White House Enlists Berkeley-Haas for Action Plan on Responsible Business

The White House has selected the Berkeley-Haas Center for Responsible Business to host one of four national dialogue sessions to help develop a National Action Plan for responsible practices by American corporations operating in other nations.

“We are humbled to have been asked by the White House to convene this important event,” said Robert Strand, Executive Director of the CRB. “The CRB has a long legacy for encouraging critical dialogue about the topics associated with responsible business.”

A bit of background: the US government has for decades prosecuted American companies for certain kinds of illegal activity in foreign countries. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Justice Department prosecutes American companies and executives for bribing foreign officials.

In September, President Obama announced a broader effort: a National Action Plan to provide incentives and pressure to spur better behavior on a broader array of social-impact issues. The key principles are laid down in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Anti-corruption efforts are high on the agenda, but so are other business practices that affect human rights, workplace safety and environmental sustainability.

Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have already adopted or at least drafted their own National Action Plans. The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, which has been pushing the US government to adopt exactly this kind of national action plan, recently teamed up with Denmark’s Institute of Human Rights and published a “tool kit” for such efforts.

On Nov. 20, the White House announced that it will organize a series of open “dialogues” with stakeholders from all sides to provide ideas on both the scope and process of a national action plan for the United States.

The first conference will be hosted on Dec. 15 by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and the United States Council for International Business. The second conference will be hosted at Berkeley-Haas by the Center for Responsible Business. A third conference will be hosted by the University of Oklahoma School of Law. The final conference will be co-hosted in Washington, D.C., by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable and the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights.

Although there is widespread support for responsible business practices and greater transparency, there is bound to be disagreement about the scope of a National Action Plan and the government’s role in carrying it out. To cite just one recent example, American and European corporations took sharply different approaches in setting up a system in Bangladesh to prevent repeats of the 2013 textile factory collapse that killed some 1,100 workers.

The purpose of the four conferences is to spur robust discussions by stakeholders from business, labor, and civil society. In addition, however, the White House is soliciting written comments from people and organizations on all sides. The deadline for the first round of submissions is Jan. 15, and commenters can send them to NAP-RBC@state.gov.

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