each European member state needs a dedicated CSR ministerJuly 2001
This month sees the publication of a green paper on corporate social responsibility by the European Commission – its first formal step towards developing a strategy in this area. By EC standards, the deadlines are quite tight: six months of consultation leading to the publication of a CSR policy in 2002. The consultation period coincides with the Belgian government’s tenure of the European Union presidency, and the Belgians are particularly keen to promote CSR measures.
The EC is likely to stress the need for a voluntary approach to social and environmental reporting by companies, but in other areas it may well introduce regulations. For example, EC officials are discussing a directive on socially responsible investment.
The policy however is likely to focus on encouraging governments of member states to take greater account of CSR, with corresponding knock-on effects for companies. The recent EC consultative conference proposed that European governments report regularly to their national parliaments on what they are doing to promote CSR.
If the proposal is adopted, then there would be no better way of doing this than for each member state to appoint a CSR minister. Action by the EU may finally clarify the role of a CSR minister. In the UK, which is the only member state to have such a post, the CSR minister’s role remains unclear, although the post has existed for more than 14 months.
The EC is not the only inter-governmental institution taking action. Others are focusing on specific issues, especially human rights. The OECD has rewritten its social responsibility guidelines for multinationals, and a UN sub-commission will meet this month to finalise UN business guidelines on human rights to complement the UN Global Compact, launched last year.
Investors and non-governmental organizations are already applying pressure on companies to become more socially responsible. Inter-governmental institutions are now starting to join them in doing so.
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