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EC decides to produce another white paper

October 2010

A third communication on corporate responsibility is to be produced by the European Commission next summer.

The commission, which has already published two such white papers to generally lukewarm response, has decided to re-visit the topic in the hope of setting out a clearer role for itself.

The move is largely at the behest of the European commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, Antonio Tajani, who has also been vice-president of the commission since 2008. Sources say the Italian is keen to see how the EC can re-engage on CSR after what many observers have characterized as a laissez-faire attitude in the past.

Tajani believes the commission has a major role to play in restoring trust levels in business, and that by taking more interest in CSR it can aid that process. In March 2010 the EC made a commitment to ‘renew the European Union strategy to promote corporate social responsibility as a key element in ensuring long term employee and consumer trust’.

Speaking at the United Nations in June, Tajani said corporate responsibility should be promoted as ‘one of the necessary values underlying the new economic and social system that together we must build, taking account of the lessons from the crisis that we face today’.

The paper will in particular look at corporate disclosure, supply chain ethics, and human rights – and will set out to describe how the commission can support and influence various international CSR instruments, such as the Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the ISO 26000 guidance standard. It will also explore the possibility of facilitating initiatives in various sectors to address social and environmental challenges they face.

EP sources suggest the paper, which will be developed by the CSR team at the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, may suggest a more proactive stance for the EC.

The two previous white papers, produced in 2002 and 2006, steered the commission away from playing any interventionist role in promoting CSR, instead favouring a light touch strategy in which it has tried to bring stakeholders and companies together to discuss ways forward.

The main outcome of the 2002 white paper was a Europe-wide multi-stakeholder forum of NGOs, unions and business people, which was set up to develop future CSR policy for the commission. However, the forum eventually dissolved in acrimony.

The 2006 paper’s flagship initiative was the establishment of a Europe-wide federation of companies called the European Alliance for CSR, designed to act as an ‘umbrella for new or existing CSR initiatives’. Although it still exists, it has no legal framework, no formal requirements for the companies involved, and no new commission money to support it.

Tom Dodd of the commission’s CSR Team said the EC was ‘very likely’ to adopt the white paper next year, ‘but this is not yet 100 per cent certain’. He added that ‘no final decision has yet been made on the timing’.




Europe | Government role

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