Labour MEP: Europe risks "lost generation" on corporate responsibility


A Labour MEP has warned businesses that Europe will be left with a "lost generation" if it continues to fail on youth unemployment and fails to meet the global challenge of climate change.

Richard Howitt MEP, who leads for the European Parliament on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), delivered the warning at a key meeting to decide the EU's five-year strategy on Corporate Social Responsibility.

Mr Howitt also welcomed the fact the previous CSR strategy had seen President Obama adopt Europe's approach for implementing the key UN principles on business and human rights and expressed pride that a new EU law passed last year for companies to report on their social and environmental impact - which he had championed - had widespread business support.

The two-day forum, drawing together more than 400 representatives from business, governments, trade unions and civil society is the last stage of a public consultation, as the European Commission finalises a new Communication on CSRĀ  and a new five-year EU strategy, due to be published in the summer.

Making the keynote speech which opened the forum, Richard Howitt MEP said the new strategy should include the EU negotiating a new UN goal to match the EU mandatory reporting requirement for business, and new European rules or guidance on how companies can show 'due diligence' in managing their supply chains.

Appealing to companies to do more, he said:

"There is a real danger too many young people are becoming alienated and disenfranchised from what we like to call common European values.

"The 'youth jobs guarantee' shouldn't just be the title of an EU policy, but part of the CSR challenge for every major company in Europe.

"Such major societal challenges from the inequality, inequity and injustices within our continent, to the global challenges of conflict, poverty and climate change, cannot be met unless business is itself a stakeholder for Europe and the world."

Mr Howitt said the future CSR strategy must reflect the Juncker Commission's commitment to long-term investment by helping foster a shift towards a culture of longer-term thinking for business:

"Too much of our economic system rewards short-termism. The answer will only come by reshaping the whole structure of remuneration across markets, to incorporate social and environmental goals.

"Otherwise we will be making the very same mistake those American banks did - pursuing short-term gain and believing we can pass over long-term risk to someone else, at no cost to ourselves.

"And look what happened next?

"This is not just about trillions managed by big investment companies or sovereign wealth funds, but it is at the same time about advancing socially responsible investment and recognising all of us who save for our pensions should be able to know and to make choices to be responsible investors too."

Richard Howitt MEP closed his speech saying European corporate governance rules could be rewritten to redefine the whole concept of 'fiduciary duty' or short-term profit maximisation for shareholders:

"We need to move from a shareholder-centric approach to one which recognises companies have other stakeholders with legitimate interests too.

"After all 'fidus' is Latin simply means trust and it is 'trust' which is the true currency of corporate social responsibility.

"We all want to have trust in business."

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