Open dispute between Commission and NGOs on CSR

The Commission has contradicted claims from NGOs that the latter shall be excluded from future talks on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Environmental groups insist on the truth of their claims.

Based on a leaked draft of the Commission’s new Communication on CSR, which was published on 22 March 2006, NGOs like Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) had expressed their concern that they might be excluded from the ‘European Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility’ being set up by the Commission.

Gregor Kreuzhuber, spokesman to Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, answered these claims by saying: “NGOs have not been excluded, are not excluded and will not be excluded. They have been part of the broad consultation process and they will be part of the review.” 

In response, Paul de Clerck of FoEE told EURACTIV, “NGOs and trade unions have not been invited to any of the internal meetings that Verheugen and [Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir] Spidla organised with CSR Europe. Over the last two and a half years, they have only met with the companies.” 

The Commission told EURACTIV that “a common European understanding of what CSR means has emerged on the basis of the Commission definition of CSR as a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis. 

De Clerck responded, “To claim that everyone agrees on a definition of CSR as a voluntary measure is completely beside the truth, and it means that the Commission simply ignored the joint letter from NGOs at the end of the multi-stakeholder forum.”

Verheugen’s spokesman says he still hopes to keep NGOs involved in future talks on CSR: “The CSR forum review meeting foreseen for the end of 2006 will be a first opportunity to take stock of progress in making Europe a pole of excellence on CSR. The Commission proposes that review meetings should be held regularly as a means of ensuring continued dialogue between all stakeholders at EU level.” 

NGOs, among them all signatories of the joint letter, plus a number of national level organisations, are working on establishing a new coalition on CSR before April 2006. De Clerck says that the participation of NGOs in evaluation talks proposed by the Commission will not be automatic. “We have to think about the question whether this makes sense – to evaluate something which we already know does not fulfil our wishes,” he said.

For more reactions from stakeholders, consult EURACTIV’s LinksDossier on CSR

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