Monday, November 16, 2009

Glaring contradictions in corporate social responsibility movement

Global corporations based in Europe are almost twice more likely than those based in the United States to have labor and human rights policies covering their global supply chains. But that doesn’t mean that the Europeans do better than their American counterparts in implementing their corporate social responsibilities.

The U.S.-Europe statistical discrepancy is revealed in a study released November 11 by the IRRC Institute: 43 percent of European companies have labor/human rights policies for their worldwide operations, whereas only 23 percent of American multinationals do. Moreover, those European corporate polices are more likely that the Americans’ to describe monitoring procedures, targets for improvement, and enforcement mechanisms.

At a conference on corporate social responsibility held in Stockholm on November 11, an international trade union leader, Jim Baker, gave concrete examples of glaring internal contradictions in the CSR movement. He cited this experience in particular:

“We have spoken with some European companies with interests in the U.S. who say they are committed to human rights, including a couple here in Sweden. We have asked them to disassociate themselves from the anti-union propaganda being used against modest legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, to correct some of the abuses in U.S. labor law.

“Although they say they are shocked by what is being said and done, not one has yet distanced itself from that anti-human rights corporate campaign.”
Baker also described contradictatory behavior in the country of Georgia. There the government and trade unions, working with the most representative employers’ organization, proposed pro-worker reforms in the labor code.

“Who is now blocking the reforms? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Georgia,” Baker said, adding that one of that chamber’s large patrons is a firm that, some years ago, made a lot of money doing CSR audits.

Baker, coordinator of the Council of Global Unions, was a speaker at a conference of the Swedish Presidency of the European Union, where John G. Ruggie, the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, made the keynote presentation.

The Swedish Presidency formally renewed its support for Ruggie’s “Protect, Respect, Remedy” framework that the UN Human Right Council unanimously approved in June 2008. (For background, see my June 4, 2008. blog report on “This UN Work Seems Back on Track.)

“The Protect, Respect, Remedy framework gives us a path out of the make-believe world of CSR,” Baker said in his remarks. He went on to explain:

“The Ruggie framework makes it clear that business responsibility includes the respect of laws and international standards related to human rights….[It] is a good way to make sure that rights are respected in supply chains, in small and medium-sized enterprises and by competitors.”

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