December 15, 2006
Swedish Government Facilitates Corporate Responsibility
by Doug Wheat
A SocialFunds.com interview with Elisabeth Dahlin, Ambassador, Head of Global Responsibility,
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
SocialFunds.com 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.
SocialFunds.com: Are you the first person to hold the position of Ambassador, Head of Global
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.
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
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
SF: Do you believe that CSR is a force for good in the world?
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