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Dutch Government Advocates EU Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct

Late last month, the Dutch minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, called on the new European Commission to take the initiative to develop an EU Action Plan on responsible business conduct. At the request of the Dutch Government, Minister Kaag presented her initiatives at a meeting of trade ministers from all EU Member States in Brussels. The EU Action Plan should, it was emphasised, cover matters such as labour standards, human rights and environmental standards. The draft plans of the Dutch Government have been received positively, according to the now-former European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström.

Direct support of various EU Member States

The Netherlands aspires to take serious action on the rules governing responsible business conduct, now that a new European Commission has taken office. At the trade meeting in Brussels, Minister Kaag pointed out the Dutch approach with respect to ensuring responsible business conduct. According to Minister Kaag, several EU Member States, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden and Spain, were directly supportive of the initiative. Finland, as European Council chair, also supported the draft plans.

Kaag further indicated that she is working with a group of EU Member States to keep the subject on the EU’s agenda, and also to submit concrete proposals. According to her, the process takes time, but if there is political will, EU action can be made concrete soon. The Dutch Government explained it is time now to take action given the awareness and concerns among both consumers and producers who realise they have to do better.

Response to EU citizens’ concerns

In her presentation, Minister Kaag stated that the EU Member States have a joint responsibility to ensure responsible trade. EU cooperation is necessary to ensure a coherent and harmonised policy with which the greatest impact can be realised, while a level playing field between Member States can be guaranteed.

According to Minister Kaag, the EU's trade and investment policy must respond to the concerns of citizens as regards the sustainability of international trade. A first step could be for EU Member States to exchange national experiences at an EU level.

Minister Kaag also explained that enterprises must behave responsibly and that dealing with sustainability must be done in an economically smart way, with a fair living wage, as well as improved quality in the relevant work environments.

The presentation also stated that enterprises must respect human rights abroad, even in countries which have less developed legal systems. Running businesses should not be at the expense of the environment.

Circulation of guidelines to Dutch embassies

In the context of (international) responsible business conduct, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently circulated guidelines to Dutch embassies which have to strengthen their expertise on the matter, create more awareness among Dutch businesses operating abroad, support Dutch businesses abroad, evaluate the (financial) aid that they provide to Dutch businesses, and, for instance, the sharing of best practices.   

Recently, Dutch sectors have voluntarily entered into agreements with enterprises regarding responsible business conduct, the effects of which are to be evaluated in 2020. Other Member States, including Germany and Denmark, are also preparing legislation in this context.

Please click on the following to view the Dutch agenda on the trade meeting (available only in Dutch).

Please click on the following to view the factsheet on the guidelines circulated to Dutch embassies (available only in Dutch).

Please click on the following to view the interview with Sigrid Kaag (available only in Dutch).

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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