"An increasing number of European companies are promoting their corporate social responsibility strategies as a response to a variety of social, environmental and economic pressures. They aim to send a signal to the various stakeholders with whom they interact: employees, shareholders, investors, consumers, public authorities and NGOs. In doing so, companies are investing in their future and they expect that the voluntary commitment they adopt will help to increase their profitability.
As early as 1993, the appeal to European business of President Delors to take part in the fight against social exclusion resulted in a strong mobilisation and in the development of European business networks. More recently in March 2000, the European Council in Lisbon made a special appeal to companies’ sense of social responsibility regarding best practices for lifelong learning, work organisation, equal opportunities, social inclusion and sustainable development.
By stating their social responsibility and voluntarily taking on commitments which go beyond common regulatory and conventional requirements, which they would have to respect in any case, companies endeavour to raise the standards of social development, environmental protection and respect of fundamental rights and embrace an open governance, reconciling interests of various stakeholders in an overall approach of quality and sustainability. While recognising the importance of all these aspects, this paper focuses mainly on companies' responsibilities in the social field.
This action leads to the development of new partnerships and new spheres for existing relationships within the company regarding social dialogue, skills acquisition, equal opportunities, anticipation and management of change, at the local or national level with reference to the reinforcement of economic and social cohesion and health protection, and more generally on a global level, concerning environmental protection and respect of fundamental rights.
The corporate social responsibility concept is mainly driven by large companies, even though socially responsible practices exist in all types of enterprises, public and private, including SMEs and co-operatives.
The European Union is concerned with corporate social responsibility as it can be a positive contribution to the strategic goal decided in Lisbon: "to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion"."