Lobbying legitimate but needs reforms — study

A new UN-backed report suggests improvements to “arguably the most controversial and secretive of all business practices”. But at a time when the EU is considering lobbying regulation, it says demands for total transparency “may be unrealistic”.

A new UN-backed report, published on 8 September has suggested improvements to lobbying good practice for both businesses and NGOs and called on governments to be open to working with businesses. 

Entitled “Towards responsible lobbying”, the report also calls on governments to “ensure robust controls to prevent lobbyists from wielding undue or improper influence”.

However, it warns that demands for total transparency of lobbying “may be unrealistic in a business where success can depend on informality and closed-door meetings”. Transparency does not guarantee responsible practice, it argues.

Furthermore, it says “regulation – such as compulsory registration – does not prevent lobbyists from wielding undue or improper influence over politicians”.

Compulsory registration of lobbyists is one of the options being weighed up by the EU Commission as part of an initiative to improve transparency and accountability in European policy-making. 

Announced in March by Commissioner for Administration and Anti-Fraud policy Siim Kallas, the initiative plans to address transparency in lobbying as a full and legitimate component of EU policy-making.

However sympathetic to corporate lobbying, the UN report nevertheless warns that “businesses – as the buyers of lobbying services – must […] ensure that lobbying focuses on long-term business strategy rather than the short-term avoidance of costs and regulations”.

Similarly, the report says NGOs “must be prepared to follow the same responsible lobbying guidelines as corporate companies,” noting that some have encountered criticism for their campaigning practices.

The report therefore puts forward a “six-step lobbying health check” for businesses and NGOs based on key questions:

  • Policy consistency: Are we doing one thing and saying another?
  • Process transparency: Does it look like we’re trying to hide something?
  • Knowledge and people: Does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing?

In a foreword to the report, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "Business must restrain itself from taking away, by its lobbying activities, what it offers through corporate responsibility and philanthropy."

"There are often significant discrepancies between CSR policies on the one hand and lobbying efforts on the other', said Georg Kell, Executive Head of the United Nations Global Compact. "This lack of consistency can undermine the credibility of corporate responsibility and diminish its benefits," he warned.

'Towards Responsible Lobbying' was written by AccountAbility in close cooperation with the United Nation's Global Compact and is the result of international consultation with professional lobbyists as well as with businesses, governments and NGOs.

The report estimates the lobbying profession to be made up of some 100,000 practitioners worldwide, 17,000 of these based in Washington alone and 15,000 in Brussels.

  • In October 2005 an advisory group will present a report to the College of Commissioners outlining transparency plans that Commissioner Kallas has announced will put EU institutions and lobbyists under pressure to become more open and respect high ethical standards. 
  • The Commission will present a Green paper by the end of 2005 which will serve as the basis for a public debate.
  • A Round Table conference open to all "relevant stakeholders" is set to be organised, following which the Commission may decide what action should be taken.

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