The Conference brought together business participants from the European Union to exchange views on their experience on implementing socially responsible practices and define best practices. They were joined by European public authorities, Members of the European Parliament, National Contact Points of Member States (in charge of implementing the OECD Guidelines), trade unions, and civil society. The event focused on how to implement good corporate behaviour in the daily management of a firm.

In the 10 May introductory session, chaired by Deputy Director General for Trade Roderick Abbott, Commissioner Pascal Lamy’s call on all stakeholders to work towards corporate citizenship was echoed by Member of the European Parliament Richard Howitt, President of EU Business Federation UNICE Baron Georges Jacobs, Secretary General of EU Trade Unions ETUC Emilio Gabaglio and Chairman of OECD Committee on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises Marinus Sikkel.

On 11 May, three parallel workshops chaired by three Members of the European Parliament, Erika Mann, Nick Clegg and Richard Howitt, allowed panellists and participants from business, public authorities, trade unions and civil society to exchange among themselves on the concrete implementation of the Guidelines along three interrelated perspectives:

How to implement voluntary commitments such as the Guidelines in enterprises
Exchanges among participants in the first workshop focused on the way voluntary commitments such as those expressed in the Guidelines and in companies’ codes of conduct can be implemented in practice in the daily management of a firm. Panellists and participants discussed experiences of management tools, internal compliance programmes, social and environmental auditing and monitoring, whether internal or external, and looked at what it takes for a successful translation of corporate social responsibility principles into the real-life operations of a firm.

How to involve stakeholders
Panellists and participants called for involvement of all levels of staff to be a key element for the process, from the chief executive officer to the shop-floor worker, through a two-way dialogue. Communication with consumers and local communities, and finding ways to channel demands from the public and answer them, are the necessary foundations of mutual trust. Transparency and disclosure should help assessing the impact of firms’ operations on its social and physical environment and corporate social responsibility record in an objective manner, that is beneficial both for the company and for its stakeholders.

How to implement corporate social responsibility in developing countries
Panellists and participants examined the developmental objectives of the Guidelines and the concrete ways of implementing corporate social responsibility in non adhering countries. It was considered that such principles could help maximise the benefits and minimise the possible costs of a foreign investment, often through a proper involvement of local authorities and communities. The Guidelines allow for a constructive dialogue that can lead to a partnership between the investor and the host country, increasing local standards. Corporate social responsibility and the Guidelines may thus contribute to sustainable development.

The concluding session stressed the need for further co-operation between companies, stakeholders and public authorities. Member of the European Parliament Caroline Lucas, General Secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD John Evans, Vice-Chairman of Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD Dr Kristian Ehinger, and Director Robert Madelin of DG Trade called for an increased involvement of all parties in this ongoing process. Robert Madelin concluded that the implementation of OECD Guidelines can be a tool for harnessing globalisation and set the path of sustainable development. In view of the upcoming OECD Ministerial meeting, one year after the Review of the Guidelines, participants were of the opinion that the momentum of the 2000 review must be kept going in order to increase the level and the quality of dialogue between all parties at local, national and EU level.

Operational conclusions will be made available here.

The conference came at a time of growing public expectations from European Union citizens as regards the behaviour of their firms, in the EU and abroad. Employees, consumers, local communities, citizens, want more from companies: care for the environment, their employees, their consumers, the society at large. On their side, companies are engaging in a number of actions to increase their corporate citizenship record.

The OECD Guidelines were reviewed in June 2000 by OECD Ministers and are the only multilaterally endorsed “code of conduct” that governments expect their companies to apply wherever these operate. Such voluntary commitments by companies are balanced by the setting up of National Contact Point in each country adhering to the Guidelines (currently the 30 OECD countries and Argentina, Brazil and Chile). National Contact Points are in charge of mediating in case of specific problems, and are open to the interested public.

The revised Guidelines cover all areas of corporate social responsibility: human rights, and the refusal of child labour and forced labour, social relations, environmental protection, consumer protection, transparency and disclosure, fight against bribery, transfers of technology, competition and taxation. Also and principally, a reinforced implementation mechanism is attached to the Guidelines. In a Decision, Adhering governments have bound themselves to promote the actual observance of the Guidelines by business and to examine and try to solve any case of non-observance.

Both EU Member States and the European Commission have been very active in the review of the Guidelines. This, in the end, led to European concerns to be reflected fairly in the final text.

This framework adds value to what companies already do in their daily operations as far as corporate social responsibility is concerned: the Guidelines can be seen as a checklist that “crystallises” what any socially responsible company should do as a minimum. As a flexible toolbox, they can help managers assess and implement their own internal codes of conduct. Also, as governments are committed to their success, they provide a good vehicle for a high quality dialogue among stakeholders.