The 2015 CSR Multistakeholders Forum: towards a new European CSR strategy?

 On the 3rd of February 2015, I had the chance to participate at the Multistakeholders Forum on CSR in Brussels. In this occasion, the European Commission has brought together all the relevant stakeholders in the field of corporate social responsibility, in order to reach a common position in its CSR future strategy.

Tough the business and human rights topic has authoritatively become part of the discussion after the EU implementation of U.N. Guiding Principles, the previous editions of the Forum were hardly successful, and many times there has been a relevant gap between companies and NGOs. The first ones often prevailed, and – as a consequence – the European approach to CSR has been constructed for long time on voluntary basis.

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This time, the Forum has come ahead the launch of the new EC CSR strategy, which will be hopefully communicated by June 2015. However, a systemic distance still exists between companies and NGOs. While the former are more and more engaged with CSR matters, and they feel now overwhelmed by regulations and guidelines to comply with, the latter claim for even stricter obligations on this topic.
In this respect, it has been pointed out that a relevant difference exist between Multinational enterprises, which need regulations and standards, and SMEs, which are actually lacking of people and resources (and maybe culture) to deal with all the compliance issues that CSR requires.
In addition, the great debate between mandatory measures and voluntary commitments still ignites the discussion between corporations and NGOs. Both representatives from Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth have recalled that big corporate abuses of human rights are not over. Accordingly, they argued that the voluntary approach it is not always effective, especially in the case of reparation of abuses, and they plead for mandatory rules multinationals to be responsible for their conducts.
Moreover, an issue of coherence was stressed by Mr. Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth in the closing Plenary Section. He claimed that the same companies accused of tax avoidance are not only sitting at the same table of the discussion – with the placet of the European Commission -, but they are also presented as examples of sustainable and social companies. According to Mr. Le Clerck, this misrepresentation strongly undermines the legitimacy and the transparency of such lawmaking process and generally of the EC action.IMG_1870 (2)
In the end, the 2015 edition of the CSR Multistakeholders forum has shown that, whilst the issue of corporate abuses of human rights has gained much more attention by companies and institutions in the recent years, many differences still exist in this sector between what companies (and the European Commission) want to implement and what NGOs and Civil Society expect. Let us see if the future Communication on CSR by the European Commission would take in account – and fill – this wide gap, or whether – as it seems to be until now – it would be more attentive to companies’ needs.

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MSM conference on “Global business, emerging markets and human rights”: some reflections on U.N. Guiding Principles and European experiences

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in the annual conference of the Maastricht School of Management on “Global business, emerging markets and human rights: old concerns or fresh hopes?” where I spoke about the implementation process of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). The presentation detailed how the implementation of these principles can serve as a catalyst to incentivize states and national legislations to better deal with the issue of corporate human rights violations, using some of the European National Action Plans (NAPs) as examples to illustrate my point.

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