Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Enter the fray and rules will emerge ... eventually

April 2012

It seems like only yesterday that 'globalisation' was the hot topic among economics and documentary journalists. By the late 1990s, as developed countries watched swathes of their traditional industries up sticks and move away, it had become apparent that, more than ever before, workforces across the developed world were in direct competition for jobs with cheaper labour in the rapidly-developing world.

'Globalisation' has obviously been around for ages, but it doesn't quite get the same coverage now it's an accepted part of the furniture. The difference, though, is that the UN and some parts of the 'First World' – and particularly Europe – are exporting their corporate values too, values which are increasingly shaped by the CSR and sustainability agendas.

We've had plenty of evidence of how the influence of CSR is being expanded into 'non-CSR' nations in previous editions of Ethical Performance, and the theme is very much in evidence here. The Childrens Rights & Business Principles, launched by the UN, is the latest framework designed to ensure businesses work to eradicate child labour from their supply chains.

That document is modelled on the ten principles of the UN Global Compact, which itself believes that CSR has reached 'a major crossroads' worldwide, as it confirms that the number of companies expelled from the organisation has passed 3,000.

Meanwhile, multinationals are facing continuing pressure to ensure their conduct meets ethical standards: Chevron's involvement with Burma and the supply chain issues faced by the London Olympics organisers are just the latest to be challenged in this information age.

But chief among the new CSR battlegrounds is China, where persistent allegations of human rights abuses and environmental degradation have accompanied its vast industrial expansion. On the one hand, there are signs that CSR is gaining traction in China: it is a major economic power, but it is also crisscrossed by the supply chains of numerous major electrical brands, exposing the Chinese government and, increasingly, the companies it owns to the critical glare that a CSR perspective brings. On the other hand, China is one of the states most vehement in its opposition to the EU's aviation tax, flexing its muscles against former colonial powers and raising the prospect of a trade war over measures to cut carbon emissions.

Of course, the EU also faces opposition to its aviation tax from the US and to its proposed stand against importing tar sands oil from Canada. But having joined the fray on issues ranging from human rights to the future of the planet, the question is how these stated positions will survive the harsh glare of the information society that buys their products and can so swiftly arm itself with damning evidence.

Peter Batt | Global | Business ethics

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