Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Are Enough and Global Witness Violating the Very Guidelines They Promote?

A penpal sends me the following observation: Activist groups like Enough appear to be in violation of the OECD Guidelines they promote as part of the solution to the problem of "conflict minerals."

Background: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development publishes a voluntary set of guidelines for multinational companies doing business in countries characterized by poverty or weak governance. The guidelines were first published in 1976 and have been updated five times since, most recently in 2011. The basic idea is to set forth general principles to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict. The implicit promise is that if a company respects these principles, it won't get hassled by NGOs eager to make a name for themselves attacking greedy companies. Enough and Global Witness have stated that they provide a useful framework for establishing due diligence and supply chain verification.

Here are a few examples where the two groups don't seem to be in compliance with the guidelines, with my correspondent's annotations in italics.

The OECD Guidelines urge companies to "carry out risk-based due diligence, for example by incorporating it into their enterprise risk management systems, to identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential adverse impacts."

Enough did not carry out risk-based due diligence before promoting DF1502. It ignored repeated warnings from the three major artisanal mining think-tanks/service providers in eastern Congo that its activities would result in a de facto embargo with devastating consequences for the miners. 

The OECD guidelines recommend that companies "avoid causing or contributing to adverse impacts on matters covered by the Guidelines, through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur."

Enough has refused to even acknowledge that a de facto embargo is in place in eastern Congo, and completely refused to accept any responsibility for the miners' loss of livelihood. They are ignoring appeals to address the harm they have caused the miners--and they have not made any efforts to address these impacts. Nor have they acknowledged legitimate complaints that the embargo--whatever it is they want to call it--has benefited notorious warlords like Bosco Ntaganda or made any efforts to mitigate this impact.

The OECD guidelines state that companies should "seek to prevent or mitigate an adverse impact where they have not contributed to that impact, when the impact is nevertheless directly linked to their operations, products or services by a business relationship. This is not intended to shift responsibility from the entity causing an adverse impact to the enterprise with which it has a business relationship. 

Enough claims Dodd-Frank had nothing to do with the de facto embargo in place on minerals from eastern Congo since April, but this guideline says they should be working to mitigate this harm even if they didn't cause it. 

It would be a stretch, of course, to claim that Enough or Global Witness are bound by the OECD guidelines. They aren't multinational companies, at least as I normally understand the term. But that's really not the point. OECD guidelines provide a sort of baseline for for-profit companies. They set the floor for observing human rights concerns. Advocates like Global Witness and Enough should, at a minimum, be obeying a much higher standard. After all, they are the groups our society recognizes as constituting a sort of moral conscience. They are the ones we turn to in order to understand and respond to the terrible abuses on human dignity taking place abroad. And yet they refuse to recognize they have done anything problematic, remain unresponsive to repeated appeals from the very people they ostensibly represent, and shrug off any suggestion that they should do something to mitigate the harm they may have caused. It is a species of human rights malfeasance.

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