Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Australia unveils CSR plan

July 2008

The Australian government has established an ambitious three-year project to expand responsible business practice across the country.

The treasury will provide Aus$2million ($1.9m, £960,000) of funding, which will be managed by the St James Ethics Centre, a non-profit body that promotes good business practice. The initiative is expected to continue beyond the initial three years, but would be self-funding from that point.

Ministers want to increase the number of companies and firms 'actively engaged in identifying and adopting more responsible business practices'.

The Centre will 'source, refine and develop tools to engage and promote responsible business practices across all levels of corporate management'. This will include changes to its four-year-old annual Corporate Responsibility Index.

Efforts will be made to draw small and medium-sized enterprises, which comprise more than 95 per cent of the country's businesses, into the index. Wayne Burns, director of Australia's Centre for Corporate Public Affairs, told EP: 'About 100 or so large companies trading in Australia have embedded corporate responsibility into their operations innovatively and successfully, including as a component of competitive advantage. However, the big gap is with small enterprises.'

Aside from the index, the Centre will be asked to set up national networks of companies, by sector or region, to share best practice and test new ideas. The government has stressed these must involve stakeholders and should consider social inclusion, climate change and 'long-term sustainability'. Much of this work will be done with the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development, a business-led non profit body that aims to put Australian companies onto a more sustainable footing.

The plan emerged from a government-led Australia 2020 Summit in Canberra during April, at which more than 1000 delegates developed a 'long-term strategy for the nation's future'. Sustainability and climate change were among ten 'critical areas' identified by the summit, and the prime minister is expected to lay out a full plan for these later this year. Last November, the Labour government appointed Australia's first minister for climate change and water, Penny Wong.

The St James Ethics Centre said it expects companies to respond positively to the government's proposals, if only to 'mitigate pressure for further corporate regulation'.

The project is partly a reaction to a suggestion, made two years ago by a parliamentary committee, that the government seed-fund an Australian Corporate Responsibility Network (EP8, issue 4, p5).

Latest results from the Australian Corporate Responsibility Index show three multinationals - BT, HBOS and Xstrata - among the top five performers. The other two are EnergyAustralia and the ANZ bank. The most improved company was Country Energy, owned by the New South Wales government. Average scores for the 34 companies in the 2007 index were five per cent lower than the previous year's. This, however, may be due largely to index weighting changes. To date, 63 companies have taken part but only nine have done so in all five years.

Australasia | Government role

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