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CBI chief begins to talk CSR

October 2006

The new head of the Confederation of British Industries, the UK employers' organization, has indicated he will take a forward-looking stance on sustainability and climate change.

Director-general Richard Lambert used his first major public speech in office last month to talk on 'the place of business in society' and to state that the CBI would concentrate on climate change in particular.

Lambert, a former editor of the Financial Times, told delegates at a Social Market Foundation conference in London that 'business needs to turn a spotlight on itself to check that its activities are aligned with the changing values and expectations of society'.

He promised that the CBI would continue to be strident in its support of business-friendly policies, but added: 'We must make our voice heard in a constructive and forceful manner on all subjects which matter to our members.' These would include sustainability and climate change, he said. 'This is not an easy subject for the CBI to tackle, since our members include producers, energy-intensive users and consumer groups, and so have different interests,' he added. 'But they all have a shared interest in growth and investment, and a strong sense of responsibility towards future generations. So this is an issue we will be addressing very seriously in the months ahead.'

Lambert said the CBI 'has an absolutely enormous part to play in the challenges that I've been describing'. His stance suggests he will lead the organization into areas rarely visited by his predecessor, Sir Digby Jones. However, Lambert has indicated that like Sir Digby, he will oppose any attempts to impose corporate responsibility regulation because he and his members believe this would create 'a culture of compliance' rather than a genuine commitment to ethics. Regulation, he said, needs 'to be resisted at every level'.

He added that just as business must improve the way it communicates the benefits it provides society, the CBI needs to acknowledge public concerns about the role of business in society and its effect on the environment. 'Our arguments as a business lobby group need to be relevant not just to our members,' he said. 'They also need to be explained in a way that hits home with their employees, customers and with the communities in which they live and operate.'




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