Modern business responsibility can enable companies to drive transition

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) need more effective, better structured support to transition to sustainable business practices

As the drivers of the European economy, accounting for more than 99 % of companies and two thirds of private-sector employment, MSMEs have a critical role in shaping, and even leading, the transition to more sustainable business practices.

In an own-initiative opinion, the EESC focuses on the concept of modern business responsibility, the role for MSMEs in promoting its principles and the need for lawmakers to create an enabling environment for MSMEs to fully embrace those principles.

Modern business responsibility is defined in the opinion as ‘a proactive and voluntary approach of an enterprise to economic, social and environmental sustainability and its level of ambition with respect to exceeding its legal obligation.’ The opinion goes on to underline that ‘business responsibility is primarily a mindset stemming from an enterprise's own values and objectives while taking into account the expectations of stakeholders and society at large.’

The opinion stresses the challenges that MSMEs face in their efforts to adopt the full range of modern business responsibility practices. The EESC suggests creating MSME alliances that will help develop the necessary skills and competences.

The Committee also suggests that employers' organisations and trade unions, professional chambers and associations, training bodies and civil society organisations should join forces to help meet these challenges.


Integrated support required

This need to engage all stakeholders in a common effort to promote more sustainable business practices lies at the heart of the broad, pragmatic approach that the three rapporteurs for the opinion adopted.

There are a number of aspects to this: economic, social and sustainable. We have tried to encompass the challenges ahead of us, but also to look at the circumstances surrounding our society. We have to look at the fact that our companies are going through changes constantly, says Ferre Wyckmans, rapporteur from the EESC Workers’ Group.

We have to be proactive in our thoughts. A lot of support is needed from social partners, from various organisations, which can give support to business leaders. We need help from policymakers as well.

The opinion stresses that the overall policy framework regarding modern business responsibility for MSMEs should be supportive and should avoid complicated requirements that could divert resources away from concrete, grassroots-level business responsibility measures and lead to shifting business responsibility outside companies.


Different options for different actors

The extent to which individual companies engage with the transition to sustainable business practices depends considerably on a company’s size, type, sector, business model, position in the value chain, location and markets. The opinion makes clear that MSMEs’ diversity is a great strength of the European economy and that there is no single, universal approach for guiding these companies towards embracing modern business responsibility.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for business responsibility, and all the legal and policy frameworks that are related to business responsibility should reflect this reality, says Milena Angelova, rapporteur for the EESC Employers-Group.

It is for every company to evaluate by themselves what responsibility means and how it translates into their own operations in practice.

The opinion makes clear that the concept of business responsibility also evolves with time, ensuring proactive and forward-looking management of long-term digital, green and demographic developments while strengthening resilience to cope with sudden crises.


A practical, user-friendly framework will incentivise MSMEs

The opinion recommends developing simple and practical tools such as checklists, templates and calculators, and alternative-scenario analyses that MSMEs can use to develop their operations in line with modern business responsibility and to report on their commitments and achievements.

Rudolf Kolbe, rapporteur for the EESC Civil Society Organisations Group, points out that the integration of responsibility in all business processes and operations needs to be accompanied by framework conditions in order for MSMEs to achieve their potential.

Mr Kolbe further drew attention to the need to extend the concept of modern business responsibility to self-employed workers, and called for a renewed emphasis on capacity building.

Skills and skilled workers are extremely important in relation to business responsibility. Continuous professional development is absolutely crucial – and here, external stakeholders could have a very important role to play.


Read the EESC opinion "Modern Business Responsibility for MSMEs"