The European Commission has just released a fascinating study analyzing a sample of EU companies to determine whether they have made any public reference to the core international standards related to CSR. I encourage anyone with an interest in business and human rights to read the results, which are succinct, clear, and sometimes surprising. For example, Spanish companies were substantially more likely than the sample average to make reference to instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Global Compact (as were Danish and Swedish companies, results which seem less surprising given our preconceived notions of Scandinavian progressiveness). By contrast, the UK companies in the sample were extremely likely to make general reference to CSR activities, but were substantially less likely to make any specific reference to any of the core instruments such as the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. This result mirrors my own market research, which indicated a high level of corporate engagement with the sustainability/CSR lexicon, but less engagement with the core principles and guidelines which outline a responsible human rights approach.
To me, the crucial next step in the process of human rights awareness-raising in the business community will be to shift the boardroom dialogue from away generic reference to CSR and sustainability and to focus instead on adopting and integrating the specific guidance contained in the UN Guiding Principles (which were mentioned by only 3% of the companies in the EU sample). This evening I will be attending a book signing by Professor John Ruggie, the architect of the Guiding Principles, at which I hope he can shed some additional light on how those of us in the field can facilitate this next level of engagement.