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The European Union green paper on CSR

Since the early 1990s, the European Commission has taken an active interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR). In 1993, the then president of the EC, Jacques Delors, called on Europe's business community to take a more active stance against social exclusion.

More recently, in March 2000, the Council of Ministers, meeting in Lisbon, made a renewed appeal for businesses to adopt a more sustainable approach, in every sense of the word.

In 2001, this interest manifested itself in the form of a green paper (or consultation document) entitled 'Promoting a European framework for corporate social responsibility'. This 35-page document sets out the principles underlying CSR and introduces some of the sustainability tools at the disposal of companies and governments, before setting out 18 key questions for discussion (see below).

Click here to download a copy of the green paper in PDF format.

The consultation period ended on 31 December 2001, and it is expected that the next step will be a 'Communication on Corporate Social Responsibility', to be issued in the summer of 2002. This will set out the European Commission's vision of an appropriate framework for promoting CSR.

In the meantime, responses to the consultation exercise have been posted on the European Commission's official CSR web pages.

Questions posed by the green paper

1. The role for the European Union

What could the European Union do to promote the development of corporate social responsibility at European and international level? In particular, should the EU add value and complement existing socially responsible activities by:

  • Developing an overall European framework, in partnership with the main corporate social responsibility actors, aiming at promoting transparency, coherence and best practice in corporate social responsibility practices?
  • Promoting consensus on, and supporting, best practice approaches to evaluation and verification of corporate social responsibility practices?
  • and/or by which other means?

2. Companies and CSR

  • What is the role of corporate social responsibility in corporate business strategies?
  • What are the driving forces for companies to assume their social responsibility? What are the expectations behind such engagements? On which areas do these engagements focus? What is the benefit for companies?
  • What are the most important best practice ways to implement and manage corporate social responsibility? What best practice exists for SMEs?
  • How best can we take forward the invitation to business in the Commission's proposal for a sustainable development strategy to publish a 'triple bottom line' in their annual reports to shareholders that measures
    their performance against economic, environmental and social criteria?
  • What are the best ways to build links between the social and environmental dimensions of corporate social responsibility?
  • What are the best means to promote further knowledge about the business
    case for corporate social responsibility and its value-added?

3. Main actors and stakeholders

  • What are the best ways to establish and develop a process of structured dialogue between companies and their various stakeholders on corporate social responsibility?
  • What should be the respective roles of the main actors, that is, companies, social partners, public authorities, NGOs in promoting corporate social responsibility?
  • How can the European Union promote greater application of corporate social responsibility principles through its policies both in a European context and internationally, including its political dialogue and partnership agreements, as well as its programmes, and its presence in international forums?

4. Evaluation and effectiveness

  • What are the best means to develop, evaluate and ensure the effectiveness and reliability of corporate social responsibility instruments such as codes of conduct, social reporting and auditing, social and eco-labels, socially responsible investing?

5. Actions to support CSR

  • What actions are most appropriate to promote and support the development of corporate social responsibility? What levels (the firm, local, regional, sectoral, national, European and international) are most appropriate to implement such actions?

Such actions could include:

  • support for training and retraining, to ensure managers have the skills and competences necessary to develop and promote corporate social responsibility;
  • dissemination and exchange of information, in particular in relation to good corporate social responsibility practice, standard setting, benchmarking and monitoring, accounting, auditing and reporting;
  • medium-term social policy analysis and research;
  • analysis of the role of the legal framework.
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