Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
 

editorial

the UK’s presidency of the G8 is a chance
to show leadership on CSR

February 2005

For corporate social responsibility buffs, the UK presidency of the G8 has come at a propitious time. Africa and climate change – the themes of the presidency – have obvious links with socially responsible business practices, and Nigel Griffiths, the UK’s CSR minister, has before him a proposal for an international forum to focus the minds of all governments on the issues (see page four).

Happily, of the four ministers to date, Griffiths is the best qualified to tackle the growing disenchantment of non-governmental organizations. CSR cannot advance without the support of civil society. Griffiths, who has a good track record of working with and for non-governmental organizations, says he intends to do something about it.

One positive gesture he could make would be to ensure that NGOs are closely involved in the conference the government intends to hold at the end of this year as part of its presidency of the European Union. NGOs must also play a role in the international forum to guarantee talk leads to action.

Government can use the themes for its G8 presidency to promote responsible company behaviour. The Department for International Development is working with pharmaceutical companies to make life-saving drugs more widely available to poor African countries, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, introduced by prime minister Tony Blair in 2002, is making headway. The governments of Angola and Ghana have published details of extractive industry revenues, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon have taken the first steps towards adopting EITI principles, and the Nigerian government has supported a national stakeholder working group. But advances in this area are in danger of being weakened by backtracking in others; the recent decision to water down the regulations governing bribery by UK companies operating overseas being an topical example.

Overall, the UK has a good record on CSR policy. Yet it still needs improvement. One place to start could be the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises. UK companies and NGOs grumble that the process for handling complaints of breaches is a procedural quagmire (EP6, issue 4, p9). Draining the bureaucratic swamp would make it easier for innocent companies to clear their name. The OECD should be pressed to clarify obscure points. And the composition of the UK’s National Contact Point needs changing. As things stand, the Department of Trade and Industry has sole responsibility. Allowing other ministries and civil society to become more involved, as some countries do, would build trust. Critics would find proving a case is harder than sniping from the sidelines.


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