The NCP system cannot intervene on its own initiative, but is dependent on receiving complaints concerning failure to comply with the OECD guidelines on responsible business conduct.‘The grievance mechanism is used too rarely,’ says Markus Rotevatn, Adviser for the Forum for Development and Environment, an association comprising 50 Norwegian organisations.
The question is why?
‘One answer we often hear from our members is that the process is too demanding in terms of resources,’ says Rotevatn.
He explains that small organisations in particular find it hard to spend several months preparing a complaint without knowing whether it meets the strict requirements or whether the company the complaint concerns will participate in the process if the case is accepted.
It is particularly difficult to demand the necessary efforts from those affected by the breach of the OECD Guidelines when there are so many uncertainty factors.
‘They are also scared of raising the victims’ expectations says Rotevatn, and adds that if a complaint is rejected, it can be challenging to defend the use of resources to the donors.
‘Many wish that the arrangement was more in line with a notification entity, where it is not up to the organisations themselves to provide all of the documentation,’ says Rotevatn.
David and Goliath
If the complaint goes on to mediation under the auspices of the NCP, the organisations must dedicate further resources to following the case up. According to Rotevatn, the organisations that have lodged complaints have felt that the process was drawn out.
‘They also experience an unequal balance of power,’ says Rotevatn, and describes a feeling of being an activist faced with a wall of lawyers and endless resources, both in the NCP and the company the complaint concerns.
‘It entails a language and culture barrier, where all parties involved have a responsibility to understand each other better,’ Rotevatn believes, and underlines how important it is that the organisations are taken seriously and met with respect.
On the side of the business?
‘The NCP has over the past years maintained a particular focus on information activities aimed at businesses, without an equivalent effort targeting civil society. This has likely contributed to the organisations being left with the impression that the NCP is closer to business and industry than to civil society,’ Rotevatn believes.
In 2018, Norway’s NCP plans to improve civil society’s knowledge of the Guidelines and the grievance mechanism, and Rotevatn underlines that this dialogue is under way.
Weak outcome for the victims?
‘When it comes to the outcomes, many people will probably focus on specific financial compensation for the victims, which is rare,’ says Rotevatn.
He adds that decisions on matters of principle, which set a precedent and lead to changes over time, can also be deemed a positive outcome.
‘The way things have been, though, some people may feel that just getting the complaint to the mediation stage is a victory, and that shouldn’t be the case,’ says Rotevatn.
Right way to use resources?
He points out that all organisations must consider at all times how they can achieve the best results. This may not always be through the national contact point system.
‘Large organisations with greater capacity and expertise and good business contacts may benefit just as much from direct dialogue. For small organisations, however, or when the company does not show any interest in the matter, it clearly strengthens their position to have the NCP as a door opener for dialogue,’ says Rotevatn, and concludes:
‘We feel that the NCP system is important and the grievance mechanism is the best we have. As organisations, we should definitely become better at using it, but there is also a great obligation in being such a grievance mechanism. If this kind of voluntary arrangement that is used in the NCP system doesn’t work, our focus will rapidly turn to more binding schemes for business and industry. The added value to the organisations is calculated somewhere between the required resources and possible results we can expect.