With new elections underway, the MVO Platform is stepping up its political lobby for more transparency and accountability of enterprises. The Netherlands is lagging behind the EU and some of the member states. ‘The international frame of reference of CSR standards has been refined in the past year. This will help us to promote higher levels of ambition regarding CSR among politicians and in business,’ says Suzan van der Meij, coordinator of MVO Platform, a network of Dutch civil society organisations and unions, hosted by SOMO.

The MVO Platform has already been lobbying among the parties who recently presented their preliminary election programmes. Once the programmes become definite, the MVO Platform will present a comparative overview of the CSR policies of the various parties. Van der Meij: ‘We will be looking at issues such as transparency, chain responsibility and access to justice for victims.’

CSR reporting still not obligatory

Under the cabinet which collapsed, the lobby for mandatory transparency was not getting anywhere. Dutch companies currently publish their CSR reports and other non-financial reports on a voluntary basis. France has made it obligatory for all companies, and in Denmark the legislation can be described as Comply & Explain. Van der Meij: ‘This means that as a company you meet international CSR standards and also provide information on this compliance. Or you state clearly that you cannot provide information on specific items due to confidentiality, for example. Unfortunately there are no clear criteria on the latter, so any excuse for non-reporting is accepted.’ The European Commission is also preparing regulations regarding CSR reporting. In the opinion of Van der Meij these regulations should be more ambitious than the Danish Comply & Explain, which is too non-committal. Corporations should provide comparable and verifiable data that really convey the facts about the impact of their company on society.

Monitoring if company meets OECD Guidelines

In the Netherlands itself there is more progress in terms of improved screening of companies when applying for subsidies for activities abroad, such as export credit guarantees. As the situation is now, companies can sign off that they are aware of or compliant with OECD Guidelines, without being monitored. Any possible human rights issues are then left to civil society organisations to flag. ‘Enterprises need to start putting their money where their mouth is,’ says Van der Meij. ‘We are of the opinion that the responsibility of companies for the production chain should also be covered by the monitoring process.’

Sturdy basis for lobby

The MVO Platform feels bolstered by the new and improved international CSR frame of reference. The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, the reviewed OECD Guidelines and ISO 26000 have all reinforced the foundations of the lobby of MVO Platform. ‘In The Hague they like to say that Dutch companies are forerunners in CSR. We need to place that in its proper context and show that violations of rights are all too often not an exception but a structural problem that requires structural solutions. We can do this more effectively now. To this end we published a new CSR Frame of Reference earlier this year, which refers to the broadly supported international frame of reference.’
The lobby of the MVO Platform is carried out by different members in different configurations, depending on the required expertise. The MVO Platform in particular facilitates the exchange of experience and knowledge among the more than 30 members. Each year, an internal conference about corporate influence is held, the most recent one on 7 June. Van der Meij: ‘As different and possibly even competitive as organisations are, so uniformly applicable is the analysis that the various forms of corporate influence are all important and complementary, and especially the importance of watchdogs is emphasised.’

The new Frame of Reference for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) clearly indicates what CSR should include, according to the MVO Platform, a network of Dutch civil society organisations and trade unions. Download the CSR Frame of Reference 2012 here.