Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


corporate social responsibility and the European Commission

December 2000

The European Commission is starting to take a greater interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR). At present this interest is manifesting itself in a series of piecemeal plans and measures covering fields ranging from social reporting to ethical investment and partnership building. No wider CSR strategy has yet appeared.

It probably never will. CSR is simply too wide a field to embrace with a single policy. This explains why the EC’s interventions to date in this area tend to be either highly specific or very general. As an example of a general measure, one need look no further than the EU announcement that 2005 will be the ‘European year of CSR’. This should provide a focus for European companies to build on their existing CSR work. It will also, hopefully, make the public more aware of what the acronym CSR stands for.

Examples of a specific measure would be the €2million the EC has made available in this financial year to encourage the promotion and development of codes of conduct, and the official communication in spring 2000 on fair trade.

The news that EC officials are discussing the possibility of introducing a directive that would force pension funds to disclose their policies on socially responsible investment also falls into this category.

The environment is one area in which the EU can claim to be in the forefront of change. More than 400 environmental directives are already in place. They represent a body of regulation that has played a vital role in setting the agenda for triple bottom line reporting by companies.

Yet regulations from Brussels on social reporting remain a long way off. Indeed, it is not even clear that it is appropriate for the EC to introduce regulations in this area. International initiatives on social and environmental reporting are already under way and companies are deeply involved. They are doing this not because they fear regulation, but because they feel the need to manage risk in a systematic way. If this approach fails, it will then be time for Brussels to step in.


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