On February 12, the U.S. Department of State released a set of " Frequently Asked Questions" ("FAQs") with regard to the U.S. Government's efforts to develop a National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct. The plan is expected to be released by the end of this year.
As announced in September, the U.S. Government is working on a National Action Plan "to promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption, consistent with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises."
The FAQs released this week provide more context on the U.S. Government's approach to the development of a plan that is intended to encourage "companies to achieve high standards of responsible business conduct," stating specifically that:
Responsible business conduct is about more than just agreeing to abide by a set of principles or guidelines. It is about integrating responsible investment and business practices into corporate management decision making, consistent with U.S. and local laws and international standards, in a manner that promotes the rule of law and respects the rights of all stakeholders within a company's workforce and value chain.
Many stakeholder have raised questions regarding the scope of the U.S. Government's efforts. The FAQs clarify that the National Action Plan will focus on ways that the U.S. Government can promote and encourage responsible business conduct in the following areas:
- human rights
- labor rights
- land tenure and agriculture
- trade and investment
Issues such as human trafficking and the environmental impacts of business activity will be addressed to the extent that they are relevant to the core focus areas identified above.
Another question many stakeholders have raised with regard to the National Action Plan is whether the U.S. Government intends to include legislative recommendations. The FAQs do not commit the Government to making specific legislative recommendations, but state that:
It is possible that in the process of reviewing how we can improve our efforts to promote responsible business conduct, we may identify issues that are best addressed through legislation.
The FAQs also address the question of whether the National Action Plan will address conduct in the United States as well as outside the United States. The FAQs state that "[w]e expect U.S. Businesses to uphold high standards, regardless of where they are operating" and "[m]any of the challenges that businesses face can only be addressed through concerted and coordinated action from the board room in the United States to the factory floor or farm overseas."
Ultimately, the FAQs signal that:
many of the actions we may consider, and that we will encourage businesses to commit to, through this process are likely to influence business conduct regardless of where it takes place.
Stakeholders who wish to provide input on the National Action Plan have been invited to attend one of a series of stakeholder dialogue sessions. To date, consultations have been held in New York City in December and in Berkeley, California in early February. In April, there will be consultations in Norman, Oklahoma and in Washington, D.C. Written submissions can be sent to email@example.com.
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