Operational Guidance on:
The Relationship Between Voluntary Commitments and Applicable Law
Purpose & Summary
The Accountability Framework provides guidance to companies on identification of potential environmental and social risks so that they can be avoided, mitigated, and addressed. AFi recognizes that such risks can arise from non-compliance with laws, as well as compliance with laws that are not properly enforced or lack the necessary provisions to fully comply with international law. Core Principle 3.4 provides that, in addition to their voluntary commitments, companies must comply with applicable law and respect internationally recognized human rights. A company’s assessment of the applicable laws clarifies whether the legal framework within which it is working will facilitate, or place at risk, its fulfillment of voluntary commitments.
This document is a resource that companies can use to design procedures to identify and assess applicable law or to review their existing procedures related to such assessment. Specifically, it provides guidance for upstream and downstream companies to identify and assess the full range of law that is applicable to company commitments related to human rights, deforestation, and ecosystem conversion.
The guidance is presented in two parts:
- The main body of the guidance addresses the relationship between compliance with law and a company’s voluntary commitments, including:
- Determining the highest standard
- What to do when laws are not implemented or enforced
- What to do when company’s voluntary commitments represent a higher standard than those affirmed by applicable laws
- An annex provides detailed guidance on suggested procedures for conducting applicable law assessments. This includes:
- Context and timing for assessments
- Processes for carrying out assessments including definition of scope, review of applicable laws, stakeholder consultations, and drafting of the assessment
Topics in this Guidance
Companies’ voluntary supply chain commitments overlay existing obligations based on applicable law. Legal obligations may be created by any legal or policy instrument emanating from legislative, executive, administrative, judicial, or customary sources of authority. Many categories of law bear on company commitments, including but not limited to those governing land allocations and acquisition; land titling, registration, and management; environment and conservation; tax and other revenue-related laws implicated by resource extraction; storage and processing of commodities; transport; export; legal personality; government-adopted lists of prohibited actors; criminal codes; human rights (including the rights of workers, indigenous peoples, local communities, women and others); remediation, access to remedy, and restoration for harms to the environment.
This document guides companies on how to fulfill their voluntary supply chain commitments in the context of legal obligations that may apply to the same or similar topics to those addressed by commitments.
 As specified in the Accountability Framework definitions, applicable law signifies “national and ratified international laws that apply in a given context or situation.” National laws include the laws and regulations of all jurisdictions within a nation (e.g., local, regional, and national). International laws to which nations have acceded are also considered as applicable law.
 For example, companies in Brazil must check the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR), the Soybean Working Group (GTS) database, and the list maintained by the Government of Brazil for actors that are embargoed due to illegal deforestation or slave labour.