Dutch Seaports – Applying the OECD Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct

Dutch seaports rank among the world’s key logistics hubs for the storage and trans-shipment of international cargo flows, such as liquid bulk (i.e. gasoline), minerals, agri-products (i.e. cocoa) and comparatively new cargo flows arising from the emergence of biobased and circular economies.

The production of these flows, however, can go hand in hand with environmental damage, poor working conditions and/ or human rights violations while enforcement and supervision remain flawed. Contemporary international social issues demand that the international players in the trade chain be actively engaged, and ports form no exception. Based on this reasoning, the Dutch seaports decided to join forces to investigate their own role and responsibilities as well as to identify potential actions to reduce the CSR risks associated with international cargo flows. This joint initiative has since been enfolded into the Maritime Strategy and Seaports Programme (2018-2025) of the Dutch government.

To begin with, a study was conducted on the relevance and application of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNE’s) for and by seaports. These guidelines form a due diligence standard for Responsible Business Conduct. The study established that the OECD guidelines are indeed relevant for seaports and should be applied.

With the OECD’s due diligence standard front-of-mind, the Dutch seaports carried out a CSR assessment of both their current and prospective cargo flows. This exercise resulted in a comprehensive list of cargo flows that call for greater attention by the port authorities. A step-by-step approach was also developed on how to actuate due diligence. This approach helps individual ports draft a plan at their own pace while highlighting the elements that require inter-port collaboration. Two pilot studies were conducted on the role, influence and possibilities of seaports to promote responsible Palm Oil and E-Waste chains from an OECD perspective.

The project represented an important step in advancing the Dutch seaports’ collaboration on CSR risks. It not only enhanced the ports’ mutual reliance and cohesion, it also created a level playing field. More importantly, it showcased how the port sector can positively impact multiple supply chains. In addition, the project has increased the knowledge and experience transfer among Dutch seaports. This year saw the launch of regular meetings between the sustainability managers of the Dutch seaports. The knowledge generated by these meetings has made the ports serious interlocutors for different stakeholder groups (NGOs, the government, traders and customers), thereby enhancing the ports’ license to operate.