Guidelines for
responsible business behaviour

During the Spring of 2001, the Dutch government and parliament will discuss the public responsibility of Dutch companies. This manifesto addresses the issue of responsible business behaviour by Dutch companies outside the Netherlands. It reflects the views of non-governmental organisations promoting sustainable development and defending worker rights and human rights.

Our vision: foreign businesses controlled by Dutch companies will abstain from using child labour, will respect union rights, and will offer equal opportunities to women and workers recruited from minority groups. Also, they will ensure that workers at supplier companies receive a decent pay and that these suppliers will respect the environment and the human rights of local communities.
It is our firm conviction that this can and must be done.

Across the world, corporations have become a key driving force in society. As leading players in society, they should also develop a greater sense of responsibility and accountability towards society. Responsible corporate behaviour means living up to agreed values and standards. This implies upholding the laws of the land and - whenever these are absent, insufficiently implemented and/or below international standards - the internationally accepted treaties with regard to worker rights, human rights, and the environment. Neither should corporate activity lead to (an increase in) human rights abuse, especially in case of armed conflict.
Accountability implies that citizens (and consumers) are entitled to adequate information on the ethical, social and environmental effects of corporate activities, products and services - thus enabling them to make informed and responsible choices.

The Dutch government has signed many international treaties on worker rights, human rights and the environment. It therefore has an obligation to do its utmost to ensure that internationally operating companies honour these values and standards. This implies an active role on the part of the government in its legislative, regulatory and supervisory capacities, including issuing rules on accountability. In addition, the government can promote responsible corporate behaviour by acting as ‘best practice consumer’, by exercising its influence as a shareholder in companies and by taking corporate behaviour into account when allocating subsidies. Furthermore, the government should actively support businesses and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) seeking to promote the principles of socially responsible corporate behaviour. In areas where it is not directly involved as a legislator or supervisor, the government should clarify corporate obligations and how companies themselves can fulfil these obligations through mechanisms such as reporting, external supervision and customer charters.

We do not call for highly detailed government intervention or supervision. Responsible behaviour is the prime responsibility of companies themselves. The report issued recently by the Dutch government advisory body on social and economic affairs (SER) rightly states that socially responsible behaviour should be part of every company’s ‘core business’. In addition to honouring internationally accepted standards, companies should be ready to enter into a dialogue with stakeholders if new developments and / or insights call for such standards to be extended or adjusted.


As a legislator and regulator

  • Take every possible initiative to promote active international policies furthering socially responsible trade and industry - notably at the United Nations, the European Union, the IMF and World Bank - and support programmes designed for that purpose. It is of crucial importance to involve governments and non-governmental organisations, including trade unions, of developing countries in the debate on the necessary regulation and incentives, and to support them in moving forward in these areas.

  • Take all possible steps and seek broad support in order to arrive at internationally binding regulations for companies with international business activities. The United Nations have already taken steps in this regard. Regulation should be based on internationally accepted worker rights, human rights and standards for environmental protection.
    The voluntary OECD Guidelines for Multinational Corporations constitute an important new standard for businesses, but cannot be a substitute for internationally binding regulation.

  • Design a Dutch code of conduct for responsible business behaviour, based on international treaties and on instruments such as the OECD Guidelines, as a temporary measure until such time when binding international regulation takes effect. Of course, the fundamental labour rights (union and collective bargaining rights, ban on child and forced labour, and equal treatment of workers) should be incorporated in this code of conduct. A credible code of conduct also requires corporate responsibility for product and supply chains, as well as independent supervision of compliance.
    Use this code as a basis for the public’s right to obtain information, and as a minimum standard for companies drafting their own codes of conduct, as well as for the government in its various capacities as a legislator, market player and facilitator. Promote the development of such codes at the European Union level. Develop verifiable indicators on the basis of this code of conduct.

  • Provide citizens and consumers with the right to obtain information, by making it mandatory for corporations to report publicly, at regular intervals, on the social and environmental effects of their foreign activities. Verification of these reports by an independent body on the basis of verifiable indicators can be introduced step by step. The first step should include (a plan of action for) compliance with fundamental labour rights. Companies refusing to meet their reporting obligations should be named publicly as part of the overall effort to secure compliance.

