Brussels [ENA] What will the world look like in 2020? How will trends such as increasing globalisation, demographic change, natural resource scarcity, technology acceleration, global health challenges and social divisions shape business and society? How will they influence the capacity of enterprises to create value that contributes to economic, societal and environmental progress? In the context of the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy,
Enterprise 2020 highlights the contribution that businesses can make to achieve the EU goals for building a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy delivering high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion by 2020. Based on a shared vision of the enterprise of the future, Enterprise 2020 is a new reference initiative for companies committed to developing innovative business practices and working together with their stakeholders to provide solutions to emerging societal needs.
CSR Europe was delighted to welcome Richard Howitt MEP, European Parliament Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR,) to CSR Europe Enterprise 2020 Conference: "Social innovation: a lever for growth and sustainability." His motivating speech, of which the full text is provided below, was set against the background of Enterprise 2020 - the only European private partnership initiative that has been endorsed by the European Commission for its new strategy. This of course is putting extra responsibility on CSR Europe its member companies and all its 33 National Partner Organisations (who are now outreaching 4500 companies in Europe).
May I start by saying I am enormously proud to have been re-appointed as the European Parliament's Rapporteur on CSR. The formal process for my report in response to last year's Communication will be endorsed at the European Parliament plenary session in May. But seeing CSR Europe and so many of your member companies were meeting here today, I wanted to be with you personally and to directly invite you to work with and help me over the next few months, not just to get the wording of the political agreement in Parliament right, but also to use the process as a "shop window" of why CSR is so important and to communicate to a wider public what we are trying to achieve.
I want to pay tribute to CSR Europe, to thank you for your advice and support in the past, as well as anticipating that help now and in the future. Today I would like to specifically appeal to member companies of CSR Europe and to your national networks to make submissions to me about your response to the Communication. And to help organise ways in which I can further consult and dialogue with companies and other stakeholders on how we move forward.
By adopting the title "Enterprise 2020," to focus your own efforts in CSR Europe, in advance of us adopting the "Europe 2020" strategy, I have to concede on behalf of the EU institutions you got there first. Please don't accuse us of intellectual property theft! I am also quite seriously delighted that your own strategy is explicitly supported in the Communication. I hope this is the best signal of Europe's own commitment to the multi-stakeholder approach. That we are not preaching to you on how to do CSR, but as public authorities ourselves working as partners with you and other stakeholders to develop the ideas together.
I will - having taken part in the conference already during the morning - say a few words too on the specific issue of social entrepreneurship. I am delighted part of the package in which the CSR Communication was brought forwarded included the Social Business Initiative. I pay tribute to the personal commitment of Commissioner Tajani to this concept. There has also been some discussion about the Commission's definition of CSR in the Communication - less about what it is, than what it isn't. But given today's conference, the idea that CSR is “the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society” should be a very welcome one indeed.
Why not put "society" as the main focus? After all, as the author Edward Abbey once wrote: "Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.” So let's stir up society not stir up ourselves. I've been in too many discussions about the definition of CSR in my life at the expense of discussions about its application. And I do appeal to you to accept the definition put forward by the Commission and to focus instead on how the EU can best support the practical application of CSR in your and other companies. I do agree with many of the speakers this morning that your companies must be part of this crucial concept of the "social economy."
In Cooperatives Week, it means you identifying, dialoguing and partnering with Mutuals and other social businesses as key stakeholders in your own CSR strategy. And it means a renewed call on your businesses to innovate socially useful products and services, as well as socially equitable methods of production and delivery. That was the call from Jacques Delors when the precursor to CSR Europe was set up in 1996. Today I am absolutely delighted to learn of your collaborative projects on the business contribution to Active Aging with GDF Suez and Intel; on Health Literacy of employees with Edenred, MSD, Microsoft and Britain's Business in the Community; and on Financial Capability led by Citi foundation.
I congratulate the companies and all the other stakeholders involved. When the German Government says life expectancy is rising by three months every year, and nine-in-ten "defined benefit" pension schemes in my own country the United Kingdom have been closed to new entrants. When half of all deaths are from so-called "lifestyle" - in reality -preventable diseases. When according to the European Anti-Poverty Network more than one-in-five Europeans is at risk of social exclusion. The challenges of society have changed from the time of Delors' call, but they are more not less urgent.
In terms of our own work in the context of the Communication, I hope we can do more to show that the social impact of business is as real and concrete as the environmental and other impacts. A start has been made with the Guidelines on social procurement, but these have not been universally welcomed or even understood, and I believe we can do better. The work of the Business Social Compliance Initiative to promote CSR in now 17,000 production facilities, demonstrates the power of the "supply chain" to take forward CSR.
But when we have concentrated on global sourcing in so much of the debate, perhaps now is the time to renew focus on how companies can promote higher social standards through sourcing policies with SMEs within our own European borders too? I think there will always be new and emerging societal challenges that we need to address, and I want to suggest three more. First, as Governments throughout Europe increasingly transfer responsibilities for social care from public to private providers, how can we ensure fair competition without compromising standards of care to the most vulnerable people in our society?
Like the cases of people with Alzheimer's disease literally beaten by the staff who were supposed to be caring for them, and exposed by the BBC television programme "Panorama." Second, in the week 20 per cent voted for the Far Right in France, what can companies do to protect their black and minority ethnic employees from the rise in racism and xenophobia sweeping our continent, and how far is it the responsibility of the company to root out the perpetrators if they are found in its own workforce?
And third, with now 24 million unemployed in Europe, all of us have to do more to say that CSR - respect for decent environmental and social standards - is not an additional burden on business at this time of economic crisis. Instead it is a route to the recovery, and an essential component to guarantee that the economic recovery we are pursuing is one that will be genuinely sustainable.
I want to finish by saying that I love the concept of the "social entrepreneur." For me it sums up what we have always said in the CSR debate that it is possible both to be competitive, innovative and to make profits, but also to promote and to respect social standards. Whatever the size of your company, your role within it and the market in which you are working, I hope and believe that I am looking at an audience of social entrepreneurs. And by being here, I am confident that you think that too. Thank-you. Website: www.richardhowittmep.com