business will draw up protocol on lobbyingOctober 2004
Moves are afoot to develop ground rules for the disclosure of company efforts to influence public policy and so ensure they are in line with their CSR commitments.
The creation of a protocol applicable to all companies is being explored at the instance of Co-operative Financial Services, following the release of its first CSR report, in which it publicly declares how it has lobbied politicians and officials, both directly and via trade bodies and pressure groups.
CFS has indicated it is willing to provide funding for the initiative and has been talking to the Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability about how the project might progress. Several companies and NGOs have told CFS they are interested in supporting the work.
CFS’s head of sustainable development, Paul Monaghan, said a protocol was needed because its disclosures had ‘stretched our commitment to transparency to the limit’.
In the report, CFS, which was formed in 2002 to bring together The Co-operative Bank, The Co-operative Insurance Society and the internet bank Smile, makes 24 declarations on issues such as conflict diamonds, pensions legislation and climate change. These mostly relate to the £31billion ($56bn) of assets it holds under management.
Pressure on companies to declare their lobbying positions has been growing recently, with claims by NGOs that CSR programmes are compromised by companies privately lobbying against the very changes their CSR strategies seek to promote.
John Elkington, chair of the Sustainability consultancy, said there were now signs of activity on the issue of corporate lobbying, with BT and Lafarge also exploring the area. ‘Personally I would value a company reporting lobbying against the spirit of its CSR commitments more highly than one that reports lobbying in alignment, as CFS does, but sincere congratulations to them,’ he said. ‘By moving their log they could help destabilize the log-jam of companies and vested interests that have been holding up this aspect of transparency and accountability.’
Monaghan said the experience of CFS had shown the need for guidance, particularly in light of commercial confidentiality.
Adrian Henriques, a director of justassurance, which audited the report, said: ‘The areas of the report relating to public policy disclosure generally referred to statements on public policy made in official consultations.
It is relatively easy to assure disclosure of this sort. But there are different styles of public policy disclosure and it is not going to be easy to assure them all. And it will be much harder to go to the next level: assuring the reporting of any behind-the-scenes lobbying. There is also the question of the extent to which companies should be disclosing more in this area.’
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