Corporate Social Responsibility European Style
The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) emerged in the official discourse of the EU in 2000. This article explains how, while CSR may have been initially an idea about the scope of the responsibility of companies towards their environment, it has now become a process in which the representatives of the business community have come to occupy the main role, and whose purpose is to promote learning among business organisations, rather than to identify the components of a regulatory framework for CSR. The central question now, therefore, is whether the so-called ‘business case’ for CSR is strong enough, so that we may hope that the forces of market will suffice to encourage companies to behave responsibly, over and above their obligation to comply with their legal obligations. The article shows, however, that this case rests on certain presuppositions about markets and the business environment, which cannot be simply assumed, but should be affirmatively created by a regulatory framework for CSR. Following the introduction, it proceeds in four stages. First, it examines the development of CSR in the EU. Second, it offers a critical examination of the so-called ‘business case’ for CSR, taking into account the growing diversity within the enlarged EU. It then discusses, as an alternative, what a regulatory framework for CSR could resemble, highlighting a number of initiatives which have been taken in this regard by the EU. The article finally concludes that, since the failure of the European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on CSR in 2004, the debate has made a turn in the wrong direction, both because of the mistaken view that the establishment of a regulatory framework for CSR would threaten the competitiveness of European companies, and because of the naive (and contradictory) view that reliance on market mechanisms will suffice to ensure that corporations will seek to minimise the negative social and environmental impacts of their activities, even in circumstances where they are not legally obliged to do so.
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