No clear “owner” of CSR within companies, says a recent UK study

A recent study conducted by the Pielle Consulting Group surveyed 200 UK companies about their CSR and corporate governance practices. The study will officially be launched at an upcoming international conference of the World Council for Corporate Governance.

Ahead of the official publication of the research study entitled “Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Ownership, Accountablity and Management – 2003”, Mr. Peter Walker from the Pielle Consulting Group presented the main ideas from the study at the Annual Conference of the European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA) on 20 February. Mr. Walker’s speech at the ECPA conference focused on the CSR-related aspects of the study.
Mr. Walker explained that the research was conducted between July 2002 and January 2003 with the aim of presenting its findings on 14-16 May 2003 at the 4th International Conference on Corporate Governance, hosted by the World Council for Corporate Governance. The objective of the research study was to test how companies ascribed to organisations promoting corporate governance and CSR were implementing such priorities. The survey took into consideration the responses received from nearly 200 companies.

Issues:
Some of the main findings of the survey are as follows:

Nearly 70 per cent of the respondents agree that CSR is Corporate Governance in action;
80 per cent of the surveyed companies feel that by 2008, Corporate Governance will be a very high priority for them;
The highest number of respondents (26 per cent) say that national or European regulation and legislation were key drivers for Corporate Governance, closely followed by national stock exchange listing requirements;
In the surveyed companies, accountability for CSR activities rests either on a specialist committee of the board, the corporate communications / public affairs division, or the Board;
One-third of the respondents evaluate the effectiveness of their CSR programmes through an external social audit;
30 per cent of the responding companies have no formal system in place to drive improvements following the social audit;
Stakeholder dialogue is developed mainly through formal meetings, company websites, annual report, as well as informal meetings in the surveyed companies.
The research therefore concludes that there is no clear “owner” of CSR within companies as, contrary to the common understanding, the public affairs head is not always the one in charge of CSR matters. As regards measuring company conduct, stock exchange listing requirements are a good tool, while international organisations, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund also have their own systems in place to measure corporate responsibility prior to their lending. Mr. Walker is an advocate of voluntary CSR reporting and therefore urges the international business community to establish guidelines for such reports before they are forced to take mandatory requirements.

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