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European Oil Companies: 'Climate Change is CSR Job No. 1'

18.01.2007
A recently published survey of oil companies operating in Europe finds their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies improving and relatively advanced, with climate change mitigation now being seen by the companies as their foremost strategic issue.

The survey is based on replies received from nine oil companies operating in Europe: BP, Shell, Total, Repsol, Statoil, Hydro, Amerada Hess, Orlen and Talisman.

“The most interesting finding is that the European oil companies now clearly have come to view climate change mitigation as the most important social and environmental issue confronting the industry,” says Elin Lerum Boasson, lead author of the survey and a Research Fellow with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI).

The companies’ replies also indicate that countering bribery has a fairly high strategic importance, while issues such as the promotion of gender equality and minimizing the risk of chemicals seem to be of a comparatively lower importance.

The survey has been carried out by FNI researchers in cooperation with the Stockholm Environmental Institute and is part of the larger EU-financed research project Rhetoric and Realities: Analysing Corporate Social Responsibility in Europe (RARE). In addition to the oil sector, the project has investigated CSR activities in the banking and fish processing sectors, as well as in small and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

The survey reveals the oil companies’ CSR policies to be relatively advanced: On average, the companies adhere to as many as 17 CSR instruments, with the Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the Responsible Care Initiative, ISO 14001, and the Global Reporting Initiative being most favoured. However, when asked which CSR instruments are contributing most to their performance, the companies generally view their ‘company-specific’ instruments to be more efficient than the more ‘standard’ ones.

While the European Commission’s definition of CSR sees it as efforts going beyond formal legal compliance, the oil sector (as well as the other sectors surveyed) seems to reject this official definition, viewing their voluntary activities on social and environmental issues above all as a means to ensure compliance with mandatory legislation.

“The EU has urged industry to take on ambitious measures voluntary through developing CSR policies. The survey indicates that this strategy has failed,” comments Boasson.

The survey nevertheless concludes that the increasing rhetorical attention to concepts such as CSR seems to have had at least some effect on oil actual behaviour in the European oil sector – at least that is how the companies perceive it themselves.

Claes Lykke Ragner | alfa
Further information:
http://www.fni.no/doc&pdf/FNI-R0906.pdf

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