"It Simply Works Better - Campaign Report on European CSR Excellence
2002 - 2003". Report from the European Business Campaign on CSR.
CSR Europe's five year 'CSR Olympics' is half way through - therefore the group has produced, along with the Copenhagen Centre and the International Business Leaders Forum, a mid-term report that details some of the progress to date.
The document gives some general overview pieces, and then a series of country-focused articles that aim to "describe a number of the different initiatives that are currently underway in Europe, from social reporting efforts in the Netherlands to global responsibility initiatives in Sweden and Norway". One approaches the document therefore for a timely finger on the pulse of the state of business action across Europe.
But rather than providing this, the document actually puts a form on the dilemma of definition that hovers over the CSR movement.
Because this document actually has very little to do with the voluntary actions of business. It has rather more to do with the actions of governments and other non-private bodies to encourage businesses to do what they think is required. This is a very different thing. One could argue about whether this is corporate social responsibility or a rather soft form of government regulation.
Just to run through some of the country areas of focus:
Belgium's pages focus on the actions of the Belgian government in passing the 'social label law' - essentially overseeing the creation of a consumer label.
In Denmark the government promoted its 'Common Concern' initiative, arguing for a partnership between all sections of society to boost employment and economic growth. This has led to the Act on Legal Protection and Administration in Social Matters - making it obligatory for all 275 local authorities in Denmark to have a �coordinating committee for preventive labour market measures�.
For Holland, the focus is on the development of frameworks for social reporting, both Dutch guidelines and also with reference to the fact that the Global Reporting Initiative has re-sited itself in Amsterdam. This section does however also mention the role played by companies like Shell in the evolution of reporting to date.
France continues the reporting theme, looking at the legal measures passed on 15th May to require companies to publish what are loosely described as triple bottom line reports. The section continues that "having previously lagged behind their European counterparts, French companies are now set to take a lead in improving their transparency and accountability towards stakeholders".
In Germany, the parliament has appointed a study commission on "The Future of Civic Activities" in December 1999. The commission, led by a broad coalition of political parties, was to take stock of how civic activities were contributing to the goal of a socially cohesive society. One of the key conclusions in the final report is that enterprises have an important role to play in civil society.
Italy begins with a quote - "The interesting thing was that having offered a step-by-step social reporting guide to a pilot group of SMEs, we were expecting to receive many calls for assistance. But they never called!" says Ruggero Bodo, volunteer consultant with Milano-based Sodalitas. The section details the pilot work carried out on the European Business Campaign�s SME Key initiative - focused on reporting for SMEs. The Italian pilot tests showed how even companies with only 26 or 39 persons could easily put together a social report.
And so on.
Let's be clear, the report details some fascinating, energetic and often successful activity across Europe. The European campaign has done a terrific job of engaging some of the senior EU leadership in the contribution that business makes, and can make, to society. And from that point of view, this is a good overview document.
But business is depressingly absent from all this. If French companies are to be forced to report, it hardly becomes of measure of their social responsibility that they do so. There is a real confusion here between CSR - which should be about best practice - and regulation - which is about minimum standards.
One only has to contrast the approach here with - for instance - the World Business Council for Sustainable Development book 'walking the talk' to see the point. The WBCSD book is written by senior businessmen, argues for the prime role of businesses within the market, and gives countless case studies of how businesses have worked to resolve problems faced by society and by themselves. Sometimes they have come together as collaborators, often they have worked alone. But this is about the voluntary action of business to achieve positive social outcomes whilst benefiting its business objectives.
What would a businessman get from reading the European campaign document? Inspiration on how other businesses have succeeded? An understanding of the changing strategic landscape within which his/her business must operate? Not at all. A document on CSR that has little to offer the business reader raises some fundamental questions.
But this is not about the document. It is the dilemma over whether CSR in Europe is a game for governments primarily, with businesses dragged reluctantly along, or a game for powerful, innovative, committed businesses taking action without waiting to be asked.
The campaign slogan is 'CSR - it simply works better'. Speaking as one who generally believes this to be the case, it is hard to see in the report material that gives substance to the slogan. One hopes that the end of term report will bring together the collective stories of the various powerful businesses behind the initiative to tell their own stories.
An Article from Business Respect, Issue Number
44, dated 1 Dec 2002
By Mallen Baker