Europe: CSR campaign update

December 01, 2002

CSR has risen up the European agenda over the last two or three years. Jan Noterdaeme outlines progress so far with CSR Europe’s latest pan-European campaign, which he hopes will frame the agenda over the next two or three years.

In Europe, much has happened since business leaders joined forces in 1995 with former president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, to sign the European Business Declaration against Social Exclusion (which resulted in the formation of CSR Europe).

At the European Council Summit in Lisbon in March 2000, European heads of state for the first time addressed businesses directly in “a special appeal to companies’ sense of corporate social responsibility regarding best practices on lifelong learning, work organisation, equal opportunities, social inclusion and sustainable development”.

In June 2001, the European Commission took a further step and presented its Green Paper on promoting a European framework for CSR. More than 300 organisations and individuals took part in a consultation process following the publication of the Green Paper, which has led to the release of the first official EU strategy document on CSR in July 2002. As a result of the consultation process, the European Commission launched a ‘European Multistakeholder Forum’ in October 2002 to raise the level of understanding of CSR and foster a dialogue between the business community, trade unions, civil society organisations and other stakeholders. Representatives from any type of business can take part in this forum through CSR business networks (such as CSR Europe) or their industry.

In addition, a number of national governments are working together with the EU to make CSR a key policy issue of their six-month EU presidency. In November 2001, Belgium became the first country to host a European presidency conference on CSR, which was repeated last November by Denmark. Many upcoming EU presidencies, including Greece, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, have made similar pledges to prioritise CSR.

Businesses have also started getting together at European level to raise awareness on CSR. Answering the special appeal made at the Lisbon Summit, CSR Europe’s business leaders joined forces with companies from the International Business Leaders’ Forum, The Copenhagen Centre, and 15 national business organisations to launch a European Business Campaign on Corporate Social Responsibility (

The Campaign aims to make the benefits of CSR visible to the wider business world. Planning to reach out to more than 500,000 business people over a four-year period, the initiative will culminate in a European Business Olympics on CSR in 2004.

The Campaign is organising a host of European-wide events and projects, including a series of 15 national conferences – the European Business Marathon – led by local and national business organisations active in the field of CSR. At these events, pioneers are reaching out to the more ‘sceptical’ companies to convince them how and why CSR works for them, thereby spreading the message further across all types of businesses.

Businesses have responded with rapidly increasing interest, and have turned out in force at national conferences organised by the Campaign. Some countries, including Italy and Finland, have hosted national CSR awards, while membership in national business networks have more than doubled in countries such as Greece and Spain in recent years.

So far, the Marathon has already travelled through Greece, France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Finland, with more than 2,500 people so far taking part.

The Campaign has also launched a range of tools and activities aimed at engaging different stakeholders. These focus on:

  • Preparing the future generation of tomorrow’s managers through the European Academy of Business in Society ( academy);
  • Reaching out to Europe’s biggest and most important employers -the small and medium-sized companies – with the SME Key, a toolkit for SMEs interested in evaluating and strengthening their social responsibility (;
  • Equipping the European investment community with the SRI Compass (, an online reference guide to all 285 green and ethical funds in Europe.

Apart from initiatives like the European Business Campaign on CSR, several admirable industry initiatives have also been launched. Retailers such as Nike and The Gap have teamed up with the International Youth Federation and the World Bank to launch the Global Alliance for Workers and Communities, which aims to give voice to the concerns and aspirations of factory workers through an intensive assessment process of worker surveys, in depth interviews, and focus groups. Meanwhile car manufacturers such as Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler are signing unprecedented labour contracts with international trade unions.

Last November, the European Business Campaign on CSR released a first ‘Campaign Report on European CSR Excellence’ to report back on all major CSR achievements at national and European level. The report gives the first ever overview of CSR in 17 European countries through a CSR Matrix showing each country’s efforts on CSR legislation, national social labels, SRI indices, and more.

The UK, along with the Netherlands, has emerged as one of the most active countries, but this does not necessarily mean that it is the most advanced. It cannot be denied, for example, that UK companies have considerable experience in setting up innovative community involvement schemes. However they still fall short of the environmental reporting activities that exist in countries such as Denmark, or the strong social provisions that German companies routinely offer to their employees.

Over the next two years, the Campaign will travel to 10 other European countries where leading companies will make it clear why they are convinced that CSR works for them. The first European Business Olympics on CSR, which will recur every four years, is planned for 2005. The initiative is designed to celebrate national and international CSR movements. European companies are also continuing to engage with stakeholders at a political level through the EU’s new Multistakeholder Forum on CSR. The European Commission itself has already pledged to match corporate efforts, and spur other governments into action, by publishing its first triple-bottom line report in 2004.

Clearly, European companies and governments have come a long way over the past few years in recognising their own social and environmental responsibilities. CSR has become a buzzword throughout Europe, and it continues to be integrated into more and more facets of everyday business and political life. However, both businesses and governments realise that in order to succeed in addressing their social and environmental impacts, they still have a long journey ahead.

For more information on CSR Europe or the Campaign, contact Nicki Bennett:

website: tel: 00 32 2 541 1623 email:

Editorial Comment

The Danish EU Presidency conference on CSR this November was far better than the equivalent Belgian event a year ago. The employment and social affairs commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou, the new Danish employment minister and the Italian employment minister all made the right noises about CSR being a voluntary activity which should not be standardised or bureaucratised.

Nevertheless, I remain “on guard” about the approach to CSR of the Commission’s department for employment and social affairs. Summing up the conference, their spokesman talked about:

  • CSR becoming stakeholder-led, not business led;
  • the need for transparency in CSR tools;
  • the Commission’s desire for convergence (whatever that may mean!).

Now, stakeholder engagement is fundamental to CSR and being a responsible business – but should CSR itself be stakeholder-led or, as Gordon Brown told BitC’s AGM, business-led? I wonder what impact getting the senior EC employment and social affairs officials into companies to get some first-hand exposure to CSR in practice might have on policy development in this area?

David Grayson, director, BitC

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 67 – December, 2002

Jan Noterdaeme is senior director for strategy and stakeholder relations at CSR Europe. CSR Europe is a business-led membership network, spanning 15 European countries.