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second EC white paper on the way

November 2003

A second white paper on CSR is to be issued by the European Commission in November 2004.

The EC has decided this will be its course of action after it has received the final report of the European Union multi-stakeholder forum on CSR in summer 2004. The plans have come as a surprise to CSR observers in Europe, although the Commission did say in last year’s white paper (known officially as a ‘communication’) that after the forum had reported, it would ‘consider if any other initiative … is appropriate’.

The first white paper, which was issued in July 2002, led directly to the creation of the multi-stakeholder forum, which is considering future CSR policy, and to financial support for several initiatives, including a CSR management framework for companies and disclosure standards for socially responsible investment funds, both of which are now being piloted.

Dominique Be, employment and social affairs director general at the EC, confirmed the plans for a second white paper, but said: ‘It’s much too early to say what might be in it. A lot of water will flow under the bridge between now and then, so nobody knows what it will include. However, as the forum report will come out in the middle of 2004, it makes sense for the communication to come out at the end of 2004.’

Be added that while a second communication had not been heralded in the previous white paper, it was ‘implicit’ that the EC ‘would propose a follow-up’.

EC communications are a vehicle to announce policy measures, so a second white paper is likely to contain concrete proposals. However, it is unlikely to propose regulation, partly because the Commission has made clear its support for the voluntary approach, and partly because the multi-stakeholder forum’s final report is unlikely to favour legislation. When the forum’s 18 members meet in Venice this month to consider the shape of their report, there is expected to be consensus on mandatory versus voluntary reporting, even though a number of the participants represent non-governmental organizations which have traditionally been strong supporters of regulation.

Forum member Suzy Sumner, who represents a group of 38 NGOs under the banner ‘Social Platform’, told EP: ‘We’ve all moved on a little bit from the polarized discussions on legislation versus the voluntary approach, and we’ve realized things are a lot more complicated than that.

‘ There’s no point in having legislation if there’s no enforcement, and voluntary measures are also very good if they are backed up. So there’s now a recognition that we need to look in more detail at these issues rather than getting stuck in the voluntary versus mandatory debate’.

Sumner said that while earlier forum meetings had been taken up with arguments about the need for legislation, ‘a lot of the heat has been taken out of that debate’, and it is ‘no longer a massive sticking point’.

Jan Noterdaeme, who represents the business-led organization CSR Europe on the forum, said: ‘We have stepped away from the situation of a year ago when the dialogue was all about the mandatory versus the voluntary approach. We don’t feel disabled by that black-and-white debate any more, and NGOs are saying they don’t think this will be resolved by a piece of law.’




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