The Role of the State Department in Responsible Business


The following was written by The Honorable José W. Fernandez Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment U.S. Department of State. This feature can be found in our recently launched Corporate Systemic Responsibility Report which was the first outcome of our new Responsible Business Diplomacy initiative. To download the report and read other testimonies, click here.

I thank the Meridian Center for this opportunity to share ideas on how governments, the private sector, civil society, and other stakeholders can work together to foster responsible business conduct. I appreciate the focus on the need for businesses to act responsibly in all their operations and practices, in addition to the outward engagement many firms take part in through corporate social responsibility programs and impact investing. As Secretary Blinken has emphasized, the best investment is not only economically viable but consistent with the protection of the environment, human rights, and other high standards. I welcome the dialogue in this report on ways to advance these issues on a systemic basis.

I have seen from my service both in government and in the private sector that businesses can do well by doing good. Consumers are increasingly demanding that the goods and services they purchase pass through responsible supply chains. Businesses that respect human rights have a competitive advantage by mitigating operational, legal, and reputational risks. These businesses know that respecting human rights is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do. Companies thrive and economies prosper when businesses and governments work together to ensure a strong rule of law; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; respect for national and international labor, environmental and technical standards; good governance; and effective and accountable institutions. To this end, many companies have made progress incorporating, and going beyond, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Among our many initiatives to advance this goal is the Blue Dot Network, an initiative that will bring together governments, the private sector, and civil society under shared standards for global infrastructure development. Certification by the Blue Dot Network will serve as a globally recognized symbol of market-driven, transparent and sustainable development projects, guided by global standards and best practices.

Secretary Blinken announced in June that the Administration will update and revitalize the 2016 U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct. The updated National Action Plan will support a foreign policy for the middle class by promoting workers’ rights and a level playing field for the American worker; protecting the environment; combating the climate crisis; promoting rights-respecting technology deployment; supporting democratic values; and partnering with U.S. businesses to be global leaders in promoting respect for human rights and responsible conduct.

The State Department uses its Award for Corporate Excellence to recognize U.S. companies that uphold high standards as responsible members of their communities and represent American values in the way they do business abroad. The Department also maintains the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines, which offers a non-judicial dispute resolution mechanism in support of the Guidelines. In addition, our diplomats at posts abroad are hard at work promoting responsible business practices to benefit both the United States and the world at large.

The U.S. government remains committed to playing a leadership role on these issues by working with civil society, labor, the business community, and other stakeholders. I welcome open dialogue and collaboration to advance these objectives.