In recent years, Europe has witnessed a heated discussion about corporate social responsibility, and one of the recurring questions has been whether the business community should be forced to assume a responsibility for societal cohesion or be allowed to act on a voluntary basis. Today, Employment Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen opens an EU Presidency conference on the subject. He is optimistic about the ability and will of enterprises to play an important role with respect to social responsibility.
"Corporate action is decisive when discussing a socially inclusive labour market with room for everybody. Europe needs socially responsible enterprises. On the other hand, enterprises also need to perform in a socially responsible manner as it gives them an image that helps them sell their goods. In many enterprises, social responsibility has become an integral part of the company strategy vis-à-vis European consumers, who today want to know under what conditions the goods they purchase were produced. At the same time, social responsibility has become a corporate tool to keep and attract high-quality employees," says Mr Claus Hjort Frederiksen.
The Minister finds it important to foster a dialogue with enterprises and other stakeholders at national as well as EU level on how best to implement social responsibility in practice. The watchword is involvement: enterprises must be involved, instead of merely informed. He is also convinced that corporate participation must be secured without imposing statutory requirements on enterprises.
"I believe that legislation will neither promote, enhance nor inspire corporate social responsibility. On the contrary, I think that rigid regulation measures will be a hindrance for increased corporate responsibility, because unavoidably it will mean one-size-fits-all solutions. To be inclusive and to be socially responsible is about businesses taking care of their employees. This could concern an employee with an alcohol problem, who needs rehabilitation. This could concern an employee who needs reduced working hours, because of illness in his/her close family. Or it could concern employees who no longer can keep up with the demands in a regular job and therefore need to be shifted to a less demanding job function. These situations require individual and different plans of actions, and legislation will not be helpful here," says the Minister, underlining that private enterprises are already demonstrating their determination to assume a social responsibility.
"Let me give you an example. We know that Danish businesses are inclusive. Half of all companies employ people with reduced working capabilities in one way or another. Equally significant, we also know that the other half are willing to do the same – but they feel obstructed from doing so because of tiresome and bureaucratic public administration procedures. In Denmark we have addressed the problem by drastically reducing the volume of burdensome rules and regulations that stifle creativity, initiative and bright ideas."
Mr Claus Hjort Frederiksen believes that it would be to our advantage to reinforce corporate social responsibility at EU level by, for example, strengthening exchange of lessons learned, and by integrating ideas to enhance responsibility in Union policies.
"Corporate social responsibility in Europe will serve the double purpose of fostering social cohesion and consolidating competitiveness. Corporate social responsibility will thereby contribute to reaching the target that the EU in 2010 should be the most competitive economy in the world with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion."