Commission launches new CSR forum

In October 2002, the European Commission launched a new European 'multi-stakeholder forum' on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Made up of 20 representatives from the social partners and interested parties, the forum will examine a range of issues and report to the Commission in 2004.

The issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been a focus of interest at European level for a number of years. Most recently, the conclusions of the Lisbon European Council summit on economic and social issues, held in March 2000 (EU0004241F), called on companies to promote a sense of responsibility in order to achieve the EU’s strategic goal of becoming the most competitive economy in the world by 2010.

In the months following the Lisbon Council, the European Commission began to look in more depth at CSR issues. It issued in July 2001 a Green Paper on the topic of CSR (EU0107228F) in which it asked for views on this issue from interested parties.

This was followed in July 2002 by a Communication in which the Commission outlined a strategy on CSR, entitled Corporate Social Responsibility: A business contribution to sustainable development (EU0207205F). In this Communication, the Commission called for a new social and environmental role for business in a global economy. It focused in particular on how to promote CSR practices among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). One of its main proposals was to set up a new European 'multi-stakeholder forum' to examine a range of CSR-related issues.

Forum launched

Accordingly, the new European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR EMS Forum) was launched on 16 October 2002. It is described by the Commission as a 'multi-stakeholder, pan-European initiative to create a common understanding of corporate social responsibility, and enhance its credibility and effectiveness in helping to achieve EU economic, social and environmental aims'.

Participants

The forum will be made up of around 20 EU-level representatives of enterprises, trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), investors, consumers and other stakeholders in this area, as follows:

  • the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC);
  • the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE);
  • CSR Europe;
  • Green G8 (European environmental NGOs);
  • the Platform of European Social NGOs;
  • Amnesty International;
  • the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC);
  • the European Confederation of Workers' Cooperatives, Social Cooperatives and Participative Enterprises (CECOP);
  • the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation (CEEP);
  • the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT);
  • the Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff (EUROCADRES) and the European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff (CEC);
  • the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Eurochambres);
  • EuroCommerce;
  • the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO);
  • the European Federation of Human Rights (FIDH);
  • Oxfam;
  • the European Union of Crafts and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME); and
  • the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

In addition, a range of EU institutions and other organisations will have observer status, as follows:

  • the European Parliament;
  • the Council of the European Union;
  • the Committee of the Regions;
  • the European Economic and Social Committee;
  • the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD);
  • the International Labour Organisation (ILO);
  • the United Nations Environmental Project (UNEP);
  • the United Nations Global Compact office;
  • the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) secretariat;
  • the European University Association (EUA); and
  • the European Sustainable and Responsible Investment Forum (EUROSIF).

Remit of the forum

The remit of the CSR EMS Forum is to promote innovation, convergence and transparency in existing CSR practices. It will also examine a range of CSR tools, including codes of conduct, labels, reports and management instruments. In particular, it will focus on four main issues:

  • improving knowledge of CSR and facilitating the exchange of experience and good practice;
  • the situation of SMEs and how to foster the concept of CSR among these companies;
  • increasing the transparency of CSR practices and tools; and
  • examining the development aspects of CSR.

The forum is expected to add value and bring together existing initiatives in this areas, such as core labour standards drawn up by the ILO, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles governing Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy and the guidelines for multinational enterprises elaborated by the OECD (EU0009270F).

During its deliberations, the forum will bear in mind issues such as competitiveness, social cohesion, environmental protection, consumers, the international dimension, human rights, democratisation and conflict prevention. Specific issues which the forum will address include:

  • CSR practices, particularly in the area of human resource management, health and safety at work, managing change, management of environmental impacts and natural resources, community involvement, relations with business partners, suppliers and consumers, and human rights; and
  • CSR instruments, such as training schemes, management standards, codes of conduct, social and environmental accounting, reporting and auditing, social and eco-labels and socially responsible investment.

The forum, which will be chaired by the Commission, will meet throughout 2003 and the first half of 2004. It will then present its findings and conclusions to the Commission by mid-2004.

Launching the forum, the Enterprise Commissioner, Erkki Liikanen, said: 'the forum is a vital process, needed to reach consensus on the future of corporate social responsibility in Europe. It is a societal challenge that businesses have an interest in taking on, both to remain competitive and to ensure a positive business contribution to sustainable development. SMEs also have an important role to play in this area, as they constitute the majority of Europe's businesses.'

According to the Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou: 'corporate social responsibility is the business contribution to sustainable development. The purpose of this forum is to help business and other stakeholders to agree on how to make this contribution effective and verifiable, to the benefit of all, including of business itself.'

Commentary

In times of rapid economic change and fast-moving corporate restructuring, the notion that business should consider its social and environmental responsibilities is gaining ground. This latest initiative from the Commission aims to promote the issue of CSR and, by looking at best practice, show how CSR policies can enhance business performance and competitiveness.

One of the main challenges here is getting the message across to smaller companies, which often do not have the facilities and resources in place to focus on strategic issues such as CSR. The coming 18 months, during which the new forum will meet and devise a report, will therefore be vital in the future development of this issue. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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