Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


A look at CSR’s continental shift

February 2010

CSR Europe has produced a new guide on the state of corporate responsibility in Europe. Here  EP summarises some of its conclusions about the progress – or lack of it – being made in selected nations on the continent

Only around 30 companies produce regular annual sustainability reports, but 99.7 per cent of all Austrian companies are SMEs; much more work is needed to reach these firms. Consumer awareness of CSR is low and hence little pressure to act responsibly from consumers on companies. However, media interest is rising, and Austria is one of the fastest growing fair trade markets. Energy use is a big issue, due to under-provision at home. CSR leaders include energy company OMV and two banks: OeKB and BAWAG. Government is developing a CSR policy for public procurement.

Unusually, initiatives on CSR are organised at both federal and regional levels in Belgium. A federal ‘Action Plan for CSR’ has been in place since 2006, encouraging integration of CSR into companies’ management. Key areas at present include: discrimination, public procurement, SRI, fair trade, stakeholder dialogue, and transparency. Many new initiatives are underway, including an environmental action plan and climate law, and a sustainable public procurement programme.

Czech Republic
The government adopted a ‘National Quality Policy’ in 2000 which includes CSR as a priority,  though no formal policies exist as yet. General awareness of CSR is widespread in the country but media interest is weak. The country has a labelling system solely based on products’ environmental impacts.  Many Czech firms are in the supply chains of western European businesses that have a strong ethical focus.

The past five years have seen a huge rise in the prominence of CSR, mainly due to government measures. Since 2001, reporting on social and environmental impacts has been mandatory for listed companies, and is due to be extended to non-listed firms. Current regulatory initiatives include work on corporate pension schemes and employment diversity. The French SRI market,  now worth ?30bn, is a big influence.

No specific CSR legislation and an emphasis on voluntary uptake. Most focus is still on the environment but social issues are gaining ground and media interest in CSR is ‘quite intense’. Progress is uneven, however: advances have been made in sustainable products and community involvement, but  human rights is not yet central to the CSR debate.

No legislation as such, but corporate responsibility issues are included in the responsibility frameworks of at least eight different ministries in the country. There is no policy on reporting. Little media or public interest in CSR, so the main driver is internally from businesses that believe it helps with overall strategy and risk management. Community involvement is a key focus.

Successive governments have taken a non-interventionist stance. Community investment and employee engagement are popular and, to a lesser extent, climate change – for which Ireland has a five-year action plan in place. Public awareness of CSR is high, and recent years have seen a growth in sustainable products and services.
Political crises have stunted the growth of Italian CSR, and there are now no high-level initiatives being run by the government. A law passed in 2007, however, does require the introduction of social and environmental issues into management reports. The focus of Italian CSR is mainly on employment issues, especially health and safety. On other matters, such as equal opportunities and community engagement, Italian companies lag far behind European counterparts, with relatively high gender inequality and a focus on  philanthropy. Public understanding of, and media interest in, CSR is limited.

The Netherlands
The government has been one of the most active on CSR, producing various documents and guidelines, including a ‘cabinet vision’ on how CSR should look from 2008-2011, sustainable public procurement objectives, and advice on sustainability reporting. The focus of Dutch CSR is varied, including: water, climate change, biodiversity, supply chain management, sustainable building and agriculture, technological innovation, demographic change and labour rights. A specialized CSR media in the country and increasing discussion of the issue in government means the Dutch are among the most CSR-aware consumers in Europe.

The Norwegian ministry of foreign affairs’ recent ‘White Paper on CSR’ sets CSR firmly in the context of global sustainability challenges and the competitiveness of Norwegian business in the world economy. The Norwegian government’s position is that CSR means companies integrating social and environmental concerns into their day-to-day operations, as well as in their dealings with stakeholders. The key priorities for many CSR programmes in Norway are human rights, labour standards, the environment, corruption and transparency. In addition to its sovereign wealth fund, which is one of the most SRI-conscious in the world, CSR leaders in the country include insurer KLP, telecoms company Telenor and beverages firm Vinmonopolet.

The government has been quietly active in promoting and raising awareness about CSR. The country has numerous working groups, guides, initiatives and plans for public policy on CSR. Consumer awareness is increasing as a result, with eco-efficiency and sustainable development key areas of concern.

Recent years have seen the development of important CSR-related measures in Spain, including on gender equality and sustainable public procurement, which have built on already robust labour laws. An advisory, multi-stakeholder body has also been set up to advise the government on CSR. Current priorities in the country include diversity management and social cohesion, transparency, SRI and the integration of CSR in education.

The Swedish mixed economy means greater emphasis on the public sector’s CSR performance than in other countries. The state leads the way on almost all CSR issues, where its performance is among the best in Europe, and the main focus for Sweden’s private companies is their operations abroad. The environment, executive remuneration, and workers’ rights are key issues at present. Swedish CSR leaders include H&M, Ikea and ABB.

Like Belgium, Switzerland’s work in the area is heavily decentralized. There are few federal measures, though national listed companies are required to report on sustainability issues. CSR programmes tend to focus on youth unemployment, gender equality, responsible consumption, and fair trade. There is, however, a major divide between the French- and German-speaking areas of the country, with the former generally more committed to CSR.

Europe | CSR

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