OECD guidelines for multi-national enterprises

The OECD produces voluntary guidelines and recommendations on responsible, sustainable multi-national business conduct.

What the guidelines cover

The Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises cover issues including:

  • information disclosure
  • employment
  • industrial relations
  • human rights
  • environmental issues
  • combating bribery
  • consumer interests
  • science and technology
  • competition
  • taxation.

The guidelines have been regularly updated since they were first produced in 1976. The last update was in 2011.

The standards of behaviour and good practice are additional to the laws of the countries where a business operates, however they are not legally enforceable and don't override or substitute local laws.

All OECD members are committed to promote the guidelines within their jurisdictions.

More information about the guidelines(external link) — OECD

Why they are important

The OECD Guidelines are the most comprehensive government backed standard on responsible business conduct (RBC). RBC builds trust and confidence in businesses and markets, which encourages investment and contributes to economic growth. The guidelines set out the expectation that the private sector grow their business responsibly by integrating the management of risks to the environment, people and society. They encourage the positive contributions businesses can make by promoting human rights, following sustainable practices and boosting social development around the world.

The guidelines are unique because they cover all major areas of business ethics including information disclosure, human rights, employment and labour, environment, anti-corruption, and consumer interests. The guidelines also encompass science and technology, competition, and taxation which are not as fully covered by other international standards.

More information about RBC and why the guidelines are important [PDF, 5.21 MB](external link) — OECD

Who should use them

Multi-national businesses are the main focus, such as a New Zealand company that also operates in Thailand, or an American-owned company operating in New Zealand. However, the guidelines can also be used by domestic businesses, such as those that are part of international supply chains.

Accessing the guidelines

The full guidelines can be accessed on the OECD website:

Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises [PDF, 1.0 MB](external link) — OECD

We have developed a summary of the guidelines in 2 parts:

  • Part 1 can be used by enterprises to assess the social responsibility ‘health’ of enterprises
  • Part 2 can be used by governments.

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Short version for enterprises [PDF, 101 KB]

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Short version for governments [PDF, 91 KB]

Tools and resources to support the guidelines

The OECD has also developed a range of tools and resources to help multinational enterprises and stakeholders interpret and apply specific aspects of the guidelines. These include:

  • a guide on the use of due diligence to promote responsible business conduct

OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct(external link) — OECD

  • a tool to help multinational enterprises manage risk in countries where governments are unwilling or unable to assume their responsibilities:

Risk Awareness Tool for multinational enterprises in weak governance zones(external link) — OECD

  • information about the implications of the digital transformation for responsible business conduct

Resources on responsible business conduct and digitalisation(external link) — OECD

  • information about the implications of climate change for responsible business conduct

Resources on responsible business conduct and climate change(external link) — OECD

  • a gender perspective on responsible business conduct

Overview on the OECD’s work on Responsible Business Conduct and issues related to gender [PDF, 1.5 MB](external link) — OECD

  • the OECD project on public procurement and responsible business conduct

Resources on responsible business conduct and public procurement(external link) — OECD

Sector-specific guidelines

Other OECD guides and tools are also available:

How the guidelines are administered

The Government's responsibilities under the guidelines are carried out by dedicated National Contact Points (NCPs). MBIE are the NCP for New Zealand. We act to:

  • promote the guidelines on a national level, through our own channels and stakeholders' channels
  • handle any inquiries and discuss any matters related to the guidelines
  • assess and investigate any ‘specific instance’ complaints lodged against a multinational operating or headquartered in New Zealand
  • report annually to the OECD Investment Committee on NCP activities.

We are helped by a liaison group that meets twice annually with representatives from:

  • Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry for the Environment
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • The Treasury
  • Reserve Bank
  • Inland Revenue Department
  • Human Rights Commission
  • New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
  • Business New Zealand
  • Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union
  • New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.
  • Directors’ Institute.
  • New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

The liaison group helps promote and raise awareness of the guidelines through its members’ networks. It may also act as a source of advice and assistance to the NCP in the handling of inquiries or complaints made under the guidelines.

The Liaison Group’s Terms of Reference - October 2019 [PDF, 128 KB]

When a business doesn't meet the standards

Although the guidelines are voluntary, they provide a format to raise issues about a company’s activity and behaviour, known as the ‘specific instance’ procedure.

