CSR Stakeholder Forum marked by disagreement

Business and NGOs clash on conclusions of final report of Multi Stakeholder Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility.

Fearing that they had lost ground following the adoption of the
report on the morning of the final plenary meeting, a group of NGOs
circulated an open letter to key EU decision-makers stating that a
“voluntary agreement between the stakeholders on corporate
responsibility without a common system for corporate accountability
is not enough to create the necessary EU framework for CSR” (see


The Commission’s definition of CSR, upon which the Stakeholder
Forum’s discussions were built, refers to CSR as a ‘voluntary’
integration of social and environmental considerations into
business operations.

The NGO community has found that the report “does not go far
enough” and they wish to indicate this view in the report. While
the NGO side does not “dismiss the forum” its final report
demonstrates the “limited results of a limited process”, as one NGO
reperesentative has put it.

The NGOs wanted that the statements made at the final plenary,
which was the first chance to comment on the full report, be added
to the final summary.

After days of wrangling, a foreword has been included in the
report emphasising three main points. Firstly, that the report is a
“fair record of points of consensus”. Secondly, that “there are
some differences and debates that remain”. Thirdly, that the
speeches and statements made at the final plenary meeting of the
Forum can be accessed at the CSR websites of both DG Employment and
DG Enterprise.

The final report, including the foreword, is now out, but an
asterisked footnote states that not all NGOs have been able to
endorse the text. NGO representatives have told EURACTIV that they
needed more time to consult their constituencies and that a meeting
has been scheduled for 14 July to agree a common approach within
the NGO community.


One NGO speaker has told EURACTIV that they would like to move
on from the conclusions of the forum to "action". In the speaker's
view, the Commission should propose a clear framework on CSR in an
upcoming communication recognising that a "weak voluntary approach
would not work". In the speaker's view, among other issues, the
Commission should emphasise the role of public authorities, publish
guidelines for EU companies on CSR and advocate mandatory
communication (eg reporting) on their activities.

A spokesperson from UNICE said that the business community is
"astonished" by this turn of events. "We are deceived by the
attitude of some of the NGOs", who continued the discussions after
the final meeting at which "the report was accepted by all
stakeholders". While the business side does not see the totality of
their views on CSR reflected in the final report it values the text
as an achievement following a twenty-month learning and discussion
process. The business community feels that the attitude of some of
the players after the process had run its course points to the lack
of stable and reliable interlocutors in some organisations when it
comes to the general CSR policy debate at European level.
"Notwithstanding this deceiving attitude displayed by some NGOs at
EU level, companies will continue to act in accordance with their
own CSR commitments and continue practising dialogue and
cooperation with relevant stakeholders," the spokesperson said.


Two weeks after the final plenary meeting of the Multi
Stakeholder Forum on CSR, there is still no full agreement on the
final report.

The Multi Stakeholder Forum on CSR met in four round tables over
20 months to explore the themes of 'CSR knowledge', 'SMEs',
'transparency of CSR practices and tools', as well as the
'development' aspects of CSR (see also EURACTIV's Overview:

). The Forum held its final high-level
meeting on 29 June delivering its summary report.


The Commi ssion is expected to publish a follow-up communication
to the conclusions of the Forum at the end of 2004 or early


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