Business Respect - CSR Dispatches No#179 - 31 Oct 2011

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 ask what can be learned from the death throes of the Kimberley Process?

Welcome

It seems like every other week, there's some new major initiative - some multi-party partnership, or other launch. CSR is an area of business activity that could possibly be described - with apologies to John Lewis - as "never knowingly under-launched."

But, of course, not all of these initiatives then go on to become enduring successes. There are plenty that were never that substantial in the first place whose passing is hardly noticed. But sometimes it's worth asking what happened to some quite important initiatives that promised to bring parties together to really resolve a serious problem.

One of those is the Kimberley Process which was set up to resolve the issue of 'blood diamonds'. The process seems to be on its last legs, and the main feature in this issue looks at why that should be.

Since the last edition, the European Commission has released its latest communication on CSR. It's a reasonable progression as far as it goes, but the emerging theme is that European companies can expect growing pressure in a couple of directions.

First, the Commission has stated its intention to legislate on establishing 'a level playing field' on reporting. It is also "developing a policy to encourage companies to measure and benchmark their environmental performance using a common life-cycle based methodology."

The danger here, as companies experiment with integrated reporting, and some are finding new ways to engage key audiences for their performance information in ways that work better than a traditional one-size-fits-all report, is that legislation could freeze development at a stage that is not very effective. The devil, as always, will be in the detail, so this is one to watch carefully.

The other area is a growing interest by the Commission in getting companies to 'make a commitment' to an established international standard - the Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines, or ISO 26000 - by 2014.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing per se - but it's a curious list to be presented with on a "pick one, any one" basis. ISO 26000 is a guidance standard - what does it mean to "commit to" it in the eyes of the Commission, one can only wonder? Is the UN Global Compact, with its small number of key global commitments on human rights, the environment and corruption, really the equivalent of the much more detailed ISO 26000?

What is it actually that we aim to achieve here? Is it really about getting numbers of companies to sign any vaguely decent dotted line - or is it about achieving measurable improvement in performance on environmental and social measures? Framing objectives in that area would, of course, take a lot more thought and care.

News

India: Monsanto sued for biopiracy

The government of India is suing Monsanto for contravening the country's Biological Diversity Act, according to France24. The company is accused of having taking an indigenous aubergine species and used it to create a genetically modified version without permission.

China: Wal-Mart apologises for mislabelled pork

Wal-Mart sold pork that was falsely advertised as organic, according to the local government in Chongqing. Thirteen of the company's stores have been temporarily closed and some of its employees have been arrested.

WHO chief says tobacco firms using dirty tricks to keep people smoking

The World Health Organisation director-general Margaret Chan has said that tobacco firms are using deep pockets to fund lawsuits aimed at fending off anti-smoking legislation.

Japan: Tepco failed to act on risk assessment of tsunami

Tokyo Electric Power Co. was told five years ago that there was a 10 percent chance of a major tsunami event, but failed to act on the information.

UK: Olympics ethical sourcing code attacked for choosing Dow

A decision to use Dow Chemical Company to provide fabric wrap for the Olympic games has sparked protests from groups that continue to hold that the company, having bought Union Carbide in 2001, is responsible for the major chemical accident in Bhopal in 1984.

Article

What can we learn from the dying throes of the Kimberley Process?

Author: Mallen Baker, dated 25 Oct 2011

In recent years there have been a number of multi-party agreements, designed to tackle a tricky issue that individual companies or countries could not resolve acting alone. One of these was the Kimberley Process.

Previous edition - No 178 | Following edition - No 180