Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


EC panned over ‘weak’ stance on CSR policies

January 2007

The European Parliament’s most active political commentator on CSR has tabled a resolution highly critical of the European Commission’s corporate responsibility policy.

Richard Howitt, a UK member and rapporteur to the Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, has drafted the resolution in consultation with colleagues as the official MEP response to the Commission’s second CSR white paper (EP7, issue 11, p1).

The resolution, to be considered by MEPs during the next month or so, says the Commission has effectively ‘opted out’ of the discussion and caved in to special-interest business lobbying, especially in its wholehearted support for the voluntary approach.

It says the white paper was a missed opportunity and urges the Commission to re-engage by, among other things, appointing an EU ombudsman ‘to undertake independent inquiries on CSR-related issues’.

An explanatory statement in the resolution, which went out for consultation before Christmas, severely criticizes the way the Commission canvassed views before drawing up the much-delayed white paper, and says the document itself was greatly weakened by undue influence from business interests.

‘Commissioners held a series of private meetings with selected company representatives to negotiate on the text of the communication, then described it as “agreed” by business,’ say the notes. ‘[They] only met personally with interested NGOs to discuss its contents following on from publication.’

The draft resolution refers pointedly to the surprise departure of the Commission’s head of CSR, Dominique Be, at the time the white paper was published. It alleges: ‘The key Commission official responsible appears to have been moved from his job, perhaps to make way for this new “consensus”.’ It says ‘successive delays’ to the white paper over two years arose from ‘an unwillingness to confront the fundamental polarization’ between those who favour regulation and those who don’t. It calls on the Commission to ‘depolarize’ the debate by ‘enabling – without obligation – research and dialogue into potential regulatory measures’.

It also:
‘regrets’ that the white paper dropped any reference to socially responsible investment
says the Commission should help small business to adopt
CSR by working with chambers
of commerce and other intermediaries
expresses disappointment that the white paper did not give greater priority to ‘promoting global initiatives’.

The second white paper, known as a ‘communication’, was widely seen as a damp squib that signalled a desire by the Commission to play a minor role in CSR. Its main idea was to create a Europe-wide federation of companies, called the European Alliance for CSR, for sharing ideas. Dozens of companies have shown interest, but its shape is still uncertain.

The resolution, if passed by MEPs, will be forwarded to the Commission, which is not compelled to act on its recommendations.

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