Learning from others: CSR standards in different sectors

Jesco Kreft und Miriam Schaper

Many economic sectors have developed standards for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), e.g. the "Better Cotton Initiative", the "Floriculture Sustainability Initiative, "Responsible Care" in the chemical industry, or "Bettercoal". Instead of a CSR standard, the tourism industry has more than 100 sustainability labels.

Jesco Kreft and Miriam Schaper, Hamburger Stiftung für Wirtschaftsethik (a non-profit think tank on business ethics issues) have analysed the success factors of CSR standards which are often developed in the aftermath of sector-specific scandals, or try to pre-empt restrictive regulation.

The instruments must be sector-specific. At the same time, they include a code of conduct based on accepted frameworks such as the core labour standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO). While it is difficult to evaluate their effectiveness, well-conceptualized standards can be a useful instrument for self-regulation. To be successfully introduced, stakeholders need to be convinced of the necessity of a standard.

It must take into account a diversity of interests, the objectives need to be formulated clearly, and possible instruments to achieve them should be suggested. A standard derives legitimacy from the participation of various stakeholders. Its content has to be implemented within the companies, their staff needs to be made aware of it, and continuous reporting on activities is advisable. In case of violations of a standard, sanctions need to be in place. In the tourism sector, a unified standard would help to avoid risks and reduce inefficiencies.