Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to companies taking responsibility for their impact on society. The Norwegian Embassy in Athens wishes to present the challenges and opportunities businesses may face in Greece in the area of CSR.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have, in the space of a short period of time, become an important international standard for how companies should respect human rights throughout their operations. As part of its work to intensify Norway's efforts to promote human rights, the Government launched a national action plan to follow up the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, in the fall of 2015.
Corporate social responsibility (hereafter CSR) refers to companies taking responsibility for their impact on society. The Norwegian Embassy in Athens wishes to present the challenges and opportunities businesses may face in Greece in the area of CSR.
Greece is comprised by the European Union’s (hereafter EU) work on CSR. A 1999 resolution called on a binding code of conduct to govern EU companies’ environmental, labor and human rights compliance worldwide. Green and white papers from the Commission in the early 2000s made CSR a topic relevant to several EU institutions, and a European Multistakeholder Forum was established to ensure debate on the topic.
In 2007 the European Parliament presented the resolution on Corporate Social Responsibility "A new partnership".
Greece is today part of the European Commission’s CSR strategy, built upon several guidelines and principles. Amongst these are the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (1), the International Labor Organization Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (2), the ISO 26000 Guidance Standard on Social Responsibility (3), the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (4) and The United Nations Global Compact (5).
Greece’s economy has faced structural challenges in the last years. The country was hit severely by the 2009 economic crisis, and is currently still comprised by financial and reform assistance efforts by the IMF, EU, ECB and ESM.
EU is Greece’s most important market for export, however Turkey and Russia are also large nations of Greek import.
Unemployment in Greece is high, and ranks highest in Europe with an unemployment rate of 23.4% as of August 2016 (6). The same goes for youth unemployment rates, which were measured in the same period as 46.5%.
CSR in Greece
Greek businesses’ interest in CSR is growing. Several Institutions of Education are granting more time, resources and attention to the subject. However, compared to several Northern European and American countries, Greece has been late in implementing CSR engagement.
According to scholars Metaxas and Tsavaderidou, lack of government funded incentives for CSR-friendly companies is partly to blame, in combination with extensive bureaucracy and corruption.
Corruption has long been considered a challenge in Greece, for several reasons. The Transparency Index rates countries by indicating the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). A country’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries in the index. Greece scores quite low in a European context with a score of 46, which places the country between Romania and Ghana in a global comparison.
However, several EU directives and international agreements are pushing forward the Greek CSR work. As of 2017 (7), Greek companies will be obliged to report on their CSR work. The new practice will bring Greek practice closer to the Norwegian, already implemented in the Accounting act (regnskapsloven 1998/56) § 3-3. The directive means more, and stricter demands in regards to businesses’ social and environmental impact. The businesses that will be affected by the new regulations must, however, be of "public interest", which translates to companies of 500+ employees.
The companies affected will, as of 2017, include statements in their annual report on their work for climate, security, respect for Human Rights, anti-corruption work and bribery.
The company structure in Greece is often smaller than of 500+ employees, in fact most businesses in Greece are very small and often family owned. This business structure has been viewed as challenging, when trying to implement norms and regulations for CSR work as the amount of companies makes it hard for the Government to do regular checkups and controls.
When it comes to the ease of doing business, it is estimated that it takes an average of 13 days to start a company in Greece (8).
Doing business in Greece
According to the World Bank’s "Easy on doing business report" from June 2016 is Greece ranked number 61 out of 190 (9). On World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index Greece ranks 86 of out 138 (10).
The Heritage Foundation ranks Greece as country number 138 (53.2) out of 178 on their index of economic freedom (in Europe, 41 out of 44) (11).
The top personal income tax rate has increased to 42 percent. The top corporate tax rate is 26 percent. The overall tax burden equals about 33.5 percent of GDP. Government spending remains at over 50 percent of GDP, budget deficits continue, and public debt far exceeds the size of the economy. Fiscal stability is highly dependent on Eurozone creditors.
The process for launching a company is fairly streamlined, but licensing requirements remain time-consuming. With high non-salary costs for employing a worker and rigid restrictions on work hours, the labor market remains stagnant.
EU members have a 1 percent average tariff rate. Trade agreements are currently being negotiated with countries that include the United States and Japan. Greece maintains non-tariff barriers to the provision of some professional services by non-EU providers. The banking sector and the financial system’s overall stability has been severely strained.
The continuing lack of economic freedom compounds Greece’ competitiveness and political volatility. Further policy actions are needed to restore fiscal sustainability, enhance labor market flexibility, and tackle systemic corruption.
Source: World Economic Forum, Executive Opinion Survey 2016.
In 2016, the Norwegian import on goods from Greece increased from NOK 535 million in 2015 to NOK 569 million. At the same time, the Norwegian export to Greece increased from NOK 1071 million to NOK 1386 million (12).