Business Respect - CSR Dispatches No#98 - 2 Jul 2006

An email newsletter with news and discussion focusing on corporate social responsibility globally, looking at the companies in the news and the emerging issues. Linked to the website at http://www.businessrespect.net and produced every two weeks.

This web page provides news stories and articles from the newsletters. Newsletters also include links to features on the internet, Mallen's blog, and other resources.

In this issue, we consider how sustainability will ever be achieved if not through business action and innovation.

Welcome

A couple of weeks ago I ended up speaking at the Business in the Environment conference in Leeds, UK, and part of the programme called for a short debate on the title 'this house believes we would be better off with less'. This debate fell under the definition of 'a bit of fun', because if we're getting serious on that topic then you have to define who is the 'we', what do you mean by 'better' and what do you mean by 'less'. I now buy music digitally and walk around with my entire music collection. There is much less printing, plastic and other material - but do I have less or more? And so on.

But the part of the debate that did become quite pointed was really focusing on the point of substance - what is the realistic aim of public policy in order to achieve sustainability? After all, whatever the science is telling us, would people vote for less - consistently and over time? I didn't think so, and it rather got to the nub of the challenge we have that the broader movement to promote sustainability is antagonistic towards business - and this thing called corporate social responsibility. Actually, if we're dealing with solutions rather than lazy rhetoric, it should be the reverse. Or should it? This is the question we explore in this issue.

Last issue's article on the International NGO charter mentioned in passing about the need for NGOs to consult with the companies that they may occasionally target and attack. I mentioned as an example of this not happening the Christian Aid 'Behind the Mask: The Real Face of CSR'. Serves me right for making provocative references that were incidental to the main focus of the article. Christian Aid came back and wanted to state that they have strict procedures that mean that before they publish a case study that is critical of a company they must first seek a response from the company on each of the substantive points. They claim that they then make every effort to reflect the company's view, and that this was the case with 'Behind the Mask' in 2004.

Obviously, there was disagreement on this at the time, with each of the companies profiled furiously asserting that they had not been approached and that the claims had a number of factual inaccuracies. Two years later is not the time to disentangle the claim and counterclaim, but it is a good example of the importance of that particular provision.

Interestingly, I asked whether Christian Aid would be signing the International NGO charter and got a resounding silence in response. Hopefully the sound of thoughtful consideration rather than anything else.

Not that everyone thought that the Charter was such a step forward. One correspondent commented: "The Charter's words are grounded in statements of 'we will' but what will happen if they don't? They are going to 'listen to stakeholders' suggestions', they are going to 'make it easy for the public (does this include NGOs/CBOs?) to comment on...programmes and policies'. I just have this nagging feeling (perhaps born from world-weary experience) that they might 'listen' and thatís it. It would have been nice if 'listening' was tagged with 'and change our ways'".

Another correspondent was good enough to send some warm words following the minor altercation over the 'Social Footprint' article (am I getting more controversial in my older age, or are people getting more sensitive?). "I've just been reading your newsletter and following the negativity towards it I wanted you to know how much I appreciate it as a source of information and opinion - it is very helpful. I'm responsible for looking at the CR Supply Chain strategy for [our company] and we need as much information as we can get to help us to implement the most realistic policy for both our Supply Chain and us. As we're a process driven aerospace company we have extra difficulty persuading those of an engineering disposition as to the importance of an evolving, non-prescriptive subject like CR. The stories and opinions you give are useful for us in our debates." Thanks for the encouragement - and glad if what goes in here can be helpful for anyone involved in making stuff happen within business or elsewhere.

News

Australia: Mandatory CSR reporting not recommended

A federal parliamentary committee has recommended that CSR reporting should remain a voluntary activity for Australian businesses.

Pharmaceutical companies attacked for irresponsible marketing

A new report by Consumers International has accused top European pharmaceutical companies of using irresponsible marketing to promote their products.

China: 30 firms in Guangdong blacklisted for defaulting on wages

Thirty companies in China's Guangdong province have found themselves on a local government blacklist for repeatedly refusing to address concerns around defaulting on workers' wages.

British Airways investigated over alleged price fixing

British Airways is facing an investigation into an alleged cartel that fixed flight prices through fuel surcharges following an intervention by rival company Virgin Airline.

Microsoft faces EU fine

The European Commission is thought to be ready to impose fines against Microsoft of 2m euros a day in a ruling that the company has failed to fully implement an antitrust finding in 2004.

Fairtrade sales continue to increase globally

Worldwide sales of products carrying the Fairtrade mark have gone up by over a third to around $1.4bn last year, according to the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation.

Japan: OECD doubts commitment to confront business corruption

In a new report, the OECD has accused Japan of being unwilling to implement the anti-corruption convention it signed in 1999 in relation to its businesses' activities.

BP faces US price-fixing charges

BP faces prosecution in the US over alleged price-fixing activities in the propane market. The US authorities have said that the company bought up large amounts of propane in 2004, pushing up the price by more than 40 percent.

Apple investigation into sweatshop claims 'still open'

Apple has said that, contrary to some reports, its investigation into alleged sweatshop abuses at its Foxconn Electronics supplier is still open. At the same time, Foxconn has hit back at coverage in a filing with the Taiwan Stock Exchange strongly denying charges.

US: Judge rules prosecutors actions against KPMG unconstitutional

A US federal judge has said that pressure from prosecutors on big four accounting firm KPMG to cut off legal fees for ex-employees was unconstitutional.

Article

The crucial role of business in saving the planet

Author: Mallen Baker, dated 2 Jul 2006

For decades, the science of sustainability has been obvious to anyone that cared to take an interest. The bit that requires courage and leadership - the politics and the economics of sustainability - has been a lot further behind. We know what we have to do, the question is how and what role does business have to play.

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