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Mr. László ANDOR
EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Remarks at the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) European Multi-Stakeholder Forum Plenary meeting
Plenary Meeting of the European Multi-Stakeholder Forum for CSR
Brussels, 29 November 2010
Ladies and gentleman,
I would like to welcome you to Brussels for these two days ― to share in an event which is an important milestone for the European Commission as we move forward in our CSR policies.
I am pleased to see that so many stakeholders have chosen to attend. I encourage you all to make the best of the occasion to exchange views, ideas and experiences.
I am heartened by the number and variety of initiatives that you have all taken in CSR over the past few years ― since the last Forum plenary. And indeed this activity is being incorporating in the new initiatives of the Commission.
The European Union faces a number of important challenges – the economic crisis has brought about economic slowdown, increased unemployment and public budgetary constraints.
But it is also a time of opportunity.
Rather than companies saying that CSR is no longer cost-effective in relation to the crisis, on the contrary, socially-responsible activity is being maintained.
CSR is a means for companies to make their way through the crisis. In addition, CSR action by companies may help the now-constrained public purse by encouraging everyone to share the challenges that the EU socio-economy still faces.
As CSR can be a vital part of an "exit strategy" from the crisis, it is a significant pillar of our longer-term economic planning through Europe 2020.
Indeed, Europe 2020 envisions a European Union that encourages business to see its way through tough times back to prosperity.
And it foresees a business community that is serious about inclusion, whether this is in terms of lifelong learning provision, diversity management, gender balance, health and wellbeing at work, or innovative and green job`s creation.
I hope to see companies, social partners and public sector becoming actively involved in the flagship initiatives which fall under my responsibility as part of the implementation of Europe 2020.
Let`s see our new flagship initiatives.
First, our Communication on New Skills and Jobs which was adopted last week calls for an improvement in the quality of working life and for support for ways of returning to job creation.
I know that the private sector can be imaginative and creative in seizing opportunities to invest in innovative approaches. Green job represents a good combination of the social and environmental aspects of CSR: the social benefit of higher-skilled jobs, combined with the environmental benefits of reduced emissions, cleaner technologies, and less waste. Within this framework, flexcurity is about supporting both workers and companies to adapt to changes and secure the necessary transitions at the same time.
Second, Commission published two months ago the Communication on Youth on the Move which responds to challenges linked to the high level of youth employment. We aim at improving their employability and encouraging greater mobility in a co-operation with different Stakeholders.
Regarding employability, companies can be involved in bringing out the best in young people. This could be done, for example, by offering quality traineeships in partnership with educational institutions and public services; by being prepared to mentor young people early in their careers; or by matching better education system to the needs of the labour market.
On the other hand, European, regional or national mobility programmes not only increases access to entrepreneurship and training opportunities, but also help to tackle labour shortage, for example in the field of research.
Third, beyond our flagship initiatives, we support integrative and complex approaches. We promote different aspects of job creation in our many other key programmes.
We undertake leading role in supporting social innovation. This can contribute to social inclusion in areas like health and safety, active aging or gender equality.
Imagination and creativity that is vital for seizing opportunities is also key to encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset. Companies can help breed the entrepreneurs of the future.
Local employment development requires an interaction between CSR and local development plans. Companies have to engage with wide range of partners within a local community an to work on joint strategy..
For all mentioned efforts, companies' buy-in is key, because up-skilled, mobile and committed workers are an important elements of competitiveness of the individual business and of the EU economy as a whole. We need joint efforts from individuals, governments and business.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Topical CSR issues
The agenda for the next couple of days is full, and I realise that there are several other subjects that you all will wish to discuss.
Whether your interest is CSR transparency, human rights, responsible consumption and production, socially-responsible investment, CSR at the global level, or another angle ― I would like to appeal to you to join the Commission in our efforts to create a new and modern CSR policy framework.
