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December 15, 2006
Swedish Government Facilitates Corporate Responsibility
    by Doug Wheat

A interview with Elisabeth Dahlin, Ambassador, Head of Global Responsibility, Sweden.

The Swedish government, like the governments of numerous other countries, would like to see a broad uptake of corporate social responsibility (CSR). But, like many others, it is disinclined to legislate CSR. The Swedish government is nevertheless taking a role in advocating CSR through promotional initiatives and innovative partnerships. In 2002 it created a position to coordinate CSR activities. sat down to talk with the Ambassador Elisabeth Dahlin of the Swedish Foreign Ministry at the recent Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference in New York. Are you the first person to hold the position of Ambassador, Head of Global Responsibility?

Elisabeth Dahlin: I am the third person in this post. The background of the position began with a large governmental investigation involving the political parties in Parliament, communities, employer organizations, trade unions, and NGOs about the effects of globalization and possibilities of convergence between trade, development cooperation, and foreign policy. The offspring to this large investigation was presented to Parliament and called "Our Common Responsibility." It was a discussion on new way to promote responsibility by Swedish companies-this resulted in the creation of the Swedish Partnership for Global Responsibility. The partnership was created in 2002 just a short time after the UN Global Compact was formed. The Swedish government opted to base its work on the existing global standards on corporate responsibility, the OECD guidelines and the UN Global Compact.

SF: Did all stakeholders in Sweden support the Partnership for Global Responsibility?

ED: It was a response for the need to see what we can do as a government with consultation from other stakeholders. Generally for Swedish companies, corporate social responsibility is part of the business plan. It is very much in line with how the companies were already operating and many supported the facilitation role of the Partnership. Trade unions in Sweden are generally in favor of open and free trade, which is very unusual compared to trade unions in other countries. They are very clear on the need for trade since Sweden is a relatively small country of 8 million people. So, the Partnership was very much in line with general Swedish policy.

SF: What is the biggest challenge for Swedish companies trying to implement CSR?

ED: From the beginning we have been working with the countries outside of Europe. And that differs very much depending on the market. You have countries where human rights abuse may be the biggest problem and others where corruption may be an issue. In some countries with a substantial presence of Swedish companies there may be very good laws covering CSR issues but they are not implemented. Thus, the biggest challenge facing Swedish businesses is managing the global supply chain.

SF: And is this an issue on which the Foreign Ministry can provide assistance to Swedish companies?

ED: The government is of course responsible for the political dialog with the governments of other countries. The Partnership can add value by giving companies knowledge about how to approach these issues, as well as supplying tools and facilitating the exchange of experiences by different companies. However, the major role is played by businesses.

SF: The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the described as a multi-stakeholder process. However, government, which is traditionally part of setting international norms, is not involved with the GRI. Do you think this is appropriate?

ED: If businesses are doing something, and they are doing it right, I do not see a need for government to enter a process that businesses are handling well by themselves. I see our role as being a facilitator when it is required. That being said, we do have a dialog with the GRI and the UN Global Compact. A number of Swedish companies use the GRI. We are also observers in the development of an ISO corporate social responsibility standard, which is being led by the Swedish Standards Institute along with Brazil. But this standard is being used by businesses and organizations. They will need to define the standards. It does not need to be led by government, though we may observe and listen.

SF: Do you believe that CSR is a force for good in the world?

ED: When CSR is part of the core business, yes. When it is philanthropy, that is a company choice and we do not get involved. We deal with core labor standards, sustainable environment, human rights, corruption and other similar dimensions. CSR may be a tool for good business practices and responsible action in markets where companies face challenges concerning human rights, core labor standards, corruption or environmental concerns. It should not, however, be used as a technical barrier to trade, and definitely not as a tool for excluding developing countries from exporting to our markets.


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