and implementing organisations to provide clear and reliable information on the subject of human rights and business.

Sustainable procurement policy

“Under the social conditions of national sustainable procurement policy, companies supplying the government with goods and services are required to respect human rights.9 These social conditions have been included in all central government EU contract award procedures since 1 January 2013, and the municipal, provincial and water authorities are being encouraged to apply them, too. Suppliers can fulfil these conditions in various ways – by joining a reliable multi-stakeholder supply chain initiative (quality mark or certification institute) or, if they have any doubts, carrying out a risk analysis.

The consultations showed that sustainable procurement policy is not regarded as effective in implementing social and human rights criteria. Companies are often unaware of risks. Government suppliers should perform a risk analysis to show that they respect human rights in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles. In its 2014 evaluation of the sustainable procurement policy social conditions, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will examine whether this policy is in line with the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles, and whether central government policy can also be applied by the municipal, provincial and water authorities.”

International forums

“During the consultations it was emphasised that the Netherlands should work in multilateral forums such as the EU and the UN for adoption of the UN Guiding Principles as the reference framework, in the interests of international policy coherence. Some groups remarked that the Dutch sector and multi-stakeholder initiatives should be upscaled to international level, since this would increase their effectiveness. Both the business community and civil society organisations endorsed the need for a European approach to business and human rights – the business community in the interests of a level playing field, and civil society organisations for reasons of greater effectiveness.

In its 2011 Communication on CSR, the European Commission placed the initiative with the EU member states. It called for measures to promote CSR and for national action plans based on the UN Guiding Principles. The report on priorities in the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles has not yet been published.

The government regards the UN Guiding Principles as an integral part of its foreign and human rights policy. The government can play a role in sector and multi-stakeholder initiatives by forging direct links with government authorities in other countries and by raising issues in multilateral forums and through the embassies. The government is committed to keeping CSR and human rights on the European agenda. In the run-up to the EU Presidency in the first six months of 2016, the Netherlands will consult with like-minded member states on Europe’s commitment to achieving a level playing field and to increasing the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder initiatives. Among the subjects the government will focus on the need for collaboration to achieve ICSR, with a view to greater social impact, the creation of a level playing field for business and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.

The Netherlands and a group of like-minded countries will play a pioneering role with the aim of getting the other EU member states on board.

As a shareholder in the international financial institutions, the Netherlands calls for more systematic attention for human rights and effective internal monitoring mechanisms to safeguard observance of human rights in projects. It is, for example, urging more systematic attention for human rights in the review and update of the World Bank safeguard policies. The Netherlands is also helping to promote human rights through programmes of multilateral institutions. The ILO’s Better Work programme is a good example.”

Trade and investment agreements

Incorporating the OECD Guidelines and UN Guiding Principles in trade and investment agreements was one of the suggestions made during the consultations.

The government is committed to including clear provisions on the relationship between trade, investment and sustainability in trade and investment agreements. Within the EU, the Netherlands urges the inclusion in these agreements of a section on trade and sustainable development, with monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. The aim is for parties to reaffirm their commitment to fulfilling their ILO obligations to eliminate child labour and forced labour and to working together to this end. Agreements also need to be made on cooperating on and promoting CSR, through the OECD Guidelines, for instance. For the Netherlands, involvement of civil society organisations is an essential component of any agreement.

The EU’s aim is for every trade agreement to be linked to a broader partnership and cooperation agreement reaffirming states’ human rights obligations. Where human rights are abused, the trade agreement could ultimately be suspended.

Existing Dutch bilateral trade agreements provide parties with the policy space to take non-discriminatory measures to protect public interests such as human rights, working conditions and the environment. The Lisbon Treaty gave the EU exclusive competence on direct foreign investment. With this shift, which does not apply to every aspect of investment, the EU now negotiates investment treaties together with the member states. Each EU investment agreement will most likely contain a separate section on environment, labour, sustainability and transparency, dealing with these issues in greater detail. The Netherlands is very much in favour of including such sections in all future EU investment protection agreements.”

4. Action points [page 41]

  • “In the run-up to the Dutch EU Presidency in 2016, the government will consult with like-minded member states on shared priorities and commitments in Europe.
  • An e-learning course will be developed for ministries and implementing organisations enabling them to provide clear, reliable information on human rights and business.
  • In its 2014 evaluation of the social conditions of sustainable procurement policy, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will examine whether this policy is in line with the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles, and whether central government policy can also be applied by the municipal, provincial and water authorities.”
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