Indeed, we have already been able to move discussions forward. On CSR reporting and disclosure for example, the Commission has built on a series of workshops we organised, as well as the emerging results of a study on reporting practices and a public consultation has recently been launched on this subject.
Global Reporting Initiative indicates that the GRI dealt with nearly 3 times as many CSR reports from the EU in 2009 as in 2005. Reporting could be voluntary or obligatory. It could be about broad principles or about key performance indicators. It could be about integrated reporting. It could be fully-comprehensive or it could focus only on certain issues.
But the important element is that we come out of it with a regime that is workable and that has the agreement of the majority of stakeholders.
More and more transparency is being demanded of companies in a competitive world. Public governance of private sector transparency risks being left behind the times, and we need to press ahead.
Potential extensive users of company reports ― financial, non-financial or both ― are investors.
It is well-known that mainstream investors primarily use financial data. They only take minor account of social and environmental factors when analysing the investment potential of businesses they are researching.
Socially-responsible investors are increasing in number, which is a welcome development. But the challenge is to reach the mainstream investors with hard social and environmental facts that are integrated into the financial analysis, even into the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.
I look forward to the day when an investment analyst's screen provides usable information that caters for the long-term instead of the short-term and that provides a synthesis of the economic, environmental and social.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Another subject that you will discuss over the next couple of days is responsible consumption and production.
It is certainly true that the consumer is becoming more aware of the social and environmental conditions in which the products they buy are made.
Whether this concerns fair trade, respect for human rights, or a low environmental footprint ― consumers act more and more on the basis of a brand or manufacturer's reputation in these areas.
This is linked to transparency. In order for consumers to make informed choices, they need to have access to the right information ― whether through a product label or other means.
I am interested in consumption by the public sector in the form of public procurement, and especially socially-responsible public procurement.
Since public procurement in the European Union amounts to some 17% of EU GDP, the potential leverage effect for the socially-responsible kind on private contractors is considerable.
Socially-responsible public procurement can take many forms, from ensuring that basic health and safety training takes place within the workplace, to ensuring respect for human rights by a supplier from a far-off country.
The Commission has just completed a guide on socially-responsible public procurement, which we will be making widely available very soon.
In addition, we are undertaking research on the modelling of the costs and benefits of socially-responsible public procurement. The Commission is also considering a consultation in relation to its public procurement work more generally, which is likely to include reference to social aspects.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me take a few moments to address human rights and the international aspects of CSR.
In general terms, the Lisbon Treaty offers the opportunity for the EU to assume a higher profile globally. This leads us to the question: how assertive should the EU be in its external CSR profile?
Increasingly, businesses ignore the implications of human rights management ― especially down their supply chains ― at their peril.
There is already a momentum behind possible EU action on business and human rights. A declaration that emerged from the conference on this subject organised by the Swedish Presidency in 2009 was subsequently taken up by the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers.
And following recent consultations undertaken within the UN framework on business and human rights, the relevant Council working group is gearing itself up to begin work in earnest on this subject.
I would personally hope that the EU response will be robust.
I will look to working with my colleagues not only in enterprise policy, but also in the areas of external relations, trade and development policies in this sense.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This conference comes at the right time as we look ahead to possible new activities in CSR in 2011.
And why more action on CSR are needed now?
Companies have a substantial role to play in recovery, restoring sustainable growth, and establishing the EU's presence in the international arena. The financial sector – but also the private sector more broadly – is being called to account on ethics as a result of the crisis.
So appealing to companies' sense of responsibility, investing in people can be seen as part of the exit strategy from the crisis and contribute to future growth. This resonates with the concern of public policy to work with the private sector to achieve better social and employment outcomes in the short and long-term.
CSR is an essential counterpart to action by the public sector in these areas, so public actions need to continue to encourage companies to do CSR.
Personally, I would like to encourage you to take advantage of the fact that all of the main European CSR stakeholders are here, and that there is an open agenda backed by solid preparatory work.
I wish you a productive couple of days at this CSR event