In July 2001, the European Commission issued a Green Paper on a European framework for corporate social responsibility (CSR). The aim was to launch a wide debate among the stakeholders. For an overview of the responses from various stakeholders, see “Forces@Work”.

The European Parliament’s rapporteur on the Green Paper on CSR, Richard Howitt (UK-PES), has issued a working document in which he outlines the following issues:

* a directive should be brought forward requiring companies to undertake annual social and environmental reports;
* a methodology for reporting should be developed by the Global Reporting Initiative;
* all European pension funds should be required to state their ethical policy;
* in the revision of the European Work Council Directive, amendments should be added to ensure that the work councils are required to oversee environmental and social impacts of the company’s activities;
* the Social Fund could be used to support training for socially responsible restructuring of companies;
a European Ombudsman could be created for corporate activities in third countries;
* a review of the Brussels Convention should take place, to clarify the possibility to weather European courts could have jurisdiction for cases of corporate criminal liability in third countries.

The panel members of the hearing presented their positions on the Green Paper and their comments on the rapporteurs documents. CSR Europe advocated a flexible approach without any mandatory regulations on e.g. reporting, because of the risk that it would inhibit the companies’ creativity. Instead, the Commission should focus on spreading best-practice and on promoting CSR, through for example a European Year of CSR.

NGOs such as Solidar, on the other hand, called for a standardised reporting system with certified verification. They also emphasised that the EU should first focus on compliance with existing social and labour laws, before encouraging additional voluntary actions.

Next steps:
In July 2002 the Commission is expected to issue a communication on CSR, which should outline action programmes for the near future. The issues likely to be discussed include:

* steps towards a more harmonised reporting and labelling system;
the development of a discussion forum (stakeholder forum);
* the promotion of research programmes on CSR;
* proposals on how to integrate CSR into other EU policy areas.