Two Stories and Three Questions - Getting Clarity on CSR and Social Justice

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Two Stories and Three Questions - Getting Clarity on CSR and Social Justice

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Summary

An examination of the role of big corporations as they encounter human rights violations as direct or indirect consequences of their actions.

Friday, June 11, 2010 - 11:27am

CONTENT: Blog

Two stories came to my attention this week that have caused me to pause and consider the nature of organizations and the potential influence they hold in the world – for good or for harm. They in turn generated three questions:

  1. When entering into a business venture in a developing country, is it not a fundamental responsibility of the corporation to determine and then avoid risk to environment and people if the business is created there?

  2. What is the depth, intensity and duration of CSR activities as they relate to social, environmental and political processes in any country within the corporate value chain? Is there integrity or is it window dressing?

  3. How do we get the message across that for CSR to work it must be embedded into all aspects of the corporate decision making process and strategy?

The first story arrived via a media campaign from an organization requesting support for a writing campaign in support of the Women of Atenco – Mexico. The background to the request is well covered on internet sites including Amnesty USA . The facts appear to be that in 2006  violence between protesters and police resulted in the death of a child,  and with this tragedy local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco Mexico gathered to show their support for the community. The Mexican authorities responded with force and of arrested  hundreds including at least 45 women. Of the 45 women arrested, 26  subsequently reported being physically and sexually assaulted by Mexican police while they were being held.   One officer has been convicted (of a minor offence) and none of the other officials who perpetrated  the abuse have been adequately held responsible even though the Supreme Court of Mexico issued a statement in 2009 that human rights abuses did take place. Amnesty International USA is inviting the public to join them in a letter writing campaign to ask the Special Prosecutor on Violence Against Women for a full and impartial investigation of those involved in the rape, sexual violence, torture, and ill treatment of the female detainees and that the perpetrators be brought to justice.  – What is the CSR link? Based on a variety of accounts, the impetus for the initial protest, where the child died, was a dispute related to plans to build a Wal-Mart at the site historically used by flower vendors.  
 
The second story was a documentary titled `The Coca-Cola Case’. The event that sparked the documentary was the murder of unionized workers at a Coca Cola licensed bottling plant in Columbia. In the film, the journey by a small group of lawyers representing the workers at the plant who attempted to bring a case against Coca Cola is chronicled. While the film has received mixed reviews, the facts of the case include the death of and death-threats against workers at the plant who have joined the union, and the reputation of Colombia as a country that is facing a human rights crisis – particularly against trade unionists. The current state of Colombia’s human rights violations is well documented on sites such as Amnesty USA and The Henning Center (a University of California, Berkeley project of the Center for Labor Research and Education).
 
The questions that these two stories raise for me are basic. 
 
1.    When entering into a business venture in a developing country, is it not a fundamental responsibility of the corporation to determine the risk to environment and people if the business is created there?
 
This question is asked with a puzzled expression and a bit of naiveté – surely it cannot be deemed right to establish a business at the cost of human life or the violation of human rights? Organizations have access to information on the state of human rights and environmental practices in every country in the world. Basic project management processes highlight the need for a risk assessment – in these cases – was the mitigation strategy merely a detached exec stating “Make the problem go away”?
 
2.     What are the depth, intensity and duration of CSR activities as they relate to social, environmental and political processes in any country within the corporate value chain? Is there integrity or is it window dressing?
 
The second questionrelates to the state of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in large multinational corporations. How real is the embracing of CSR? Both Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola have recently launched significant CSR programs and this is a positive step. It may well be that in typical organizational form, changes are happening slowly and a snapshot in time does not do justice to the changes that are underway. Changes take time and a longitudinal view may provide a better perspective on the state of CSR. However both companies seem to be silent on the events in Mexico and Colombia respectively. As large corporations, they have the influence to declare and abide by a value ethic that upholds human rights and environmental protection as paramount in the business decision making processes.
 
3.       How do we get the message across that for CSR to work it must be embedded into all aspects of the corporate decision making process and strategy?
 
This final question comes from a place of curiosity regarding an organization’s internal decision making process and the ability of humans (and I include myself in this) to disconnect my decisions from the harmful impacts that may result. What will it to take to create an impetus for organizations to examine their decision making – at all organizational levels? I acknowledge that it is very difficult to anticipate all the intended and unintended consequences of an organization’s decisions. Surely there are some outcomes that must be avoided at all costs and about which a clear statement can be made.   Over the past decades however, a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge that has been developing around processes for facilitating better decision – making – let’s take advantage of them in the spirit of doing right and avoiding harm.
 
As companies orient themselves to behave as large economies versus as members of a community it can be easy for them to appear reckless in their desire to grow, and at times tread on fundamental human rights. I continue to choose optimism – that people will find the courage within their roles in life to examine their own values and to choose to do good. In an earlier blog the question was asked if there was any research about employees making choices based on their values when those values are opposed to the values of their organizations. What is your experience in this type of situation?
In light of the magnitude of the task at hand, sometimes a simple action can make a difference. Please click here if you wish to take action on behalf of the Women of Atenco. 
 
The Acacia Group’s mission is to offer transformative and unique leadership development for organizations seeking to live out their global citizenship. To do this we blend knowledge from Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development and Leadership Development and Learning to create new opportunities for excellence for our clients. For more information, visit www.theacaciagroup.ca
 
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Contact

Dave Harrhy
The Acacia Group
www.theacaciagroup.ca
Twitter = @dharrhy
Twitter = @dharrhy
Twitter =@theacaciagroup
Penny Lane
The Acacia Group
www.theacaciagroup.ca
Twitter =@theacaciagroup
Keywords: Amnesty International USA | Atenco | CSR | Human Rights | Leadership | The Acacia Group | The Henning Center | social justice

CONTENT: Blog

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