Ms Renate Hornung-Draus, European and International Affairs Director of the Confederation of German Employers - one of Europe’s most influential employer bodies – surveyed the changing role of employers’ organisations in delivering the 2004 Warwick-Acas Lowry lecture. The series was initiated two years ago by IRRU.
Speaking at the University on March 15th to an invited audience of leading employment relations practitioners and academics, Ms Hornung-Draus opened by observing that it was “a pleasure to be invited to give the lecture, particularly as we in continental Europe regard Britain, and Warwick in particular, as a reference for industrial relations research”. She showed how the traditional role of employers’ organisations is being challenged by growing globalisation of markets and the increasing cost pressures which result; the emergence of complex supply chains involving widespread outsourcing, in which conflicts of interest between employers are magnified; and the arrival of new ‘stakeholders’ such as NGOs in the context of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Considering the changing roles of employer organisations at national and European levels, Ms Hornung-Draus observed that, in some ways, the developments taking place at European level go in the opposite direction to those at national level. While employer organisations at national level have moved from a clearcut collective bargaining profile towards one that is more politicised, diffuse and complex, employer organisations at EU-level have moved from being almost entirely focused on political lobbying of the EU institutions to a more active profile as social partners. This has involved an intensification of dialogue with the European Trade Union Confederation.
CSR initiatives, argued Ms Hornung-Draus, open up a completely new role for employers’ organisations. They can give guidance on the contents and interpretation of universally agreed core labour standards and on how these standards can be translated into meaningful benchmarks for company practice and codes of conduct. Employer organisations can also protect companies from unreasonable NGO demands and help to solve conflicts over socially responsible behaviour which have the potential to inflict serious damage on companies.
The Lowry lecture is held annually in honour of Sir Pat Lowry. Sir Pat was a former Chair of Acas. At the University of Warwick he was a visiting professor, member of the Business School Advisory Board and close associate of IRRU. The current Acas chair, Rita Donaghy, chaired the lecture.