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Responsible business conduct essential to democracy

By Thomas Hastings

Companies are currently reassessing their business practices in areas ranging from preventing and addressing forced labour in their supply chains, reconsidering business ties in Russia, and addressing the climate crisis.

This reflects the fact that businesses can have both a direct or indirect impact on the human rights of their employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers, the communities in which they operate, and end users of their products and services.

They have the capacity to help positively shape society and the environment — supporting workers’ rights and improving working conditions, building trust with communities, and operating sustainably.

At the same time, some companies’ activities continue to have an adverse impact on people and the environment.

To help address these challenges, the US government has long promoted internationally recognized guidelines, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct (OECD Guidelines), the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.

The US government has also promoted the adoption of national laws and regulations that likewise protect employees, consumers, communities, and the environment.

Advancing responsible business conduct, including respect for human rights and labour rights, is a priority of the Biden-Harris administration.

As such, on the 10th anniversary of the UNGPs, June 16, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the US government will update and revitalize its National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.

The United States’ first National Action Plan, published on December 16, 2016, was the first whole-of-government action plan intended to focus, improve, and expand efforts to promote responsible business conduct by US-based companies operating abroad.

Responsible business conduct is a broad concept based on the idea businesses can perform well while doing good and governments should create and facilitate the conditions for it to take place.

A National Action Plan is a powerful tool for governments to assess progress, set priorities, coordinate action, and communicate gains on business and human rights issues.

Many National Action Plans focus on business and human rights.

We recognise one of the most important stakeholder groups in this process is also the hardest to reach – that is, the most vulnerable individuals and communities who may be impacted by the conduct of US companies abroad.

US  embassy Zimbabwe is committed to engaging these hard-to-reach individuals and groups.

We have posted the Federal Register Notice on our website and stand ready to host closed-door consultations with stakeholders interested in sharing their views.

The updated National Action Plan will be one of many tools used by the Biden-Harris Administration to advance responsible business conduct.

Others include the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) — which recognises and honours US companies that uphold high standards as responsible members of their communities — and the National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines, which offers a dispute resolution and mediation resource that can assist stakeholders when issues arise related to implementing responsible business conduct in a company’s operations.

The US government has also been active in promoting multi-stakeholder processes to develop guidelines mitigating human rights risks in areas ranging from private security firms, responsible sourcing of minerals, and labour-intensive industries like footwear and apparel.

While we are committed to advancing responsible business conduct, we cannot do it without your help.

We invite you to reach out to our embassy or visit the Federal Register webpage [Hyperlink: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/02/28/2022-04178/national-action-plan-on-responsible-business-conduct-notice-of-opportunity-to-submit-written] to submit your thoughts, comments, and concerns about the conduct of US  companies in Zimbabwe.

Together, we can work towards ensuring businesses producing the goods and services you buy respect the environment, workers, and the communities in which they operate.

  •  Thomas Hastings is charge d’ affaires at the United States embassy in Zimbabwe.

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