Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


young Scot moves in as UK’s new CSR minister

July 2001

Douglas Alexander has become the UK’s new corporate social responsibility minister.

Alexander, who is the Labour MP for Paisley South, replaces Kim Howells at the Department of Trade and Industry. This will be his first ministerial post.

Howells became the world’s first CSR minister in spring 2000, but has been moved to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in a reshuffle of ministerial posts following the Labour Party’s general election victory on 7 June.

Alexander, a 34-year-old Scot, is a solicitor by profession and became an MP in 1997. Although he has held no government office until now, he has served as a researcher and speechwriter for chancellor Gordon Brown and as Labour’s general election campaign coordinator.

He will carry out his CSR brief alongside responsibilities for e-commerce, consumer goods and the communications industry. His boss, the new trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt, takes over responsibility for the company law review from her predecessor Stephen Byers.

Until now the minister’s part-time role on CSR has largely been confined to encouraging companies to adopt socially responsible policies, mainly through conference speeches.

But results of a survey of business leaders and other specialists show that eight out of ten respondents believed the minister should work on this area full time. Almost half (43 per cent) thought he should report directly to the prime minister rather than to the trade and industry secretary.

The survey – carried out by the New Economics Foundation think-tank and Business in the Community – questioned 94 people, of whom half were business and industry leaders, around a quarter were ‘CSR practitioners’ and 10 per cent were from non-governmental organizations. The rest were journalists and academics.

The poll found that around a quarter thought the minister should remain within the DTI and a similar number thought he should be attached to the Cabinet Office. Around two-thirds agreed there should be an independent CSR unit within government with its own budget and dedicated staff. Nearly all respondents (93 per cent) wanted every government department to adopt social responsibility policies by 2005.

Around three-quarters thought the minister should develop financial mechanisms such as tax incentives to encourage CSR.

The UK parliament’s two all party groups in the CSR field fared well at the recent general election, losing only one member between them.

At the All Party Parliamentary Group on Socially Responsible Investment, none of the main office-holders lost their seats. There had been fears the group’s chair, Labour MP Tony Colman would lose his marginal seat. But he was returned as MP along with the two other office-holders, Tom Brake (Liberal Democrat) and Peter Bottomley (Conservative).

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Corporate Social Responsibility lost only one of its 36 founding members in the election when Conservative MP Nick St Aubyn was deposed from his Guildford seat by the Liberal Democrats.

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