A battery of measures to enhance corporate social responsibility
By Sophie Petitjean | Monday 10 October 2011
A combination of voluntary measures and regulation by public officials is what the European Commission recommends as a way of encouraging enterprises to engage in socially or environmentally motivated actions as part of their daily activities. In a draft communication on corporate social responsibility (CSR) viewed by
Europolitics, the Commission announces its intention to present a legislative proposal in 2012 on the transparency of social and environmental information provided by companies from all sectors. The executive also agrees to report on its own social and environmental performance by the end of 2013. The communication is announced for November.
Corporate social responsibility refers to the voluntary inclusion by enterprises of social, environmental and ethical concerns in their business activities and relations with their stakeholders, which go beyond legal requirements and collective agreements. The Commission explains that this concept is “applicable to all companies, regardless of their size or any other characteristics, although all efforts to promote CSR must take into account the specific situation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)”.
SEVEN AREAS OF WORK
The communication intends to guide and coordinate member states’ policies. It is structured on seven areas of work: 1. recognise and support CSR in European enterprises; 2. encourage market rewards for CSR; 3. improve the reporting of social and environmental information by enterprises; 4. stress the importance of national and infra-national CSR policies; 5. align the European and global approaches to CSR; 6. improve and monitor levels of trust in enterprises; and 7. further integrate CSR into education, training and research.
The first area aims to encourage corporate social responsibility at a European level. To achieve this goal, the Commission proposes to create in 2012 multi-party platforms in a number of industrial sectors with a view to encouraging public commitments. It also intends to reward partnerships between enterprises and other stakeholders and to adapt the Enterprise Europe Network (set up by the Commission to help small enterprises [[http://www.enterprise-europe-network.ec.europa.eu]]) in order to enhance the quality and availability of advice in the area of CSR for SMEs.
To ensure that the market responds positively to CSR, the EU executive proposes incentives to adapt consumer policy, public procurement policy and investment policy. For example, it will examine the idea of requiring institutional investors to inform their customers about the ethical or social criteria they apply or the codes/standards to which they subscribe. The Commission also plans to consider the idea of a labelling system for the sector of responsible investments.
Third, the Commission wishes to improve the reporting of social and environmental information. At present, 2,500 enterprises (of the 42,000 operating in the EU) publish sustainability reports. It will therefore present a legislative proposal on the transparency of social and environmental information provided by enterprises in all sectors.
To highlight the importance of national and infra-national CSR policies, the Commission invites the member states to develop or update by mid-2012 their own plans or lists of priority actions to promote corporate social responsibility.
It also proposes to align European and global approaches to CSR. All large European companies will be asked to make CSR commitments by 2014. The Commission agrees for its part to monitor the commitments made by European enterprises with more than 1,000 employees to take into account recognised international CSR guidelines and principles. It also promises, in the framework of the negotiation of free trade agreements, to propose to partners the inclusion of a chapter on sustainable development, including references to international principles of corporate social responsibility.
Lastly, the communication suggests a number of measures to ensure further integration of CSR in education, training and research and to improve levels of trust in enterprises.