I found the European parliament’s resolution of March 13, 2007 on corporate social responsibility (CSR) to be a very interesting read. I’m sure there is a back-story on every bullet point in the document that could fill pages. I admit to neither having that depth of knowledge on the subject nor being an expert on European parliamentary politics.
What I found to be interesting is the document’s focus on labor issues. Representative passages include the following:
“… a serious approach to CSR may contribute to increasing job numbers and improving working conditions and ensuring respect for workers’ rights …”
“… to ensure that CSR also benefits third countries and, in particular, developing countries and in accordance with the ILO conventions concerning, in particular, the freedom to form trade unions, the ban on child labour and that on forced labour…”
“… recognizes CSR as an important driver of … respect for worker’s rights, a fair-wages policy, nondiscrimination, and lifelong learning …”
This focus on labor is striking when compared with the typical American CSR dialogue, which puts more weight on environmental issues, sustainable practices, and corporate governance. But that is the focus of American businesses and CSR professionals — not of the American consumer. Our agency published a study last year in partnership with the National Consumers League that explored the American consumer’s view of CSR (“Rethinking Corporate Social Responsibility: A U.S. Perspective”). The findings of that study indicate that how an organization treats its employees is the No. 1 factor shaping a consumer’s view of corporate social responsibility. It is interesting to me that European policy aligns better with American consumer sentiment than American policy does.
While the American definition of CSR could expand to include workers’ rights and other labor-related issues, I don’t expect that it will move away from the focus on environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. Those are the areas with momentum in our society; worker’s rights seems to lag behind as an issue. Perhaps in Europe there is enough focus on the environment and sustainability outside the sphere of CSR to render their inclusion unnecessary. That is the sense I get, but again, this is an area in which I am not well-versed.
Other items of note from the document include the following:
- The use of the term “compliance” when there is no clear definition of what CSR entails and how it can be measured. Although the document cites the lack of definition as an issue, the word “compliance” is one you wouldn’t expect to see in an American document.
- A recommendation that the commission “implement a mechanism by which victims, including third-country nationals, can seek redress against European companies in the national courts of the member states.” Once again, the suggestion that potential victims could sue for damages without a clear definition of CSR is surprising. And it seems viable only within a more narrow definition of CSR, as an issue related to workers’ rights.
- A suggestion that national, regional, and local governments use procurement policy as a way to advance CSR. Once again, without a clear definition of what CSR means how can it be used as a factor in a procurement process? The one thing that makes such an approach potentially viable is a more narrow definition of CSR, primarily as a labor issue.
- A recommendation that directors of companies with more than 1,000 employees bear personal responsibility for minimizing “any harmful social and environmental impact of (their) companies’ activities.” I read this to be analogous to an American director’s legal responsibility to personally sign off on a corporation’s annual financial statements.
I am not in the habit of reading resolutions issued by the European parliament. However, this was passed onto me by a European colleague in response to a recent discussion on global CSR practices. I will keep my eyes open to see whether other writers cover this subject in more detail.
For more focused blogging on CSR check out the FH CSR Blog.