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The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Trade Union Guide

This guide, authored by the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, is designed for trade unions and provides an overview of the Guidelines and how trade unions can make use of them.

July 2013 | Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD | Pages: 64

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises were updated in 2011 and are now aligned with the global standard on business and human rights set by the Guiding Principles. This guide, authored by the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, is designed for trade unions and provides an overview of the Guidelines and how trade unions can make use of them. The below introduction is excerpted from the resource.

Introduction

Trade unions have long worked to ensure that the fruits of foreign direct investment are more equally shared – between and within countries and between labour and capital – and that multinational enterprises (MNEs) comply with international labour standards throughout their global production chains. Foreign direct investment and MNEs can make an important contribution to sustainable development. All too often, however, MNEs are involved in breaches of international standards that leave millions of women and men around the world working in conditions of hardship, insecurity and poverty, denied access to their human rights.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (the Guidelines) are one of the few international instruments available to trade unions to help secure respect by MNEs of international labour standards and decent work. The Guidelines, which are signed by governments, make recommendations to MNEs in areas ranging from employment, industrial relations and human rights, to transparency, the environment and anti-corruption.

Governments that sign the Guidelines are required to set up National Contact Points (NCPs), which have a responsibility to help resolve complaints of alleged breaches of the Guidelines. To date, trade unions have submitted 145 complaints to NCPs. These have mainly concerned violations of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, but also a range of other issues including precarious work, disclosure of information, forced labour, discrimination, health and safety, the environment, and corruption.

The trade union experience of using the Guidelines has been mixed. At their best, NCPs have provided a forum for problem-solving that has helped to strengthen trade union organising and collective bargaining. One landmark case involving UNI Global Union and the private security MNE G4S led to the signing of a Global Framework Agreement. But all too often, NCPs have failed to meet their obligations under the Guidelines, thereby failing in their responsibility to help ensure that MNEs contribute to decent work and sustainable development.

The Guidelines were considerably strengthened in the 2011 Update, including by incorporating key elements of the UN’s work on business and human rights and further aligning the chapter on employment and industrial relations with the ILO MNEs Declaration. As a result, the Guidelines clearly apply to workers in indirect employment relationships and in the supply chain. The government-backed complaints mechanism, however, was not sufficiently improved.

Overall, TUAC considers the OECD Guidelines today to be more fit-for-purpose and more relevant for workers around the world. TUAC’s aim in publishing this Guide is to help trade unions to use the 2011 Guidelines in their workplaces and in their campaigns to defend workers’ rights and improve living and working conditions.

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