Business and NGOs clash on conclusions of final report of Multi Stakeholder Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility.
Two weeks after the final plenary meeting of the Multi Stakeholder Forum on CSR, there is still no full agreement on the final report.
The Multi Stakeholder Forum on CSR met in four round tables over 20 months to explore the themes of ‘CSR knowledge’, ‘SMEs’, ‘transparency of CSR practices and tools’, as well as the ‘development’ aspects of CSR (see also EurActiv’s Overview: EU Multi Stakeholder Forum on CSR). The Forum held its final high-level meeting on 29 June delivering its summary report.
Fearing that they had lost ground following the adoption of the report on the morning of the final plenary meeting, a group of NGOs circulated an open letter to key EU decision-makers stating that a "voluntary agreement between the stakeholders on corporate responsibility without a common system for corporate accountability is not enough to create the necessary EU framework for CSR" (see also EurActiv 2 July 2004).
The Commission’s definition of CSR, upon which the Stakeholder Forum’s discussions were built, refers to CSR as a ‘voluntary’ integration of social and environmental considerations into business operations.
The NGO community has found that the report "does not go far enough" and they wish to indicate this view in the report. While the NGO side does not "dismiss the forum" its final report demonstrates the "limited results of a limited process", as one NGO reperesentative has put it.
The NGOs wanted that the statements made at the final plenary, which was the first chance to comment on the full report, be added to the final summary.
After days of wrangling, a foreword has been included in the report emphasising three main points. Firstly, that the report is a "fair record of points of consensus". Secondly, that "there are some differences and debates that remain". Thirdly, that the speeches and statements made at the final plenary meeting of the Forum can be accessed at the CSR websites of both DG Employment and DG Enterprise.
The final report, including the foreword, is now out, but an asterisked footnote states that not all NGOs have been able to endorse the text. NGO representatives have told EurActiv that they needed more time to consult their constituencies and that a meeting has been scheduled for 14 July to agree a common approach within the NGO community.
One NGO speaker has told EurActiv that they would like to move on from the conclusions of the forum to "action". In the speaker’s view, the Commission should propose a clear framework on CSR in an upcoming communication recognising that a "weak voluntary approach would not work". In the speaker’s view, among other issues, the Commission should emphasise the role of public authorities, publish guidelines for EU companies on CSR and advocate mandatory communication (eg reporting) on their activities.
A spokesperson from UNICE said that the business community is "astonished" by this turn of events. "We are deceived by the attitude of some of the NGOs", who continued the discussions after the final meeting at which "the report was accepted by all stakeholders". While the business side does not see the totality of their views on CSR reflected in the final report it values the text as an achievement following a twenty-month learning and discussion process. The business community feels that the attitude of some of the players after the process had run its course points to the lack of stable and reliable interlocutors in some organisations when it comes to the general CSR policy debate at European level. "Notwithstanding this deceiving attitude displayed by some NGOs at EU level, companies will continue to act in accordance with their own CSR commitments and continue practising dialogue and cooperation with relevant stakeholders," the spokesperson said.
The Commission is expected to publish a follow-up communication to the conclusions of the Forum at the end of 2004 or early 2005.