Website of the Austrian Social Ministry

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)/Business & Human Rights

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is defined as the commitment of enterprises to socially and environmentally sustainable activities. CSR means that enterprises assume responsibility for the consequences of their business operations in a way that goes beyond what is required under employment law and social legislation.

Enterprises which do business in countries with legal protection deficits may contribute to the enforcement of social and environmental minimum standards via CSR - especially in the field of women's and workers' rights.

This is why it is particularly important to look at CSR in more than just the national context and to include international value chains. Fundamental legal norms, such as the ILO core labour standards, and human rights are to be adhered to everywhere, including low-wage countries.

In the past few years, corporate social responsibility has become more important, in particular when it comes to social aspects such as the creation of jobs which secure a livelihood, and the promotion of equal opportunities and diversity. In this context, it has to be stressed that CSR goes beyond legal obligations (e.g. human rights or workers' rights) and must not undermine these. The transparency and comparability of CSR actions has enormous significance; specific criteria/indicators have to be developed and applied, and corporations need to engage in (legally regulated) reporting on social and environmental aspects which have to be defined in terms of content.

When the UN-Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were published in 2011, a focus on the field of business and human rights emerged within the CSR context, both internationally and in Austria.

As a consequence, the original principle of voluntariness, which used to be linked with CSR, has been relegated to the background. The creation of legally binding instruments to be applied at the interface of business and human rights is now being discussed to an ever greater extent at all levels, including the United Nations.

Measures of the Ministry of Social Affairs to support CSR

Apart from the fact that the Ministry of Social Affairs is represented in national and international CSR-relevant associations and bodies as an active contributor, it also takes a wide range of measures to promote effective integrated CSR management. These include:

• NESTORGOLD GÜTESIEGEL - the seal of quality for effective generational management
• Co-financing of CSR/diversity awards
• Projects run in cooperation with CSR platforms
• Support of surveys and studies 
• Contributions to the preparation of a CSR guideline of the Austrian Standards Institute (ONR ISO 192500 Social Responsibility of Organisations, 2011)

Further focal areas
•Workers' rights and human rights
•Anti-discrimination and diversity management (equal treatment through gender mainstreaming and disability mainstreaming)
•Work-life balance
•Promoting the mental and physical health of those working at the Ministry of Social Affairs ("Fair Play", a strategy to prevent bullying)

CSR in Europe and at an international level

In 2001 the European Commission published a Green Paper titled "Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility". Building on previous communications, a communication titled "A renewed EU Strategy 2011-2014 for corporate social responsibility" followed in 2011. Individual measures under the CSR communication of the European Commission are i.a. devised by the High Level Group on CSR (HLG CSR) of the European Commission, which also plays an important role in the implementation process. The HLG CSR is composed of representatives of ministries in charge of CSR from all member States. Austria has been represented in the HLG CSR by the Ministry of Social Affairs since 2007.

The European Commission and the European Parliament have published policy papers, the OECD has worded CSR guidelines for multinational enterprises, the United Nations developed a non-binding code of conduct for enterprises and various NGOs are active in the area of CSR, creating quality marks and indices which reflect the degree to which enterprises live up to CSR expectations. These include, to name but a few: