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Corporate Social Responsibility

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 8 June 2006

9. What steps his Department is taking to promote and implement the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines for multinational enterprises as part of the Government’s corporate social responsibility policy. (75726)

The UK national contact point—terrible jargon which refers to an individual official in the Department of Trade and Industry—works with business and non-governmental organisations to raise awareness of the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises and to promote their use by companies in developing their own codes of conduct. The Government will shortly publish their response to a stakeholder consultation on possible improvements to the national contact point’s promotion and implementation of the guidelines.

The Minister for Industry and the Regions, who replied to Tuesday’s debate on company law reform, referred specifically to the guidelines as an important means of addressing concerns about international corporate social responsibility. What steps will the Government be taking to ensure that the guidelines are given teeth, both at the UK level and, perhaps more importantly, at a European and wider international level?

As I said, we will shortly publish our response. We gave more time for the consultation because the working group established under the aegis of the all-party group asked us for more time to submit further comments. I am not sure that we have received them yet. We are anxious to tackle these issues and to publish our response as soon as we can.

Has the Minister seen the excellent corporate social responsibility report of Tesco, showing how these guidelines are being applied to cut the carbon imprint, improve energy efficiency and undertake socially responsible actions with employees and in purchasing? When will his Department catch up with the best practice of companies such as Tesco, which seem to me to be streets ahead of many Departments?

It is true that, although carbon dioxide emissions from some sectors, including the energy sector and intensive energy users, are reducing, they are still increasing in the service sector, whether that is the superstore or the governmental system. When I visited the excellent Tesco branch in Thornton Heath, I was impressed that one staff official had responsibility for energy efficiency. That is a practice that we should adopt. Should Government do more? Yes, we should, and we are looking at that in the energy review.

The Conservative party welcomes the OECD guidelines and, on the basis that corporate social responsibility should be set in the context of wider corporate governance, we also welcome the lead that the OECD has given with its continental corporate governance panels. But the question remains: why do the Government give so little time to promoting corporate social responsibility, particularly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) pointed out, given the excellent, world-beating corporate responsibility practices that we find in so many British companies?

There will be joy in the heart of the OECD that the Conservatives support its work. That is welcome. I reject the notion that the Government do not pay due regard to corporate social responsibility. We pursue essentially a voluntary approach. We recognise that corporate social responsibility has many dimensions. There are the international ones that we are examining now. There are also the charitable efforts of many companies and how they treat customers and their employees. This is an issue to which we are committed as a Government.