Preventive measures essential in responsible business

Ministry for Foreign AffairsMinistry of Economic Affairs and Employment 14.3.2019 12.45 | Published in English on 14.3.2019 at 15.48
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Authors of this article Kent Wilska, Alva Bruun and Linda Piirto speaking in OECD Seminar on March 12, 2019.
Kent Wilska, Alva Bruun, Linda Piirto

Which type of due diligence is expected of companies with regard to human rights, the environment or anti-corruption activities? This was the topic of a seminar and workshop co-organised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs organised a seminar on 12 March that focused on responsible business and human rights. Participants in the seminar included 150 representatives from companies, civil society, and the public sector. Recently, there has been wide public discussion on responsible business both in Finland and internationally. Questions involving responsibility can be approached from a variety of angles, but in order to identify concrete solutions, dialogue and guidelines are required.

Recent OECD guidance to serve as a global benchmark

Answers to these questions are provided in the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Finnish version of the document was published at the seminar by the organising Ministries.  The publication was preceded by three years of extensive cooperation with interest groups, including Finland.

“The OECD guidance will be a global influential benchmark on the kind of responsibility expected of companies with regard to issues such as human rights, the environment or anti-corruption activities,” explained Linda Piirto from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and Kent Wilska from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. “Emphasis should be on preventing harms; addressing them after the damage is done is not enough.”

Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility to monitor compliance

The Ministries, together with the Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, a body made up of the interest groups, monitors compliance with the guidance as part of Finland’s commitment to the principles of responsible business and OECD’s work to promote responsible business conduct. David Kovick, who gave the opening speech at the seminar, pointed out that to be good corporate citizens, companies need to analyse the impacts of their business, to be mindful of the importance of transparency, and to reflect on their own role with regard to corrective actions.

Agenda 2030 sets the objectives

David Kovick is a Senior Advisor at Shift and an internationally renowned specialist on corporate human rights impacts. “Expectations are high, and world will not wait,” Kovick noted. He also stressed the importance of due diligence for sustainable development. “The OECD guidance and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights create a framework for compliance that will lay the foundation for sustainable development in line with the objectives set in Agenda 2030.”

Company workshop tackled practical challenges

In the afternoon, Shift facilitated a workshop for companies where participants focused on practical ways of tackling human rights challenges. Commitment to human rights alone will not change any practices and policies within a company; a reform of internal and external processes is required, followed by effective implementation. Challenges vary depending on the context and the scope of activities, and on the supply chains.  Case examples offered concrete background on discussions concerning risk assessment and allocation of company resources to high-risk operations.

 “Finland’s cooperation with Shift, which will continue into 2021, represents a major investment in business and human rights and in the development of related human rights competence and capacity in Finland,” Alva Bruun from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs underlined.

Authors: Linda Piirto, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Kent Wilska and Alva Bruun, Ministry for Foreign Affairs.