European Law Monitor

Make your voice heard!

Europe sees progress on Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate responsibility on social and environmental matters is gaining ground in Europe. Two years after the European Multistakeholder Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) representatives from business, trade unions, national governments, academia and other organisations, at the initiative of the European Commission, discussed progress achieved on implementation of the forum's recommendations and the way forward. They concluded that more and more European businesses are adopting CSR practices and invited all stakeholders to play an active role in making Europe a pole of excellence on CSR. Vice-President Günter Verheugen and Commissioner for Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla addressed the meeting together with a number of Members of European Parliament and other high-level representatives. Participants agreed that a wide CSR uptake in the EU can be further promoted by intensifying cooperation between different stakeholder groups. The European Commission attaches growing importance to socially and environmentally responsible behaviour by enterprises, identifying CSR as an essential ingredient for the European strategy for sustainable growth and more and better jobs.

Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy said: “One of the pillars of the growth and jobs strategy is about providing businesses with the best environment to thrive. In turn, citizens have the right to expect from the business a strong contribution to a harmonious development of our society. Responsible business leaders need to care about the future of their employees, the environmental impact of their activity and their role in local communities. More freedom for business means more responsibility as well. I call on all stakeholders to sign up to CSR."

Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla added: "It is important that all the stakeholders involved in CSR engage actively to achieve the best results. Corporate social responsibility is essential for good labour relations and a key to facing the challenges of a globalized economy."

The review meeting of the Multistakeholder forum demonstrated that significant progress has been achieved in mainstreaming CSR into business practices of European companies. A wealth of concrete experiences were presented and exchanged between companies and their stakeholders. It was also agreed that a wide CSR uptake in the EU can be further promoted by intensifying cooperation between different stakeholder groups. To this end, stakeholders agreed to meet again in 2008 to review progress.

In its Communication on CSR published in March 2006, the Commission acknowledged that “without the active support and constructive criticism of non-business stakeholders, CSR will not flourish.” The European Commission believes that while enterprises are the primary actors in CSR, credible CSR practices need to be developed together with other stakeholders, such as trade unions, non-governmental organisations, public authorities and academic institutions.

In its new policy on CSR, the Commission also restated its commitment to promote CSR as a voluntary concept. All companies have to comply with existing legal requirements and the Commission proposes regulation whenever it deems it necessary in line with the better regulation strategy. CSR is about what enterprises can do over and above such regulatory requirements, and the forum review meeting clearly showed that they already do a lot and can do even more.

In order to promote a wide voluntary uptake of socially responsible behaviour, the Commission has in particular given strong backing to the launch of the European Alliance on CSR, to which more than 100 companies active in CSR have already adhered. The Commission also works actively with EU member states to deepen the exchange of information about national policies to promote CSR. Examples of other initiatives taken include: an awareness-raising campaign on CSR for SMEs run together with EUROCHAMBRES and UEAPME (the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises); financial support to the European Academy of Business in Society for the development of academic research on CSR related issues; sponsoring the creation of Vaderegio, a network of European regions active in the area of CSR; or the support of the promotion of CSR by the social partners in the textile, clothing and leather good sector.

CSR as a contribution to competitiveness, social cohesion and sustainable development

Corporate Social Responsibility seeks to create and exploit win-win situations for enterprises and for society at large. For example, by actively seeking to recruit employees from groups that are traditionally excluded from the labour market, such as disabled persons or immigrant communities, enterprises can get access to talented and motivated employees while at the same time contributing to social cohesion. Or by investing in eco-innovation and energy efficient production processes, enterprises can save themselves money and also reduce their negative impact on the environment.