Still little EWC influence on the CSR policy of energy companies
Energy companies are currently among the largest multinationals in the world. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for these companies, on which millions of people are dependent, should be a matter-of-course. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) has scrutinized the CSR policy of 24 transnational energy companies and has looked in particular at the role of the EWC.
Prior to 2003, none of the European energy companies studied had ever published a CSR report. But it is clear that their interest in the issue is growing. In 2009, the social partners signed a joint declaration at European level on CSR. In the energy sector that policy is focused particularly on environmental aspects and less on social aspects. In their joint declaration, the social partners established that CSR rests on a positive relationship towards the trade unions and that the involvement of stakeholders such as trade unions and employees in the CSR policy is vitally important for the success of that policy. Trade unions in the energy sector have drafted a `reorganisation toolkit`. This contains a chapter about outsourcing, one of the principal issues in this sector. That chapter was drawn up together with the employers. Although the toolkits and the checklist are not binding agreements, they do provide a number of standards for the conduct of companies and emphasise the CSR aspects which are important to employees such as providing sufficient information, announcing redundancies well in advance, offering alternatives, the right of employees to not to have to agree to outsourcing and to return to the parent company, continuous monitoring of the progress of the outsourcing process and education and re-training.
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It is striking that almost one quarter of the companies who are members of a European alliance in this area do not have an EWC, whilst they are obliged to do so. A previous study by the European Trade Union Institute had already identified that if CSR remains primarily an issue of codes of conduct and ethical declarations, this will continue to be implemented by management from the top down. There are a growing number of European works councils in this area. But so far they have played a rather feeble role in the CSR policy of the sector. Positive examples are EDF, RW (owner of Essent) and Statkraft. Most of the EWC members who took part in the study place great value on involvement in the development of CSR policy and on monitoring compliance However they are generally not satisfied about the possibilities which they for this at the present time. An EWC member from Vattenfall stated that his council was involved in specifying the policy but was no longer involved in its further development. This is progressing faster than the EWC can keep up, with the time pressure under which it has to work. Most EWC members are positive about the support they receive from trade unions when it comes to CSR. But in general they think that the unions are not making sufficient effort in this area.
The report concludes with a large number of useful tips, including the following:
- In the EWC agreement establish that CSR themes are within the scope of the EWC.
- If CSR issues are to be discussed, it can be useful to bring in experts with a specific knowledge of these issues. This can avoid the EWC simply legitimizing the CSR policy of a company without sufficient prior knowledge to be able make constructive criticisms.
- Request an impact study during reorganisations, mergers and takeovers which describes the possible social consequences and the effects on the environment, also in developing countries.
- If possible, elect your own candidate to be appointed to the Supervisory Board and ask that this person is explicitly involved with CSR.
-Send round a questionnaire to staff to make yourself known as EWC and ask which CSR issues the EWC should work on.
Somo carried out the study on behalf of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU).
You can find a newsletter about the report here.
The report itself (in English) can be downloaded here.