EDITORIAL: The lack of laws means charities should track CSR

Lucy Maggs

Oil companies are green, coffee manufacturers are concerned about farmers and tobacco companies about the health of their employees. The trend for corporate social responsibility means most companies are making some kind of claim as to how they are responding to social and environmental problems.

But in reality, companies vary enormously in the attention they pay to their social and environmental impact. For some, corporate social responsibility is looked after by the marketing department, which produces glossy brochures to convince consumers that the company is doing its bit. Others though are actually making a serious effort to clean up their act.

A lack of legislation to enforce standards of behaviour means there is no way for the public to judge whether companies are really concerned about the impact they have, or whether their CSR agenda is just a marketing tool.

Christian Aid is calling for Britain to lead the way in regulating CSR - it claims the voluntary approach to improving corporate behaviour is wholly inadequate, and that international legally binding standards are needed.

The case for international legislation is often dismissed as an impossibility - any one country introducing regulation on CSR will immediately find that companies move out and head off to other countries where they are left to set their own standards.

It seems unlikely that Christian Aid will be successful in persuading government to introduce this kind of legislation. But it doesn't mean the organisation is wrong to call for it. By bringing out such a hard-hitting report it will hopefully refuel the debate.

Meanwhile, in the absence of international law to enforce company behaviour, it is left to independent groups, such as voluntary organisations, to monitor whether companies' operations are in line with the claims they make in their social and environmental reports.

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