Business Respect - CSR Dispatches No#66 - 16 Nov 2003

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 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, as NGOs say they don't believe CSR reports, we consider again how the NOGs themselves should be judged for what they do or don't do in the name of holding companies to account.


Mallen spoke last week at Ethical Corporation's conference on social and environmental reporting. He will remember the occasion as the time when he was introduced by the chair as having 'an amusing outlook on life'! But the really striking thing was that - having made comments during the panel discussion about the challenge to social reporting of the fact that so few of the intended audience actually read social reports - how many people considered this to be a controversial thing to say, whilst declaring their agreement with it.

When audiences of practitioners are asked whether they believe their intended audiences read their reports, they almost always admit that the answer is no. So how can this can be an unusual fact to acknowledge in the debate on the future of reporting?

There seems to be a lot of focus at the moment on indicators, and the exact form and style of reports, and on the cost of producing them. Such discussions seem to take place in an atmosphere that is rather divorced from the meat and drink of the communications industry - who is the target audience, are they responding to the communications directed at them, and if not - what can be done differently to make it so?

The only reason why companies will still be producing these reports in thirty years time - if nothing changes - is because the requirement to do so has been legislated. That, of course, is what some non-governmental organisations want. They don't believe the reports they read, but they want them to be compulsory anyway. More on this in the main article this time.

But it will be a bad thing if current practice is legislated for - simply because at the moment it isn't effective communication. There is still a lot of settling out to be achieved in the CSR industry re. which audiences will ever respond to formal reports, and how therefore one engages the audiences that won't. This has been a theme in the past in Business Respect, and it seems rather likely it will be a theme in the future too!

Meanwhile, as you will see from the news stories this time, British American Tobacco have finally yielded to pressure and pulled out of Burma. They might review the results so far of our current poll with some grim amusement, therefore.

In countries like Burma or Sudan where there are huge human rights challenges, companies should:
Withdraw - no company with a conscience should do business there 100 (24%)
Do business there - but use its influence to try to make things better 278 (68%)
Do business there - and keep out of interfering in politics 32 (8%)

There have been 410 votes in total. We will be changing this vote soon, so take this as your last chance to make your views known.


Australia: Corporate governance challenge posed by new report

A study of corporate governance in the top 250 listed companies has found that few are raising their game sufficiently to match higher standards following recent corporate scandals. However some dispute the importance placed on the growing number of governance guidelines.

UK: Unhealthy food advertising to children may be banned

The Food Standards Agency, the government's food watchdog, is considering introducing a ban on the television advertising of 'unhealthy' foods as concerns have increased about the growth of obesity amongst children.

Caterpillar celebrates Dow Jones placing as protestors complain

Caterpillar Inc has celebrated its inclusion for the third year in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, just as protestors in Iowa slammed the company for selling equipment to Israel that would allegedly be used 'to bulldoze Palestinian homes'.

Wal-Mart faces action over allegations of hiring illegal workers

Wal-Mart has received a notification of investigation from the US Attorney accusing it of complicity in hiring illegal immigrants. The move follows recent raids on Wal-Mart premises across the US in the last month during which around 250 workers have been arrested.

US: Survey suggests CSR reporting will continue to grow

According to a recent survey of thirty companies, corporate social reporting is going to continue to grow in 2004 - suggesting that the inconclusive results of the Nike v Kasky case is not producing major impacts on numbers committed to reporting.

British American Tobacco gives up on Burma

Following intense pressure from the UK government, British American Tobacco has finally thrown in the towel on its presence in Myanmar (Burma). The company announced that it would sell its 60 percent ownership in Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar Pte.

France: Former ELF executives jailed for corruption

Three former executives of the French state-run oil company Elf, including the former chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent, have been jailed for embezzlement.

Japan: Mitsubishi Motors braced for product liability case

Mitsubishi Motors is due to face what, in Japan remains a relatively rare event, a product liability lawsuit, when they face charges that faulty design led to the death of a woman when a tyre rolled off one of its trucks.

Diageo faces storm over whisky changes

The leading distillers in Scotland have threatened to pull out of the Scotch Whisky Association unless it takes action against the drinks giant Diageo for changing its malt whisky Cardhu.

BHP Billiton accused of breaking Global Compact for labour agreements

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has accused BHP Billiton of breaking its commitments under the UN Global Compact by requiring Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) to be signed by employees at its Western Australian operations.

Pfizer acts to tackle top cause of blindness

Pfizer has announced that it is due to donate over $500m of the antibiotic Zithromax to fight trachoma, the leading cause of blindness globally.

Philippines: President promotes sustainable mining

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has said that the government is to implement a new policy of actively promoting environmentally sustainable mining. The comments came as she presented the 2003 Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Awards.


The accountability of NGOs

Author: Mallen Baker, dated 16 Nov 2003

Burson Marsteller, the major public relations firm, this week released a real 'dog-bites-man' story. Apparently, the majority of campaigning Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who focus on issues around corporate accountability are sceptical of what companies put into their reports. That this should make the news at all just shows how easy it can be to turn surveys into headlines.

Previous edition - No 65 | Following edition - No 67

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