As a market player and 'best practice’ consumer

  • In purchasing and tendering, give preference to socially and ecologically sound products and services. Promote that provincial and local authorities do likewise. Encourage ‘responsible consumption’ by (purchasing) organisations and the public at large, for example by informing the public and introducing tax benefits.

  • Limit government support - such as export subsidies, export credit insurance, investment subsidies and trade missions - to companies that (a) adopt the code of conduct as a minimum standard for their own company-specific codes of conduct, (b) implement their codes, and (c) report adequately on the social en environmental effects of their business activities.

  • Demand that (partially) state-owned companies adopt the code of conduct as a minimum standard for their own company-specific codes of conduct. Ensure compliance, reporting and independent audits.

As a facilitator

  • Establish an expertise and promotion centre for socially responsible business with the active involvement and input of unions, employers’ organisations and NGO’s. The centre would engage in research, provide information to the public, and manage a web site where the public can access corporate reporting on the social effects of company-specific business activities. Also, it would promote socially responsible business initiatives through pilot projects. Furthermore, the centre would take initiatives aimed at developing verifiable indicators on the basis of the code of conduct.
    Provide a (pro)active National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies; this NPC would collaborate closely with the expertise and promotion centre.

  • Make socially responsible business a core theme of Dutch bilateral economic relations and development co-operation. Promote local entrepreneurial activity contributing to sustainable employment under decent working conditions. Support, both in the developing world and the Netherlands, those NGO’s and unions that urge corporations and governments to live up to their social obligations, and take an active part in shaping these obligations.

Alternatieve Konsumenten Bond
Amnesty International
ASN Bank
Both Ends
Burma Centrum Nederland
Centraal Missie Commissariaat
COS Nederland
COS Groningen
COS Drenthe
COS Flevoland
COS Friesland
COS Gelderland
COS Haaglanden en West Holland
COS Limburg
COS Noord-Holland Zuid
COS Oost Brabant
COS Overijssel
COS Rijnmond en Midden Holland
COS Utrecht
COS West- en Midden Brabant
COS Zeeland
Defence for Children Nederland
Evert Vermeer Stichting
Fair Trade Organisatie
Filipijnen Groep Nederland
Food World Consultancy
Foster Parents Plan
Guatemala Komitee Nederland
Health Net International
Humanistisch Overleg Mensenrechten
Institute of Cultural Affairs - Nederland
International Union for the Conservation of Nature - Nederland
Justitia et Pax Nederland
Kerken in Actie
Landelijke India Werkgroep
Landelijke Vereniging van Wereldwinkels
Missie en Jongeren
Move Your World
Nederlands Centrum voor Inheemse Volken
Nederlands Instituut voor Zuidelijk Afrika
Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten
Nederlandse Vereniging van Huisvrouwen
Organisatie Latijns Amerika Activiteiten
Pax Christi Nederland
Quest Independent
Save the Children Nederland
Schone Kleren Overleg
Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland
Stichting Max Havelaar
Stichting Natuur en Milieu
Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen
Stichting Rechte Banaan
Terre des Hommes
Trans National Institute
Triodos-Bank N.V.
UNICEF Nederland
Vereniging Milieudefensie
Vereniging van Beleggers voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling
Vluchtelingen Organisaties Nederland
Vrouwen Alliantie
Vrouwen voor Vrede
World Vision
World Population Foundation
Zuid-Noord Federatie

Max van den Berg, Euro-MP, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Overseas Development

Ir. J.P. van Soest, director CE-Transform, Visions for Sustainable Change

Prof. M. Kamminga, professor of international law, University of Maastricht

For more information:

India Committee of the Netherlands
Gerard Oonk
Mariaplaats 4
3511 LH Utrecht
The Netherlands
tel. +31 (30) 232-1340
fax. +31 (30) 232-2246
Web site:
Amnesty International
Gemma Crijns
Keizersgracht 620
1017 ER Amsterdam
The Netherlands
tel. +31 (20) 626-4436
fax. +31 (20) 624-0889
Web site:

Dutch version Manifesto

Landelijke India Werkgroep - 28 juni 2001