On 8 June 2023, the OECD released a “targeted update” of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct, which for the first time calls on businesses to uphold animal welfare in their policies and practices. The guidelines, which are regarded as a global benchmark for ethical business practices, could have far-reaching positive implications for animals across the 38 member countries of the OECD.
Unlike the 2011 Guidelines, which did not discuss animal welfare, the updated Environment chapter calls on enterprises to respect international animal welfare standards and describes “good welfare” as requiring, among other things, that the animal is healthy, comfortable, and well nourished, provided a stimulating and appropriate environment, ensured humane handling, and subjected only to humane slaughter or killing:
Enterprises should respect animal welfare standards that are aligned with the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Terrestrial Code. An animal experiences good welfare if the animal is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress, and is able to express behaviours that are important for its physical and mental state. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and appropriate veterinary care, shelter, management and nutrition, a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling and humane slaughter or killing. In addition, enterprises should adhere to guidance for the transport of live animals developed by relevant international organisations.
While animal welfare has not consistently been considered a Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) issue, the new additions make clear that respecting animal welfare is part of due diligence and necessary to ensure RBC. The text allows civil society to file complaints via National Contact Point (NCP) mechanisms and engage directly with enterprises regarding their failure to ensure, through due diligence, good animal welfare for animals in their value chains. This marks a significant improvement on the previous Guidelines and we are grateful that civil society had the opportunity to provide input during the public consultation phase.
Nonetheless, the language on animal welfare leaves some room for improvement. First, the guidance to align with WOAH standards is disappointing, given that these are often much less ambitious than EU welfare standards. Further, in emphasising the necessity to comply with existing laws and regulations, the guidance overlooks the need to proactively minimise potential harms. Also, there is nothing about the need to strive for a good quality of life for animals, nor to decrease the amount of live animal transport journey time. The OECD is therefore urged to issue improved guidance moving forward.
This update is also highly welcome as it coincides with the preparation of mandatory due diligence legislation in the EU, which draws partly from the OECD Guidelines. The EU legislation will seek to embed sustainability in global value chains by ensuring EU companies identify, prevent or repair environmental and/or human rights adverse impacts. However, the legislative proposal makes no reference to animal welfare at present. Eurogroup for Animals therefore calls on the Council and the European Parliament to remedy this omission in the wake of this update, and to include robust and explicit language on animal welfare during the trilogue stage.
Eurogroup for Animals