3.1 An active role for the government [page 14]

“As the government pointed out in its policy letter ‘CSR Pays Off’ and as is discussed under point 3 below on due diligence, the challenge in the next few years will be timely identification of risks in Dutch companies’ supply chains. The government wants to work on structural solutions within international chains, not incident management.”

3.3 Clarifying due diligence [page 21-28]

“A point raised during the consultations was that the government should clarify the UN Guiding Principles, using language companies understand. Companies feel that the government has failed to say what it expects of them in terms of due diligence.

Due diligence is a core concept of the UN Guiding Principles, as set out by Professor Ruggie. It may be defined as follows:

  • Identifying and assessing human rights impacts: taking proactive, ongoing steps to understand how existing and proposed activities may cause or contribute to human rights impacts.
  • Taking action and tracking effectiveness of response.
  • Externally communicating how the business has addressed adverse impacts: it is possible that these impacts are not the direct result of a business’s own operations, but are caused elsewhere within the supply chain.
  • Due diligence is not a one-off activity but an ongoing process.

In the 2011 update of the OECD Guidelines, the recommendation to apply due diligence was extended to the CSR domain. In all its communications with and conditions for the business community, the government uses the OECD Guidelines as its framework of reference for ICSR [International Corporate Social Responsibility]. Companies must take account of the potential social impact of their activities. Due diligence is thus the most important new element in the CSR policies of companies operating internationally and/or within international supply chains. Corporate responsibility for applying due diligence is part of good business practice. But what the most effective due diligence process entails depends on the size of the company, the nature of its trade relations and the sectors and countries in which it operates.

Raising companies’ awareness

“The aim of the information strategy described in the policy letter ‘CSR Pays Off ’ is to raise companies’ awareness of the need for due diligence. As an earlier study showed, SMEs operating internationally mainly need practical information. There are various aids for companies wishing to apply due diligence, and new ones are currently being developed, by the Social and Economic Council (SER), for instance. The government also has a role to play in making information and aids accessible. The knowledge centre CSR Netherlands plays an important role, while NL Agency and the embassies are major sources of information for companies operating at international level.

The government supports the SER with a grant for workshops to help companies shape the human rights component of their CSR policies, and to assist them in charting and prioritising the risks they face. These workshops are organised by SHIFT, a non-profit organisation set up with Professor Ruggie’s support to help companies and government authorities put the UN Guiding Principles into practice. The SER has also been given a grant to investigate whether the ISO 31000 risk management standard is applicable to CSR due diligence.

It is essential for companies to have access to all available information on due diligence. The European Commission has published human rights guidance for three business sectors: ICT companies, oil and gas companies and employment and recruitment agencies. These guides advise companies on how they can implement their responsibility to respect human rights in their everyday operations. At each step, the guides give a short account of what the UN Guiding Principles expect of them, and present a whole range of strategies and examples to help them put the principles into practice. The European Commission has also published a guide for SMEs and has developed a number of case studies. As mentioned above, the OECD has published a guide on responsible supply chains for conflict minerals and is working on a guide for responsible investment in agriculture supply chains. In 2010 Global Compact Netherlands published the results of a pilot study of application of the Ruggie Framework in ten Dutch companies. A follow-up publication is currently being discussed with Global Compact Netherlands.”

CSR Risk Check

“Using a grant from the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, CSR Netherlands has developed the CSR Risk Check for companies wishing to apply due diligence. Based on the sector and country in which a company is operating, this internet tool provides an indication of possible social impacts. CSR Netherlands works with the agency responsible for carrying out Sector Risk Analyses to harmonise the information on which the two instruments are based. This information will be used in the course of 2014 to compile sectoral world maps on which colour coding will be used to indicate whether a certain theme (e.g. child labour, discrimination of women) plays a role in a given country or region.”

Sector Risk Analysis

An issue raised during the consultations was that the government should help companies to take a proactive approach in identifying risks to human rights.

