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November 13, 2002
National Policy Association Book Advocates Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting
    by William Baue

A new book published by the National Policy Association makes a series of recommendations to promote global corporate social responsibility, among them triple bottom line reporting.


The American model of democratic capitalism is suffering a crisis in confidence due to the adverse effects of corporate globalization. So says National Policy Association (NPA) President and CEO Anthony Quainton in his foreword to the NPA's recently-published book, Corporate Responsibility in the Global Village: The Role of Public Policy. The book provides an overview on a global level of government initiatives to promote corporate social responsibility (CSR). The authors argue that public policy changes would best remedy the current crisis. The book surveys U.S. efforts to promote global CSR and finds them woefully lacking. The book thus concludes with a series of eight policy recommendations for the U.S. government to implement.

"Without a doubt, triple bottom line reporting is our favorite policy," said James Reeves, who co-authored the book with Susan Ariel Aaronson for the NPA. The NPA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue and provides research on economic and social problems in the U.S. Both authors now work at the Washington, DC-based Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, a unit of the Kenan-Flagler Business School of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Triple bottom line reporting requires companies to report not only on their financial concerns, but also report on how the company takes environmental and social concerns into business practices."

The authors specifically mention the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in their recommendation. They are not alone in promoting the GRI as a model for CSR reporting, as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange already requires listed companies to adhere to GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. ARESE, a social and environmental rating agency based outside Paris, similarly advocates the adoption of GRI guidelines by French companies seeking to comply with new governmental regulations that require triple bottom line reporting.

The book presents other countries' global CSR initiatives as potential models for U.S. policies. The authors specifically focus on the exemplary CSR policies in Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, as well as covering CSR activities in Denmark, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, and Germany.

"European societies have a long tradition of government involvement in the marketplace, without the involvement being seen as burdensome," Mr. Reeves told SocialFunds.com. "This contrasts with the American model of government involvement."

The authors found that the United States government has no formal policy on global CSR and that many individual U.S. government agencies, such as the State Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) similarly lack coherent global CSR policies. The regulation of business is a sensitive issue in the political culture of the U.S., according to Mr. Reeves.

"However, the government can have a positive role in CSR promotion without necessitating excessive regulation," Mr. Reeves said, pointing to the example of triple bottom line reporting. "According to CSR Network's 2001 Benchmark Survey, 66 percent of top multinationals already post environmental and social related information on their Web sites; thus, it is not a policy that would be onerous for companies to follow."

Corporate Governance and Public
Policy ArticlesThe authors find the current presidential administration particularly unsupportive of promoting global CSR in trade and investment policies, though they do have hope that some of their recommendations may resonate with the Republican dominated Capitol Hill. They are dubious of U.S. consumers demanding global CSR, but investors may represent the best vehicle for promoting global corporate social responsibility.

"It is clear to me that CSR will take off from the investor-based side and not from the consumer side," said Mr. Reeves. "The more demand for information that is created from the investors, the more companies will take it seriously."

 

 
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