CSR starts route to law via private member bill

UK companies could be forced to report on the social and environmental impact of their business practices if a private member's bill tabled in Parliament becomes law.

The bill, which is the result of a campaign by the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (Core), is to be tabled by MP Andy King on 30 January.

Christian Aid, which sits on Core's steering committee alongside other charities including Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, says it hopes the bill signifies the first step towards legislation that would make multinational companies meet fixed ethical standards in poor and developing countries.

The bill would mean that companies could be taken to court if they failed to provide accurate social and environmental reporting. It would make this kind of reporting a duty of care for company directors and would also extend to government departments.

To support the bill, Christian Aid has produced a report called Behind The Mask: the real face of corporate social responsibility. It contains case studies showing how multinationals such as Shell, Coca-Cola and British American Tobacco are using claims of responsible practice to oppose legislation.

"The bill could be an important move towards making corporate social responsibility a genuinely valuable part of the drive to make businesses more internationally accountable," said Andrew Pendleton, co-author of the report. "Unfortunately there's still a lot of window-dressing involved in CSR, and we can only create a level playing field by introducing an element of regulation."

The charity argues that international legally binding standards are needed to ensure companies don't use CSR as an extension of public relations, and are forced to be more accountable for the consequences of their actions.

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