As announced in the CSR policy letter, Sector Risk Analysis has been introduced to identify the sectors that present the greatest risk of adverse social impacts and where priority should be given to strengthening company policy in relation to them. This forms part of the Dutch government’s due diligence towards the business community. In this way, it is helping the business community to fulfil its responsibility to apply due diligence on CSR. Both the business community and civil society organisations will be closely involved in the analysis. The government will enter into dialogue with the sectors identified in the analysis to explore how the situation can be improved. Human rights issues may also be raised. The government will report to the House of Representatives on progress with the project in early 2014.

Where specific issues relating to human rights and the Dutch business community play a role, the government will enter into dialogue with the companies concerned.

The government has reached agreement with a number of sectors on the subject of due diligence. Agreements with, for example, the textile sector and energy companies are now in preparation. The government is willing to remove obstacles identified by the companies concerned. It will support them in upscaling initiatives to international level – e.g. through the Better Coal Initiative dialogue – and will work for a level playing field for Dutch companies. The contents of these voluntary CSR agreements will depend on the nature of the problem, the degree to which the sector is organised and whether companies commit to achieving certain results or making certain efforts. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Economic Affairs have requested the SER to advise them on effective CSR agreements with the business community. The SER is expected to issue its recommendations in early 2014. The sectors with which the government plans to enter into voluntary agreements will be announced in mid-2014.

Due diligence by government

“A point raised in the consultations was that the government should also apply due diligence to its own activities, for example in providing support for companies in the form of grants or other types of finance for activities abroad, export credit insurance and trade missions. In all these cases, the government requires the companies concerned to apply due diligence.

For some time now the government has applied ICSR [International Corporate Social Responsibility] frameworks for risk assessment (due diligence) to all applications for support. These frameworks differ, depending on the goals and the nature of the instrument in question. For example, the ICSR framework for trade missions differs from the frameworks for project grants or export credit insurance. Assessment is based on the risk profile of the project or instrument, so that high-risk projects are subject to more thorough assessment than projects with fewer risks.

Companies should always take responsibility for their activities and the ICSR assessment frameworks provide guidance in this respect. Participation in a voluntary CSR agreement will of course help companies wanting support from the government to fulfil the requirements set out in the frameworks.”

ICSR in relation to export credit insurance

“Under CSR policy on export credit insurance, both the government and companies are required to take responsibility for CSR. Companies using export credit insurance sign a declaration that they will seek to abide by the OECD Guidelines. The export credit agency Atradius DSB is responsible for carrying out a due diligence risk analysis of applications for insurance. The companies concerned are responsible for supplying the necessary information. If they are unable to do so, insurance will not be provided for the export transaction.

International agreements on the due diligence procedure for export credit insurance are set out in the OECD’s common approaches for export credit agencies. The common approaches apply to all OECD member states and, in terms of assessment of environmental and social impact, safeguard a level playing field between the member states’ export credit agencies. In the context of the common approaches, the OECD member states represented in the Export Credit Group have agreed that projects with potential adverse environmental and social impacts will always be screened for compliance with the IFC Performance Standards. The OECD Export Credit Group, in which all member states with export credit facilities are represented, is working on a strategy for assessing project-related human rights. The Netherlands plays an active part in this group, which is responsible for improving risk assessment.”

4. Action points

Clarifying due diligence [page 41]

  • “The government will enter into dialogue with educational institutions providing courses in management-related studies on including business ethics and/or CSR in their curriculums.
  • The government supports the SER with a grant for workshops to help companies shape the human rights component of their CSR policies, and to assist them in identifying and prioritising the risks they face. The SER has also been given a grant to investigate whether the ISO 31000 risk management standard is applicable to CSR due diligence.
  • The government has entered into talks with Global Compact Netherlands on a follow-up to its publication ‘How to do Business with Respect for Human Rights’ (2010). • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will shortly provide an interministerial training course for civil servants whose work calls for knowledge of the UN Guiding Principles, and a refresher or other course for implementing organisations on the significance of the OECD Guidelines for companies.
  • In 2014 an independent committee will investigate whether the obligations of Dutch companies in relation to CSR are adequately regulated in Dutch law, and in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles. The committee will take into account the relevant case law, the situation in neighbouring countries and the business climate.”