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Tory rethink on CSR raises hopes of new consensus

February 2006

CSR has received a significant boost with a commitment by the UK’s second-largest political party to develop policies that promote responsible business practice for inclusion in its manifesto for the next general election.

In newspaper advertisements last month, the Conservative Party announced it would ‘not just stand up for big business but stand up to big business.’

Hitherto the Conservatives have either ignored or shown little enthusiasm for CSR beyond core governance issues. David Cameron, the new leader of the party, has now said he intends to pay much more attention to the topic in his efforts to position the Conservatives as caring, inclusive and attractive to younger voters. In revamping the party’s attitude to business, a newly formed economic policy group will consider in detail how companies can be encouraged to become more socially responsible, and will report within 18 months.

Since his election as leader in early December 2005, Cameron has raised the subject of CSR several times in speeches and newspaper articles. He has said he wants the Conservatives to take part in the important debate about the standards of behaviour business should follow, even if critics say that his commitment to ethical business practices is naive.

In a speech to the National Council for Voluntary Organizations, he said businesses ‘can do so much to make a difference through the products and services they create, the way they treat their employees, the way they behave in the community, and the way they think about their role in society’.

Cameron is due to meet the board of Business in the Community to discuss policy options. He is also to consult with employers on his plans for a Youth Community Action Programme of volunteering, and will in particular focus on how companies can combat climate change.

Most observers regard Cameron’s stance as a significant one that could lead to a political consensus on CSR for the first time in the UK, although some wonder how far the Conservatives will go in practice.

Julia Cleverdon, chief executive of Business in the Community, said that Cameron’s words indicated further ‘mainstreaming of responsible business practice’. Baroness Greengross, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on corporate responsibility, told EP: ‘It’s very welcome that a political consensus seems to be emerging, and from what I can tell, Mr Cameron is certainly taking this seriously.’

One CSR consultant observed: ‘It’s good for business if both major political parties are singing from the same hymn sheet. It gives certainty on the way ahead.’ Business groups have been largely positive, though the British Chambers of Commerce warned against ‘playing politics with business’.

see also this month's editorial



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