In July 2001 the European Commission issued a Green Paper entitled Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility. The paper was elaborated by the Directorate-General for Employment and Social Affairs. It focused on companies’ responsibilities in the social field. The term ‘corporate social responsibility (CSR) emerged from discourses and statements delivered by companies reflecting upon, even praising, their own functioning. The European Union's concern with the topic is rooted in the expressed conviction that CSR can be a positive contribution to the strategic goal set in Lisbon ‘to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion’ (European Commission 2001: 4). This article seeks to examine the Green Paper's ‘new speech’ from the conceptual angle of collective labour law. It assesses the legal nature of the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as well as its implications, in particular for human and fundamental workers’ rights, and for the trade union movement. It also addresses the question of whether CSR amounts to a new understanding of the freedom of enterprise.

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