By Roel Nieuwenkamp, Chair of the OECD Working Party on Business and Human Rights (@nieuwenkamp_csr)
This article was originally published by OECD Insights, November 29, 2015
This coming week the world’s leaders will gather in Paris to discuss approaches to addressing climate change, kicking off the 21st annual meeting of countries which want to take action for the climate, otherwise known as COP 21.
A well-hidden secret is that under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (‘the Guidelines’) businesses are expected to do their due diligence on environmental impacts such as climate impacts. This concerns not only their own negative environmental impacts, but also the impacts in their value chain. Another – less well-kept – secret is that the OECD Guidelines include a unique grievance mechanism known as National Contact Points (NCPs) that could also be utilized for climate-related grievances concerning multinational enterprises.
The Guidelines expect companies to behave responsibly through making a positive contribution to economic, environmental and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development. Besides, the 46 adhering governments expect companies to avoid causing or contributing to negative environmental impacts. In addition the Guidelines expect companies to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse climate impacts directly linked to their operations, products or services by a business relationship. To achieve this, businesses are called upon to carry out due diligence throughout their value chains to identify, prevent, mitigate adverse impacts and account for how they are addressed.
Due diligence, importantly, applies not only to actual impacts but also to risks of impacts. This is particularly relevant in the context of greenhouse emissions as the extent of climate impacts and what they will mean for a company’s bottom line are as of yet not precisely known.
The Guidelines also include a specific chapter on environment which outlines recommendations for responsible business behaviour in this context. For example businesses are encouraged to continually seek to improve corporate environmental performance at the level of the enterprise and, where appropriate, of its supply chain, by encouraging such activities as: development and provision of products or services that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; providing accurate information on greenhouse gas emissions and exploring and assessing ways of improving the environmental performance of the enterprise over the longer term, for instance by developing strategies for emission reduction. Furthermore, the disclosure chapter of the Guidelines also encourages social, environmental and risk reporting, particularly in the case of greenhouse gas emissions, as the scope of their monitoring is expanding to cover direct and indirect, current and future, corporate and product emissions.
These expectations suggest that enterprises should not only be concerned with their direct emissions and impacts on climate change, but that they should also be aware of their carbon footprint throughout their supply chains and that their due diligence efforts should be targeted accordingly. A value chain approach is particularly important in the context of climate change issues as often the majority of emissions will be generated throughout supply chains rather than direct emissions. For example, Kraft Foods, one of the world’s largest food and beverage conglomerates, found that value chain emissions comprise more than 90 percent of the company’s total emissions.
However the supply chain approach has yet to be mainstreamed in the field of corporate emissions management. For example a recent OECD report, Climate change disclosure in G20 countries: Stocktaking of corporate reporting schemes, found that most of the mandatory corporate emissions reporting schemes among G20 countries only require companies to report on direct greenhouse gas emissions produced within national boundaries, whereas significant volumes of emissions are often produced lower down on a company’s supply chain, and often in jurisdictions where that do not have reporting requirements. Likewise a survey conducted by CDP and Accenture in 2013 found that only 36% of 2,868 companies responding report emissions throughout their value chains (known as Scope 3 emissions) and only about 11% set either absolute or intensity Scope 3 targets.
Identifying risks is a primary element of due diligence and therefore the limited amount of supply chain reporting in this context is worrisome and suggests that currently companies are not collecting the information they need to effectively prevent and mitigate risks.
This is problematic not only with respect to the expectations of business to act responsibly but also because increasingly investors are seeing fossil fuel dependence as a systemic risk. For example, the CDP reports that currently 822 institutional investors request climate change disclosure from investee companies. Assets managed by these investors comprise up to a third of all global financial assets. However, this demand had not been reflected in generation of useful information. Research on the top 500 global asset owners found that only 7% of them are able to calculate their emissions, only 1.4% have reduced their carbon intensity since 2014, and none of them has yet calculated its portfolio-wide fossil fuel reserves exposure.
As of yet climate change due diligence has not been considered by the NCP network. However as corporate responsibility to mitigate against climate impacts becomes increasingly prominent, continued industry inaction could lead to a complaint being brought on this subject.
The upcoming two weeks will bring thousands of participants together to brainstorm solutions to perhaps the greatest global crisis facing us today. We hope that the event will prove to be historic and that the implications of corporate value chain approaches and due diligence will be adequately considered.