Tag Archives: CSR

Amoral corporations, 25 years on.

The New York Times has an excellent write-up on the current situation in Bhopal India, where, 25 years ago there was a disastrous chemical spill at the Union Carbide plant killing thousands immediately and affecting hundreds of thousands more as time went on with poor cleanup.

The Bhopal-Union Carbide story is probably the #1 CSR story about what should not be done. It’s the case that probably every business student has gone through.

The saddest part is that 25 years later…. it’s still disastrous. Corporations are dodging responsibility. Governments are stalling, lying, and ineffective.

5 years after the disaster in 1989 – Union Carbide washed its hands clean of the cleanup by giving a meager half billion or so and pushing the responsibility to the local Government…. right.. the 2nd largest chemical company at the time (was sold for over 9 billion in 1999) hands over responsibility to a REGIONAL GOVERNMENT of a DEVELOPING COUNTRY.

Unsurprisingly, the government has failed at cleanup, failed at getting the money distributed (of which there wasn’t enough money allocated in the first place) and have failed at informing people about the true medical hazards still present on the site.

The controversial buyout of Union Carbide by The Dow Chemical Company in ’99 now pushes the responsibility further and further away from the problem.

In the NYT article, the company’s response:

Dow, based in Michigan, says it bears no responsibility to clean up a mess it did not make. “As there was never any ownership, there is no responsibility and no liability — for the Bhopal tragedy or its aftermath,” Scot Wheeler, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail message.

Ownership. Yep, that tricky area of business that is not as easily understood… But how then, when Dow bought Union Carbide, did it not buy its liabilities? (I actually don’t know the legal implications of all this but it seems like buying=owning=responsibility=liabilities, no?)

At the end of the day, as the article so aptly puts it – the corporation is being left alone (at least by the gov’t) because it pretty much threatened the government with pulling out investments (which is so badly wanted in a fast growing country like India) – the CEO stated “in your efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate.” What a simple statement; what a big implication.

Some more background on The Dow Chemical Company:

  • was the sole supplier of Agent Orange (that horrific chemical weapon used during the Vietnam war)
  • responsible for 96 of the United States’ worst Superfund toxic waste

And something I found interesting while wikipedia-ing this company… their vision statement:

“To be the largest, most profitable, and most respected chemical company in the world“.

Right… you may get the first two, but you most definitely should never achieve the that last one.

Corporations can be amoral and this is a case in point. Here’s hoping that we, as society, don’t let atrocities like this occur again.

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Asking the hard questions, Microsoft dodging them

Keeping on this theme of CSR’s fluffiness, I just read a Globe & Mail interview with Microsoft’s CSR guy. Sad to say, but watch him dodge the ‘hard’ questions

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The happy bubbly world of CSR…

I got an email from a friend who suggested that I was being too nice on my post for Net Impact.

We had had an earlier discussion at the conference about CSR whitewashing and not being ‘real’ enough.

**update** – read his post here.

Although I still feel as though my post was a good reflection of what I really thought, I added the need for an edgier piece in the feedback questionnaire, asking to bring in a speaker/panel about the ‘dark side’ of CSR – something that will shake up the audience to start better understanding the arguments against this movement.

I love mixing with like minded people but I’m realizing the danger in doing so.

There’s a reason why the split between the environmental and economic camps took so long to see eye to eye (and can’t say they’ve reconciled but the two sides have come a long way in the last few years). Both sides have been so deeply entrenched in their beliefs, thinking that the other one has no idea what they’re talking about, that they become more divided. But finally corporate social responsibility is hitting the mainstream and it’s not a question of whether to do it or not, but it’s a question of how to do it.

Nevertheless, it is somewhat true that the followers and believers of CSR all kind of nod their head in agreement about bringing social and environmental values into the board room. But it’s never a good thing if we just keep on nodding. (A note for myself as well!) A good example came from the Director of Sustainability at KPMG. At a workshop he went to he had to do something like “speed dating” but with CSR people and investors. In 2 min they had to try and understand each other. They found out that the two spoke a different language. Interesting indeed…

We need to start learning new “languages” to understand all sides of this movement. CSR isn’t a fluffy, happy world and we should address that when all of these people get in the room together. Otherwise, we’re just preaching to the converted.

So, going back to that post, what are the hard questions that we need to start asking ourselves? What aspects of the sustainability movement do we need to confront? Not as an exercise to bring us down, but to make it stronger?

This goes for everything. If you’re a lefty, go pick up a right-winged magazine. If you’re a hard core economist, go read Silent Spring or something.

Which reminds me; I need to go read the Skeptical Environmentalist.

And on another note…

HAUSKAA JUHANNUSTA! (Happy Mid-Summer) – Saturday is the longest day of the year here (rises at 3:22 and sets at 23:15…but never dark) and most likely half this population will be drinking and sauna-ing at camps/cottages/kesämökkit for the weekend:) Looking forward to it!

This was two years ago in Finland… but expect to be doing the same thing this weekend:)

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