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European companies respond to atrocities

November 2001

Businesses across Europe have responded to the World Trade Center attack and its aftermath with an unprecedented wave of corporate giving that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for relief efforts.

Some companies have donated several million dollars, among them DaimlerChrysler ($10million) and Deutsche Bank ($4m), while many others have given sums of up to $1m each to help relief efforts and families of the victims.

Many thousands of smaller companies across the continent have donated the proceeds from a day’s trading or matched money raised by employees in what has become the biggest corporate response to a disaster ever known.

Among those who have contributed are Nokia, which has established a $1m global fund for the education of children who lost a parent in the attacks, and Siemens, which has come forward with $2m plus a further $500,000 from an employee donation matching scheme.

In the UK, the Institute of Financial Services was instrumental in setting up a World Trade Center Disaster Fund which immediately received money from around 20 financial firms.

Other European donors include: Swiss Reinsurance ($2m), Volkswagen ($2m), EMI ($1m) and Allianz ($1m).

In-kind donations have also been flooding in. Novartis has offered its entire supply of Apligraf, a skin replacement used to treat burn victims.

The Swedish mobile phone company Ericsson, which last year set up its Ericsson Response initiative to help provide logistical assistance after disasters (EP2, issue 6), has donated several thousand mobile phones to help relief workers in New York and Washington. Matav, Hungary’s largest telephone company, gave a 50 per cent discount on all calls from Hungary to the US in the wake of the attacks.

Cone Inc, a US firm that tracks corporate philanthropy, says the chief driver for the wave of activity has been ‘enormous pressure from employees and from senior leadership’.

Companies have stressed the key role they feel the corporate world should play in addressing the immediate aftermath of the atrocities.

However, some observers think the events will have a long-term effect on the corporate social responsibility agenda. Richard Aylard of the corporate social responsibility unit at Burson-Marsteller, said: ‘It’s hard to see how all the ghastly things that have happened could make CSR less important. This will reinforce the belief that companies are part of society and will generate more attention from the world about how business interacts with the rest of society.’

Deborah Doane, head of corporate accountability at the New Economics Foundation, was also cautiously optimistic. ‘It’s hard to disentangle the consequences of the events of 11 September from the effects of the economic downturn. In the medium to longer term, we can expect to see more attention paid to overseas investments made by companies, and human rights will assume greater prominence.

‘More generally, there is likely to be an emerging debate about how in the longer term CSR can help to bridge the gap between rich and poor,’ she said.

Help for businesses trying to decide how they can respond is being offered by Business for Social Responsibility, whose online Disaster Response Information Center features message boards for businesses to exchange ideas and seek advice. BSR, a US-based business group campaigning on CSR, has added a session on corporate disaster response at its annual conference to be held in Seattle from 7-9 November.

 




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