(Published in The Observer on 27 october 2002).
A furious row has erupted between Britain’s most influential think-tank and the Institute of Directors (IoD) over a report which questions the commitment of business to corporate social responsibility (CSR).
The IoD, which paid for an NOP survey of 500 businesses, on which the report is based, is refusing to give permission to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) to publish its report on the findings on Tuesday, saying the study is not a fair reflection of the views expressed.
But the IPPR, a left-leaning body with links to Tony Blair, says its interpretation has been endorsed by NOP, and is seeking legal advice over whether it can release the paper. The argument focuses on key findings in the jointly commissioned report, a copy of which The Observer has obtained. IPPR author Ella Joseph says these show ‘hypocrisy’ by business and a gulf between the supportive rhetoric on CSR and reality.
Among the findings are:
· Only four out of 10 company boards discuss social and environmental issues, routinely or occasionally.
· Only a third of organisations (34 per cent) have a board member with an environmental remit, and a fifth (22 per cent) have one with an interest in social issues
· While two-thirds of directors think it important to know about suppliers’ treatment of staff or environmental impact, fewer than a third have a policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
· Eight out of 10 directors say their organisation does not publish reports on their social or environmental impact
Joseph says: ‘The idea that directors can’t say that social and environmental issues are important enough to be discussed at board level is an incredibly sad indictment of the leadership on CSR. There is a gap between rhetoric and reality, and also hypocrisy.’
She said this was the widest survey of business practice on CSR and showed that, beyond a few large companies that have taken a lead on the issue, performance is disappointing.
‘The cosy confines of the CSR-world are inundated with reports and case studies based on the responsible endeavours of business leaders and corporate representatives who are largely self-selecting and who often represent large FTSE-listed companies. This report is a reality check.’
However, Ruth Lea, head of policy at the IOD, said: ‘This is our survey. We paid for it. These things cost about £15,000 to £20,000. We have to be very sure that what is written up is a fair representation of the views. It is not necessarily the way our members see it.’
Matthew Taylor, the director of the think-tank, said the survey was not intended to be anti-business. ‘Throughout IPPR’s history we have constructively engaged with the business agenda. This report is entirely in keeping with that approach and I am surprised by the hostility it seems to be creating.’