Ethics guidelines backed by DTI

The Department of Trade and Industry is backing the launch of corporate guidelines on social responsibility, which are expected to form the basis of a standard that British companies can adhere to.

Sigma, launched this week and backed by leading corporations including Marks & Spencer, Boots and Vauxhall Motors, is a set of guidelines that defines sustainability for corporations and provides a way of changing their working practices.

The idea of sustainability is that companies have no negative impact on either the wider environment or the communities in which they work, and that they can be a force for good.

This is a cornerstone of corporate social responsibility, though many groups working in the area are wary of the term CSR because it has been hijacked for PR purposes by many organisations.

The Sigma guidelines have been developed over the past four years by a number of groups including the British Standards Institute (BSI). A workshop on how they can be applied practically will be held in November with key- note speeches from Stephen Timms, the energy minister, and Lord Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth.

Ros Oakley, project director for Sigma, says the next step is likely to be to turn the guidelines into a standard, working with the BSI.

There is already talk of a global CSR standard, which is being developed by the Inter- national Organisation for Stand- ardisation, and the two are likely to be complementary.

In another development, it has emerged that the US government and leading oil firms are backing an initiative supported by Tony Blair to increase disclosure of financial transactions in the oil industry. The aim of the Campaign for Transparency is to reduce the opportunity for corruption and questionable dealings.