Anna Diamantopoulou, European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs

“We look forward to the contribution of the 10 accession countries to the EU debate on CSR”, says Anna Diamantopoulou, EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs.

The EU Multi-Stakeholder Forum has a mandate until summer
2004. What concrete achievements would you like to see in its final
conclusions?

We have set up the CSR Forum because we believe
that it is necessary to further develop CSR through an open and
constructive dialogue, involving business, workers, investors,
consumers and organisations in the field of human rights,
development and the environment. The Commission expects the Forum
to agree on common guiding principles, on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’
of good CSR practice by mid-2004. The Forum is addressing the
business contribution to sustainable development both in the EU and
abroad. It is looking at how companies integrate CSR in their
business strategy and operations, how they measure and communicate
the impact of their CSR policies on competitiveness, social
cohesion and environmental protection, how they invest in their
employees, and how companies interact with other stakeholders, such
as suppliers and local communities. We will assess the results of
the Forum and decide on its follow-up, and any other initiatives
required to promote CSR.

What more radical changes relating to CSR would you
support?

CSR has grown out of voluntary, company-driven
initiatives and the Commission does not want to see this innovatory
energy sapped by a heavy steer from above. It is in businesses’ own
interest to improve their CSR-related activities in order to
develop branding as a healthy and sustainable enterprise. The EU
framework is designed to guide business in this endeavour. That
said, the Commission does have a CSR agenda – to improve companies’
economic, social and environmental performance, and to be able to
measure and verify these improvements in order to enhance
transparency and credibility of CSR.

How do you see the 10 accession countries feed into the CSR
debate?

We look forward to the contribution of the 10
accession countries to the EU debate on CSR. They bring their own
experience and history. Government, social partners, consumers and
investors are showing a keen interest. Across Europe there is a
growing consensus that CSR can contribute to sustainable
development, to better social governance and to a better society at
large.

In your view, how can European companies’ social
performance and international competitiveness be improved
simultaneously?

CSR has an important role to play in harnessing
the potential of globalisation and in developing stronger global
governance. More and more companies realise that CSR makes good
business sense, including when competing at the international
level. CSR is a key instrument to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’
which can result from unmanaged globalisation. As consumers express
a growing preference for socially and environmentally responsible
products and services, CSR becomes a necessity if companies want to
align company values on those of consumers and society at large.
Moreover, an increasing number of investors are looking at how
companies manage their social and environmental risk and are
monitoring their overall performance on these issues.

In your prediction, will Europeans still work less hours
and have a more generous welfare system than their US counterparts
in 10 years’ time?

Results of Eurobarometer surveys confirm that
Europeans attach great value to their social model, including a
strong welfare system. However, in order to maintain the quality of
our welfare systems, we need to modernise them so as to take into
account demographic and economic change. But that is not all. The
EU has committed itself to bringing more people into the labour
market through a push for more and better jobs. EU leaders aim to
create 15 million new jobs by 2010. Data shows the EU can already
compete with the US on productivity per worker per hour. However,
the EU still has some way to go to inc rease the number of people
in employment and to make the EU labour force into a high-skill,
high-added-value asset.

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