Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Ashton on behalf of the Commission
The Commission already works closely with a number of international bodies who have a concern for rights in the workplace, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its guidelines for multinational enterprises, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy, and the United Nations (UN) (particularly the Global Compact). An emerging initiative that is focusing attention in the EU is the work of Professor John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for business and human rights. Professor Ruggie is finalising a mandate to develop a framework for addressing companies' human rights footprint.
The Commission Communication ‘Towards a comprehensive European international investment policy’(1) proposes to integrate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) principles in the Union's future investment policy. The Commission already includes in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) a chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development, that contains provisions related to respect of the eight core ILO Conventions on fundamental labour rights, as well as on the main elements of CSR. Respect of the principles contained in these eight Conventions is also a component of the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme (and in particular the GSP+).
The Commission is closely following the outcomes of the ILO monitoring systems regarding the eight fundamental Conventions enshrining the core labour standards.
The Commission takes the view that the interdependence between the four pillars of the decent work agenda (full and productive employment, fundamental rights at work, access to social protection and social dialogue) requires a holistic approach to dialogues with the European Union's trade partners to achieve endogenous and sustainable social progress in partner countries, and requires the inclusion of civil society and notably the workers and employers organisations in this dialogue.
While it is certainly desirable that consumers pay greater attention to ethical criteria in the goods that they buy, the Commission does not consider it appropriate at this stage to propose social labelling. This does not prevent companies or groups of companies from establishing their own labels if they wish, which would be welcomed by the Commission provided that the labels are based on clear, objective criteria that both consumers and producers can understand. Further information about the EU approach to private ethical labelling initiatives can be found in the Commission’s 2009 Communication ‘Contributing to Sustainable Development: the role of Fair Trade and non-governmental trade-related sustainability assurance schemes’(2).
The Commission expects to adopt a new Communication on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in 2011. Consultations with stakeholders in the coming months will help to define the scope and content of this communication. The Commission has already indicated three areas that should in any case be addressed: the disclosure of environmental, social and governance information by enterprises; the implementation of the United Nations framework on business and human rights; and the global dimension of CSR, including EU support for different international CSR processes and instruments.