Standardised CSR guidelines drive credibility: EC report

Standardised CSR guidelines could improve credibility

CSR – corporate social responsibility – is becoming increasingly coherent across the globe due to greater uptake of internationally recognised standards, according to a new European Commission report.

The European Commission published a new strategy on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in October 2011, placing greater importance on available internationally recognisable standards. Its latest report has found that two CSR instruments are the most widely used: The United Nations Global Compact (used by 32% of companies surveyed) and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Guidelines (31%).

The EC survey included 200 randomly chosen large public companies with CSR statements in ten EU countries. All the sample companies had at least 1,000 employees.

“Ultimately what an enterprise does matters far more than what it may say in a policy statement,” the report said.

“A credible policy statement is, however, an important starting point, especially for larger enterprises adopting a more formal approach to CSR than smaller enterprises. CSR policies that are clearly built with reference to internationally recognised CSR guidelines and principles are likely to gain in credibility. The more that enterprises openly refer to the core set of internationally recognised CSR guidelines and principles, the more possible it becomes to have a similar set of expectations regarding responsible business wherever enterprises operate in the world.”

Three in five companies still did not refer to any internationally recognised CSR instruments, the report found, although 68% of the firms surveyed made reference to corporate social responsibility.

Danish, Spanish and Swedish companies referred to internationally recognised CSR standards more often than the average EU company, it found. Dutch, French and Italian companies were about average, and Czech, German, Polish and UK companies referred to CSR instruments less frequently that than the average.

The GRI welcomed the EC survey, saying that the survey demonstrated broad acceptance of GRI guidelines.

GRI’s Deputy Chief Executive Teresa Fogelberg said in a statement: “GRI’s mission is to make sustainability reporting standard practice among all companies but there is still a long way to go before a ‘tipping point’ is achieved. While 95 per cent of the world’s largest companies are producing sustainability reports, overall less than 10 per cent of publicly traded companies, and companies that do business across national borders, report on their sustainability practices.”

She added that there was an important role for governments in driving CSR disclosure into the mainstream.

“Europe is now ready for clear leadership from EU institutions on how policy can be used to drive forward a culture of corporate transparency,” she said. “…If we are to truly achieve the transition to a sustainable global economy, there is an urgent need for all companies to embrace sustainability disclosure.”
The survey also found that companies were using tools from the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines, ISO 26000, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the ILO MNE Declaration.

The full EC report is available online here (pdf).

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