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Lobbying "Legitimate" but Needs Reform: UN Report

2005-09-08

Political lobbying is a legitimate business activity and will play an essential role in fighting poverty, conflict and AIDS, according to a report published today by the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and international institute AccountAbility.

The report – entitled Towards Responsible Lobbying – recognises that businesses, by influencing public policy, have the power to combat crises and help societies to prosper alongside shareholders.

But the report also calls for widespread reform and sets out the first international proposals for ‘responsible’ lobbying practice.

‘Lobbying may be the most important way in which business contributes to sustainable development, and to goals such as the elimination of poverty,’ said Simon Zadek, CEO of AccountAbility and Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

‘But lobbying is also one of the few business practices to have escaped close scrutiny in recent years. Companies have become more responsible in areas such as financial governance and ethical sourcing; it is now time for them to address their lobbying.’

Lobbying is a rapidly growing industry employing some 100,000 or more people worldwide: 17,000 of these in Washington alone and 15,000 in Brussels.

Towards Responsible Lobbying is the result of international consultation with professional lobbyists as well as with businesses, governments and NGOs.

It warns that demands for total transparency of lobbying may be unrealistic in a business where success can depend on informality and closed-door meetings. Furthermore, transparency does not guarantee responsible practice.

Similarly, the report says that regulation – such as compulsory registration - does not prevent lobbyists from wielding undue or improper influence over politicians.

The key, according to the UNGC and AccountAbility, is to focus instead on consistency.

A responsible company, the report argues, is one whose lobbying position is consistent with its own mission statements, codes of conduct and stated policies, and universal values such as the UNGC’s Ten Principles and UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

It goes on to set out a six-step framework for organisations to assess their own lobbying practices and to identify areas for improvement.

Georg Kell, Executive Head of the United Nations Global Compact, called on the more than 2,200 companies and NGOs participating in the initiative to ensure that their lobbying practices are in line with the Global Compact principles and to espouse the recommendations set out in the report.

‘There are often significant discrepancies between CSR policies on the one hand and lobbying efforts on the other’, he said. ‘This lack of consistency can undermine the credibility of corporate responsibility and diminish its benefits. This report is an important contribution to the ongoing debate over lobbying, and it helps linking lobbying activities with universal values.’

Towards Responsible Lobbying also calls for international lobbying guidelines to be developed and says that businesses, governments and civil society must all play their part in driving change:

  • Businesses – as the buyers of lobbying services – must influence the actions of lobbyists and ensure that lobbying focuses on long-term business strategy rather than the short-term avoidance of costs and regulations.
  • Governments must be open to working with businesses in formulating policy and increasing capacity to implement that policy.  At the same time, they must ensure robust controls to prevent lobbyists from wielding undue or improper influence.
  • NGOs, some of which have encountered criticism for their campaigning practices, must be prepared to follow the same responsible lobbying guidelines as corporate companies.

Towards Responsible Lobbying can be downloaded free of charge from the AccountAbility and UNGC websites: www.acountability.org.uk and www.unglobalcompact.org
 
Download "Towards Responsible Lobbying".
 
Contacts:
Mark McKenzie at AccountAbility (London)
+ 44 7549 0400 / + 44 7986 175 104
mark@accountability.org.uk

Matthias Stausberg at UNGC (New York)
+ 1 917 367 3423
stausberg@un.org