by Rhodri C. Williams
The march of the voluntary guidelines continues, it seems, with new approaches geared to address gaps in earlier efforts to urge corporate self-control. As Peter Spiro noted some time back in Opinio Juris (and Chris Huggins pointed out in these pages), the promotion of “soft” voluntary standards as a means of getting at some very hard human rights violations is still seen with skepticism in many quarters.
Nevertheless, Mark Taylor makes an engaging case for such standards in a recent Open Democracy piece on the role of natural resource extraction in fueling conflict. The article highlights the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict Affected and High Risk Areas, a standard adopted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2011 and subsequently regulated in the US through new regulations issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.
Taylor notes several key insights that have emerged in the wake of older certification schemes such as the Kimberly Process for conflict diamonds. These include the manner in which both illicit inflows into conflict areas (such as small arms) and outflows (such as natural resources) have become incorporated into global market flows, as well as the extent to which vulnerable local populations may be just as dependent on extraction activities for their survival as warlords are for their arms budget. In light of such factors, Taylor argues that considerable advantages may be derived from focusing on business actors rather than states:
Like the Kimberly Process, or even UN sanctions, the Guidance seeks to exclude certain commodities from global trade flows. But there the similarity ends. Instead of obligating states, the Guidance places the responsibility on business to manage their supply chains. Instead of relying on a certification regime hobbled by a lack of state capacity, the Guidance deploys the concept of business due diligence, the practice of self-investigation and risk management in a business activity. And instead of targeting a commodity based on its association with rebel groups – a definition that has plagued the Kimberly Process, for example preventing it from taking action where abuses are committed by state armed forces, as in the case of Zimbabwe – the Guidance in effect focuses on the problems of conflict financing and human rights abuse associated with mineral extraction, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a state or non-state armed group.
In effect, the Guidance places the onus on businesses to show they are not financing conflict or contributing to human rights abuse through their sourcing of minerals. And nothing in the Guidance prevents states from regulating this responsibility to conduct due diligence, which is precisely what the US has done with the conflict minerals provision of Dodd-Frank, a measure the EU is now considering.
The combined reliance on traditional state regulation and more novel forms of corporate self-regulation is promising though not, as Taylor points out, unproblematic. However, even at this early stage, there may be timely lessons that could be drawn by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in its current efforts to develop a set of ‘demand side’ standards regulating the conduct of actors participating in large-scale land investments in developing countries. This process should be facilitated by the fact that the FAO has already launched a set of ‘supply side’ guidelines for countries that are the object of such investment. While the latter clearly addressed state authorities disposing over targeted land, the former will need to take into account the role of both state and powerful non-state actors whose investments are driving the global land-rush.
Finally, in a timely reminder that such policies and safeguards are often only as effective as the advocates that monitor their application, Inclusive Development International issued a press release announcing a complaint before the Asian Development Bank’s Compliance Review Panel. The complaint alleges a violation of the Bank’s involuntary settlement policies with regard to communities affected by an ADB-funded railway rehabilitation project in Cambodia (on which, see Natalie Bugalski’s guest postings here and here). As such, it recalls the ongoing controversy in Cambodia over the World Bank’s attempts to act on a finding by its own Inspection Panel of a violation of its Resettlement Policy.