Report from Norway: Another CSR Victory for the Business Lobbyists
European Company Law, Kluwer Law International, 2009
7 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2009
Date Written: June 2, 2009
In 2008, the Norwegian Government presented its first white paper on CSR. Although well-intended and perhaps a first baby-step towards the right direction, the paper suffers from two fault lines. The fact that the paper was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is symptomatic of the first one: the focus is nearly solely on the behaviour of Norwegian companies in poor countries and in more or less corrupt countries. The general issue of the aggregated societal impact of Norwegian companies regardless of where they operate is thereby set aside in favour of focus on a segment of the issue. The generally favourable reaction from Norwegian businesses to the CSR paper is indicative of the second fault line: As is the case also on the EU level, the Norwegian Government and Parliament have accepted the business definition of CSR as a voluntary activity.
This doesn't mean that the Norwegian white paper is worthless or that no issues of significance are discussed. However, by restricting itself to discussing a segment of the actual issue and implicitly restricting its own scope of regulatory action, the government has started out with a significant handicap that naturally affects the value of the paper. Nor is this criticism meant to imply that CSR as a voluntary activity is without value. However, voluntary CSR, in addition to having the potential of misleading the general public as well as regulators, is just not doing enough good fast enough. Legislation has to be used to create a floor beneath which no companies may go; then a discussion of voluntary CSR as a development of good practice may really contribute to leading the way towards even greener and more responsible businesses. This important point seems to be overlooked by the Norwegian government, as it indeed is by the EU legislature.
This report indicates the issues that the white paper deals with as well as those it doesn't and then goes on to introduce a new research project based at the Faculty of Law in Oslo that aims to find a way forward.
Keywords: CSR, environmental reporting, sustainable development, sustainable companies, the purpose of the company, the role of the board, internalising externalities, IPCC, Stern Review
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