All governments adhering to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are required to establish a NCP to hear complaints by organisations, communities, workers or individuals harmed by corporate activity.

Issues can be raised with the NCP of the country where a problem has occurred. If no national contact point is available, issues can be raised within the country where the multi-national is headquartered.

The specific instance process can be considered in five stages:

  1. Stage One: Deciding whether to file
  2. Stage Two: Preparing and filing the complaint
  3. Stage Three: Initial assessment
  4. Stage Four: NCP offers support if complaint is accepted (Good offices)
  5. Stage Five: Final statement and follow-up

If further action is needed we will provide resolution assistance, for example, mediation. We don't adjudicate or duplicate other tribunals that assess compliance with New Zealand law.

Deciding whether to file

Issues arising in New Zealand

If you wish to submit/raise an issue about a multi-national business operating in New Zealand, you can email oecd-ncp@mbie.govt.nz. You will need to provide the following details:

  • your name
  • organisation/position
  • contact details – phone, email, postal address
  • whether you are bringing the submission on behalf of others and if yes, who?

Multinational enterprise (MNE) details:

  • the name and contact details of the multi-national business the submission relates to
  • whether you or your organisation have been in contact with the organisation named in the submission.

Submission details:

Describe the activity/situation you are submitting about and how the issues specifically relate to the OECD guidelines:

  • where and when the situation occurred,
  • the sections of the OECD guidelines the submission relates to,
  • the parts of the guidelines that weren't followed,
  • how the action affected you or those you are submitting on behalf of.

Outline what you hope to achieve through the specific instance process:

  • the actions you think the enterprise should take to resolve the situation,
  • your desired outcome(s) ie the resolution you would like to see.

Describe any other proceedings relating to the specific instance – in your submission answer these 2 questions:

  • Have there been other attempts to resolve the situation?
  • Has this submission been brought to the attention of other forums or other NCPs? If so, give an account of any steps taken and the outcome.

Supporting documentation (if any):

  • Collect evidence and documentation – such as witness testimony, digital or paper documentation, scientific tests, and/or public articles or reports – showing the harm that has occurred or may occur.
  • Indicate how the documentation relates to the points made in your submission.
  • Note that all information received from each party is usually shared with the other, unless there is good reason not to. Indicate if there is any information in your submission that should be treated as confidential and if so why.

We will consider all information provided by both parties.

Issues arising in another country

To complain about the activity of a multi-national business that happened in another country, you will need to contact the NCP of that country.

If that country doesn't adhere to the guidelines and doesn't have a NCP, you will need to raise the issue with the NCP of the country where the business is headquartered.

Contact details for NCPs in other countries can be found here(external link) — OECD 

How we handle complaints relating to the guidelines (initial assessment)

First, we assess if the issue merits further examination. All information received from each party is usually shared with the other, unless there is good reason not to. Confidentiality between both parties is also expected.

We aim to complete this initial assessment within 3 months of receiving a complaint.

Outcome of a complaint

If a complaint is rejected at the end of the initial assessment, we will release a statement that describes the issues raised and the reasons for our decision.

If the complaint is accepted as warranting further examination, we offer ‘good offices’ to help the parties resolve the issues. We aim to complete this process within 1 year.

We have prepared a summary of what we expect to do when a complaint is raised under the guidelines:

New Zealand NCP specific instance indicative procedures with timeframes [PDF, 527 KB]

Process for raising an issue or a ‘specific instance’ under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises [PDF, 324 KB]

Conclusion and reporting

At the conclusion of these procedures, and after consultation with the parties involved, the NZ NCP will make some information public. We will include a summary of the complaint in our annual report to the OECD.

This report includes:

  • the initial assessments of applications
  • cases where applications have not been accepted by the NCP
  • final statements issued by the NCP where a Specific Instance has been concluded.

Some NCPs also follow up on the outcome one year after the case is closed.

Final statements for specific instance complaints:

Mr and Mrs Y/MNE X final statement by the NCP [PDF, 98 KB]

Mr and Mrs C / Southern Response - NZ Permanent Trustees Ltd [PDF, 60 KB]

NGO SOUL / MNE Fletchers Building final statement by NCP [PDF, 424 KB]

Mr and Mrs B / MNE I final statement by NCP [PDF, 420 KB]

New Zealand's annual reports to the OECD

Last updated: 22 December 2021