Companies pledge to contribute to Lisbon goals through CSR

‘Voluntary’ should remain the name of the game in the approach of the EU and member state governments to corporate social responsibility, say business representatives at an event marking the ten-year anniversary of the CSR concept.

The language of the CSR Europe-led “European Roadmap for Business – Towards a Sustainable and Competitive Enterprise” fits in with the EU’s Lisbon strategy discourse and comes a few weeks before the launch of a new CSR Communication by the Commission. 

The six-page document argues that voluntary commitments on the part of European businesses have helped them to achieve substantial progress in CSR. Therefore, the document builds its commitments on the premise that CSR should remain a voluntary initiative beyond legal requirements.

It sets goals in five areas for European businesses: innovation and entrepreneurship, skills and competence building, equal opportunities and diversity, health and safety and environmental protection. 

Companies signing up to the document would achieve these goals by fully integrating CSR into their business practices, engaging their stakeholders, providing leadership and governance, improving communication and transparency and by building business-to-business co-operations and alliances.

Finally, the roadmap makes an appeal to the EU and governments to deliver on Lisbon and to support a voluntary approach to CSR as well as a regular dialogue with business. It also appeals to employees and their representatives, consumer organisations and NGOs, investors and academia.

President of CSR Europe Etienne Davignon referred to the past ten years of CSR as a success. "We can speak about success without arrogance - we have raised expectations," he explained. The challenge is not to publish documents and issue statements but to provide solid evidence as "facts are the best certainty you can have". In Davignon's view, the exhibition on 3 March that demonstrated companies' commitment to CSR provides such evidence. Corporate strategy and corporate social strategy are the same thing, he argued. Asked about the upcoming CSR Communication, the former Commissioner explained that he would be "surprised if it contained something we [CSR Europe] would not like to see. The Commission will tell us [CSR Europe] to deliver."

High-level company representatives then provided examples of their own responsible business practices. For instance, diversity policies are very much highlighted at Accor with half of their employees being women. Citigroup supports 'active volunteering' providing one paid day per year to their employees for volunteering in their community. Sony's CSR priorities focus on human rights, business conduct, disclosure of information, intellectual property and environmental issues. Microsoft  supports research, SMEs in its supply chain, education and lifelong learning, as well as investment in the community.

Philippe de Buck, the Secretary General of UNICE said that the Stakeholder Forum "was not an easy exercise" but "it was perhaps the largest discussion ever organised on CSR". De Buck called on the Commission to support CSR as a business-driven initiative, one that must be done on a voluntary basis. If no longer voluntary, CSR would lose the driving force behind it, he argued. "CSR has to come from inside, it cannot be imposed from the outside," he said.

Frank Welvaert, Chair of the Board of Directors of CSR Europe, spoke out against the conclusion famously reached by the Economist in January about the superfluous and even undesirable nature of CSR. "Capitalism does not need the fundamental reform that many CSR advocates wish for," argued the Economist in its CSR special (22-28 January 2005, p.4).

Under the umbrella of CSR Europe, European business representatives gathered on 3-4 March to prove that they can act responsibly without further regulation in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR). 

They put on display their practical solutions for integrating CSR practice into their daily business and launched a European roadmap, an “open initiative” to which all other interested companies have been invited to join. 

The event marked the ten-year anniversary of the concept of CSR, which was born following the launch of a European Declaration of Businesses against Social Exclusion at the initiative of Jacques Delors in 1995.

The Commission is expected to release a communication on CSR following up on the discussions held within the framework of the Multi Stakeholder Forum on CSR, at the end of April 2005.

The Commission is organising a conference on the theme of "CSR driving European Competitiveness in a global economy" on 19 April.

  • DG Employment:CSR
  • DG Enterprise:CSR

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