A Call to the Man Behind Europe’s CSR Strategy

It’s been four months since the EU launched its 2011 – 2014 strategy for CSR and Tom Dodd, CSR Policy Adviser at the European Commission, was one of the key players in delivering the updated definition and overall document. In a project that would have to manage the expectations of an incredibly varied stakeholder group, I believe Tom and his colleagues have done a sterling job in producing such a concise document in the relatively short time period of only 10 months in practical terms. An impressive accomplishment for a process you would expect to be a bureaucratic nightmare. A critic may say that the strategy is a mashup of existing guidelines and standards. In reality that would be a harsh perspective of a policy built around global standards to be applied locally. I thought it would be good to catch up with Tom to gauge what the initial reaction has been to the recent CSR strategy update. “The main impacts of business are positive, but we need to acknowledge we have much work still to do. CSR should be about what matters most.” Nods are respectfully given to OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Global Reporting Initiative, UN Global Compact, ISO26000, Michael Porter’s Creating Shared Value and many others, but that shouldn’t be a bad thing. Did anybody really expect the EU to redesign or rebrand CSR? If we accept the aforementioned tools are valid and applied in a relevant context, then well done to the EU for not wasting tax-payers money trying to impress anybody when the wheel has already been invented. “It is not about reinventing the wheel but encouraging further progress.” I did push a little enquiring about the EU position on voluntary v mandatory CSR debate, to which Tom diplomatically and rightfully stated that the question was one of an outdated argument. Some existing legislation is already relevant to CSR, regardless of what the EU or other might do, but for the most part CSR should be seen as driven voluntarily by the business community itself. Tom was very clear on this issue; the EU had no plans to make CSR mandatory. The bastion of bureaucracy and regulation is firmly on the side of voluntary CSR. The EU strategy does however say there will be a proposal for new law on non-financial reporting, as some member states, including Denmark, France and even the United Kingdom to varying degrees, already have. But this is more likely to be a principles-based, flexible approach rather than some prescriptive straight-jacket for companies. “CSR has never been more important to business”. One question I was optimistically hoping for a more positive response than Tom could offer was about the status of the Commission’s request for business leaders to issue a commitment to promote responsible business by mid 2012, of which it would be fair to now anticipate at least a minor rescheduling of timelines (my own attempt at diplomacy in case you missed it). I guess that challenge was too bold in the time frame initially suggested. I am in no uncertain terms not a fan of red tape or bureaucracy (especially when aimed at smaller businesses) and believe in actions over words and intent every time, but I for one feel really comfortable, and dare I say it, proud to be a European, with the job done by Tom and his EU colleagues. Tom and I also talked at length about the EU’s enhanced inclusion of smaller and medium sized (SME) enterprises considerations in the CSR strategy and I’ll share those thoughts soon.