Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


new minister expected to promote CSR among companies

May 2000

Senior industry figures with a corporate social responsibility (CSR) brief have welcomed the appointment of the first CSR minister in a European country.

Kim Howells became CSR minister to the UK government last month (EP11, 2000). The minister for competition and consumer affairs at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), he will add the new brief to his responsibilities.

Howells’ first public appearance as CSR minister will be on 4 May at a London conference organised by the Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability (ISEA). The day before he is to speak to the UK all-party parliamentary group on socially responsible investment.

Noel Morrin, international environment director at RMC, the building materials group, said that while the appointment was more ‘signal than substance’, the UK government should now encourage CSR initiatives by focusing on what companies have already done at a community level.

‘[Howells] now has to build on the emerging definitions and actions around sustainable development,’ he said.

‘There are a lot of initiatives in the public, private and civil sectors. The government now has the opportunity to look at what’s already there and to build on it.’

Robert Beckett, ISEA’s development director, agreed the priority was to ‘get behind existing initiatives and build the next level of involvement.’

A spokesperson from the Environmental Services Group at the professional services organization Ernst & Young warned that the government needed ‘to adopt a light-touch approach to encouraging companies to do more, and not to go down the regulatory route, which could hinder rather than promote the application of corporate social responsibility.’

Daniel Summerfield, research and development executive at the Institute of Directors, said the new new CSR minister needed to act as a catalyst, not an enforcer. ‘If his role is about encouraging companies to adopt good ethical practices, we support that, but if he is considering extra legislation and other burdens on directors, we would have second thoughts,’ he said. ‘In many ways his role will be determined by the outcome of the UK company law review.’


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