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Obama factor lifts hopes of new era in American CSR

December 2008

Guarded optimism has taken hold of US corporate responsibility proponents as they prepare for what they hope will be a CSR-friendly administration under president-elect Barack Obama.

Few believe the Democrat’s election will open the floodgates to a raft of specific corporate responsibility initiatives, but once he is sworn in next month they appear to be expecting a clean break with Bush-era policies that largely ignored the social and environmental impacts of business and the corporate role in combating climate change.

At last month’s Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference in New York, the biggest annual gathering of CSR practitioners in the US, a poll of 424 of the 1200 delegates found nine in ten expected increased government regulation on corporate responsibility issues, including on climate change, corporate governance and financial transparency.

86 per cent of respondents agreed that an Obama administration ‘will have a positive impact on advancing the corporate responsibility agenda’.

Among the president-elect’s stated plans before his victory were a credit card bill of rights to stop financial services companies ‘exploiting consumers with unfair practices’; a national programme on flexible working; incentives for telecommuting; and government money for businesses to hire more staff with disabilities.

On climate change, he has increased George Bush’s target of a 50 per cent reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 on a 1990 baseline to 80 per cent; a sale of carbon credits to companies that may generate annual revenues of $30billion– 50bn (£20bn–£33.7bn) to fund research into alternative energy; and a ten-year $150bn project to develop renewable energy.

Mindy Lubber, president of the cross-sector corporate responsibility organization Ceres, cautioned that Obama needs to tackle the global financial crisis and climate change together. ‘We cannot think about these two issues separately – they have got to be integrated,’ she said.

Peter Knight, president of the New York-based consultancy Context America, said the combination of a new president and fallout from the financial crisis would create a climate in which business could be more easily held to account for its behaviour. ‘Whatever Obama can or cannot achieve in his term, he and the ailing economy have moved the mood of American business towards a greater recognition of the need for social responsibility,’ he said.

Doug Cogan, deputy director of social issue services at Risk Metrics Group, a US-based risk management consultancy, told EP: ‘This will be a real shot in the arm for corporate responsibility. I doubt he will personally take up the banner of CSR per se, or necessarily use that language, but the ethos of corporate responsibility is going to be the ethos of the Obama administration.’

see editorial




Business for Social Responsibility | North America | Government

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