Although the issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been debated for at least the last three decades, it has once more gained momentum in recent years. On an international level, this is attributable to the increasing importance of global production networks, the intensification of resource extraction and the implementation of large infrastructure projects in emerging and developing economies. These activities, which can at times have severe economic, social and environmental implications, are generally implemented by multinational corporations. In recent years, the tension between economic development and its impact on society and the environment has made corporate responsibility the subject of controversial public discussion. At the level of the United Nations, under the leadership of John Ruggie, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the “UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights” in 2011. These guidelines are to be implemented on a national level by all UN member states.
The discussion on corporate social responsibility has also become more relevant in the area of development policy and development cooperation. Increasingly, many donors, including Austria, have a programmatic focus on economic development, in particular Private Sector Development. At the same time they have committed themselves to a human rights based approach to development. In order to achieve policy coherence for development, the (further) development and targeted application of specific instruments, such as human rights impact assessments, which provide for the systematic assessment of the impact of development projects, are needed.
With regards to this subject area, ÖFSE focuses on the following aspects:
- What instruments are needed to ensure socially responsible business conduct in developing countries? What potential in particular do human rights impact assessments have?
- How can donor countries such as Austria ensure responsible management of their businesses in terms of development policy as well as, in the sense of policy coherence for development, in related fields such as export promotion policy?
- What is the role of sector specific CSR initiatives with respect to major projects in the areas of resource extraction and infrastructure?