Public policy April 01

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Posted in: Policy & Research, Sustainable Development

Public policy April 01

April 01, 2001

In the run up to the UK general election, corporate social responsibility is under renewed public debate – not all of it well informed.

Give more, says NCVO

Nearly two-thirds of people think businesses should give more to charities and only a third is aware of businesses doing anything to support their local communities, according to an ICM survey by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations. The findings were released on February 7 as part of a campaign launched at NCVO’s annual conference, calling on the government to “get tough” with business. Selectively quoting Directory of Social Change research, NCVO claimed companies give only 0.2% of profits to charities, with over two-fifths of the quoted £315 million donated by just 25 firms. (In fact DSC research shows total corporate contributions running at more than twice that rate, the highest for five years, even on partial reporting by companies.)

Encouraging businesses to do more for charities is a key proposal in NCVO’s Election Manifesto. It launched a ten-point ‘plan for action’ by government, calling for lower taxes for socially responsible companies, naming and shaming of those with a poor record and a one per cent target for corporate giving. Contact James Georgalokis, NCVO, on 020 7520 2468 (http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk)

Hutton calls for tough measures

The Industrial Society’s CEO, Will Hutton, has criticised the government for not going far enough in promoting corporate social resposnibility. In a new essay published by the Society on February 26, Putting back the P in PLC, he argues stronger leadership is needed, if large companies are to behave in the public interest. Clear targets for changes in corporate behaviour, backed up by regulatory and tax incentives, are the way forward, with the government making clear its intention to legislate if necessary. Contact Memuna Forna, Industrial Society, on 020 7479 2111 (http://www.indsoc.co.uk)

Government reports on CSR

The UK government issued its first ever report on corporate social responsibility during March, setting out action taken over the past year by the DTI – spreading good practice, promoting international awareness, demonstrating the business case and co-ordinating the government’s own cross departmental approach. In future the focus will be on help for smaller businesses, action on literacy, numeracy and investment in deprived communities, and strengthened international collaboration. Examples of good practice feature Asda, B&Q, TXU Europe, BT and Unilever. Of practical help is an accompanying web site which lists government initiatives relevant to CSR, department by department. Business and Society: developing corporate social responsibility in the UK was launched on March 16. Contact DTI on 020 7215 5000 (http://www.societyandbusiness.gov.uk)

Multinational guidelines

The UK government is the first member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to produce a booklet promoting the OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises, revised last Spring (CAB 50). The DTI will send the booklet, launched on March 28, to business leaders and leading charities, and encourage its use among UK inward and outward investors. Contact DTI on 020 7215 5000 (http://www.dti.gov.uk)

MPs think….

Four out of five MPs think companies’ CSR performance could have a positive impact on the UK economy, but don’t feel it is currently up to scratch. Almost three-quarters want companies to produce verified reports on their social and environmental performance – however only one in four thinks this a matter for government legislation. These findings come from detailed research about MPs’ attitudes published by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Industry and Parliament Trust, an educational charity. The Politics of Responsible Business was published on March 7, based on research among 96 MPs during July and September last year. Contact Jon Bunn, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 020 7213 3279 (http://www.pwcglobal.com/uk/csrsurvey)

CSR and SRI at Westminster

PricewaterhouseCoopers is also supporting plans for the first ever all-party parliamentary group on CSR set up by Business in the Community and chaired by Baroness Greengross. The idea has attracted a good response from all parties – so far 17 MPs and 18 other peers are involved, and the group will be formally constituted after the general election.

The group’s aim will be to promote debate and understanding of CSR and business impact on society, focusing on the marketplace, workplace, environment and wider community. It may also have an international development angle. Subsidiary aims include developing more parliamentary champions for CSR, fostering better media/political links and work with government. A first lunch is scheduled for mid July.

Meanwhile the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Socially Responsible Investment, set up in 1998, issued is annual review in February, highlighting recent work on pension fund investment, CSR disclosure, access to equity finance in disadvantaged areas and Islamic banking services. Contact Matt Larkin, BITC, on 0870 6002482 (http://www.bitc.org.uk) or UKSIF on 020 7749 4880 (http://www.uksif.org)

Comment

NCVO does great work for the UK voluntary sector. All the more pity that its attack on corporate commitment should be so poorly researched. Its central proposal – tax cuts for responsible companies – is a non-starter, as a bit of stakeholder consultation would have quickly revealed. Just ask a few companies if this is something they want or would accept. Imagine the outcry if Tesco, announcing record profits exceeding one billion pounds, was offered a lower tax rate (and so yet more money for its shareholders) thanks to its sterling work with Computers for Schools.

Alas, it seems even among the most responsible NGOs, the temptation to indulge in a bit of corporate bashing is hard to resist when a quick headline can be won. Instead, NCVO could be praising the steps the present government is undoubtedly taking to support and encourage greater CSR, rightly putting the focus increasingly on small and medium sized companies. Of course there is always more to do, but the voluntary and corporate sectors should be working together to develop common approaches to government.

So what should the election manifesto contain? If public funds for encouraging CCI can be prised out of the Exchequer, tax incentives are not the way forward. Instead how about a fund to match resources contributed by SMEs to new community projects? The arts sponsorship Pairing scheme has shown that even small sums can have a catalytic effect. For large companies, costs are rarely the decisive factor, but for smaller firms, a community partners pairing scheme could make all the difference.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 57 – April, 2001

COMMENT:

NCVO does great work for the UK voluntary sector. All the more pity that its attack on corporate commitment should be so poorly researched. Its central proposal – tax cuts for responsible companies – is a non-starter, as a bit of stakeholder consultation would have quickly revealed. Just ask a few companies if this is something they want or would accept. Imagine the outcry if Tesco, announcing record profits exceeding one billion pounds, was offered a lower tax rate (and so yet more money for its shareholders) thanks to its sterling work with Computers for Schools.

Alas, it seems even among the most responsible NGOs, the temptation to indulge in a bit of corporate bashing is hard to resist when a quick headline can be won. Instead, NCVO could be praising the steps the present government is undoubtedly taking to support and encourage greater CSR, rightly putting the focus increasingly on small and medium sized companies. Of course there is always more to do, but the voluntary and corporate sectors should be working together to develop common approaches to government.

So what should the election manifesto contain? If public funds for encouraging CCI can be prised out of the Exchequer, tax incentives are not the way forward. Instead how about a fund to match resources contributed by SMEs to new community projects? The arts sponsorship Pairing scheme has shown that even small sums can have a catalytic effect. For large companies, costs are rarely the decisive factor, but for smaller firms, a community partners pairing scheme could make all the difference.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 57 – April, 2001

COMMENTS