Speeches: U.S. Government Voluntary Principles Chairmanship Priorities

The U.S. government is pleased to take over as government chair of the VPs Initiative for 2015-2016. On behalf of Assistant Secretary Malinowski, I want to relay my excitement about this exceptional opportunity to work with all of you at such a critical juncture in the Initiative

Reflecting on the past few years, we really have come a long way to get to where we are today: when we first took over as Government Chair in March 2010, we were just starting the conversation about building a governance structure and forming an Association to make the VPs a real organization. Those objectives have been realized and now provide the structural foundation for a strengthened and growing initiative.

Evidence of our strength can be found in the vision set out in the VPs 2014-2017 Strategy Document, the development and approval of pillar-specific verification frameworks and roles and responsibilities documents, and the kinds of pragmatic, honest, and productive presentations and discussions that we have had at this plenary, and at last year’s plenary as well.

Proof of our growth can be seen not only in the four new corporate pillar participants, new engaged NGO, and addition of the Government of Ghana to the government pillar, but also in the steady and continued expansion of the relevance and utility of the Voluntary Principles outside the four corners of the VPs Initiative.

A lot of the credit for these accomplishments goes to the last two government chairs – Switzerland and the UK – and I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank them for their leadership and hard work. Of course, none of this could have been achieved without the efforts of the Steering Committee and the working groups, so let me also thank those of you who have participated in those bodies for your efforts as well. We hope that you will continue to share your energy, creativity, and passion with the Initiative as we move forward with our Chairmanship.

As we look ahead, I wanted to provide you with an overview of some of our priorities, which fall into three broad buckets consistent with the VPs Strategy Document – strengthening participation, improving accountability and transparency, and strengthening implementation.

Strengthening Participation

First, in order to grow the VPs Initiative in a smart and effective manner, strengthening the participation of governments, NGOs, and companies is essential.

In strengthening government participation we will continue to prioritize outreach efforts with governments in countries which host extractive industries. As the outreach lead in Ghana, we were of course delighted that Ghana became the first African government to join the VPs Initiative last year and we look forward to working with Ghana to provide support as they develops their VPs National Plan. We have a grant to help civil society as they work with the Government toward this goal. By facilitating the process of VPs implementation in Ghana, we hope to demonstrate the utility of this initiative to other countries, especially those in Africa.

Within the NGO Pillar, we will seek to recruit more NGOs to strengthen the pillar. NGOs play an invaluable role in the VPs, contributing credibility, an independent perspective, and an orientation toward and familiarity with the concerns of impacted communities.

We need to continue to define the different roles that national and international NGOs play within the VPs Initiative. We were excited to see the national NGO New Nigeria Foundation join the VPs over the last year, and look forward to seeing more follow suit. In the same vein, we need to add advocacy NGOs to the pillar and will make it a priority during our chairmanship to engage with them.

In the Corporate Pillar, we were excited to see so many new companies join the VPs over the last year. As the pillar expands, we want to make sure that we are providing the kinds of attention and resources to new companies that they need to successfully implement the VPs and get up to speed and involved in the Initiative’s activities and processes. We have seen corporate officials from a range of positions–from security manager to CSR manager to the compliance department employee–work on the VPs. While there is no “right way” to engage bureaucratically with the Initiative, we want to work with the corporate pillar to better understand how we can help support those of you working on this Initiative.

At the Steering Committee level, we hope to take a page from our Swiss colleagues and organize at least one in person Steering Committee strategy retreat this year to help build cohesion and focus on our shared priorities.

Improve Accountability and Transparency

Moving on, the second priorities bucket is improving accountability and transparency. In order to maintain the credibility of the VPs in the years to come, the verification frameworks that were approved today, together with the pillar-specific roles and responsibilities documents, will help participants to support and validate compliance with the principles – a process that can drive continuous improvement. In addition to improving participant implementation and building understanding and trust internally across the pillars, this also provides us with an opportunity to explain and defend the value of the Initiative to those on the outside. I want to applaud everyone in this room for their hard work on getting to this point.

Now that these documents have been approved and officially launched, we look forward to using them to facilitate more consistent and comprehensive reporting, hearing about the indicators companies use to assess implementation, and discussing successes and challenges through presentation to the Verification Working Groups and at next year’s Plenary. In order to maximize the value and impact of the work that we have done together to date, we strongly encourage all participants to opt-in to their respective pillar-specific verification frameworks.

Strengthening Implementation

Turning to our third set of priorities – strengthening implementation – we will seek to do this at both the international and national levels.

At the international level, sharing best practices among stakeholders is what the VPs is all about, and we would like to continue to build on substantive conversations with VPs participants through the Initiative. Given the helpful discussion around public security and Memorandums of Understanding at this Plenary, and the increasing importance of the VPs as companies operate in conflict zones, such as in regions where ISIL operates – we look forward to working with the VPs Steering Committee to discuss next steps to take up best practice discussions around these topics.

At the national level, as indicated, we will continue to work hand-in-glove with the Government of Ghana and other stakeholders to establish a robust and meaningful implementation plan that can serve a model for other prospective government participants. We are also interested in working with other participants to explore how we can strengthen existing in-country efforts – or develop new ones – in countries that have not yet joined the VPs.

Finally, we want to reach out to catalog and understand where, how, and by whom the Voluntary Principles are being used outside of the VPs Initiative. It is our sense that such “off label” use has increased in recent years, and as matter of brand management and due diligence, we feel that it is important to understand these efforts in order to identify potential problems, but also potential outreach and learning opportunities.

Also during our Chairmanship, we hope to host our VPs Annual Plenary Meeting in Colombia in March 2016.

Hosting the next Plenary Meeting in Colombia will allow us to bring the VPs “closer to the ground” by holding the Annual Plenary Meeting in a country that has a positive story to share, where VPs implementation is most relevant. This will contribute to strengthened participation by providing additional outreach opportunities, particularly in Latin America. It will also make the Initiative more visible and accessible to local groups interested in learning about VPs best practices. We look forward to engaging with you in the upcoming year regarding opportunities around our Plenary Meeting in Colombia.

As you see, we have an ambitious agenda for the next year, but with your collaboration we are confident that we can achieve these objectives.