Blog / 11 December 2012

Corporate Social Responsibility just a façade?

Corporate Social Responsibility just a façade?


The reality about that CSR came to me last week: I was at the yearly conference of the World Legal Forum in The Hague, where I have learned a lot about ways to handle conflict between local communities and multinationals. There are companies out there that are willing to sit down with those communities, in order to find out how the problems that are encountered can be prevented, solved or compensated. These mechanisms are only applicable if both parties are truly motivated, and if they are both equiped to engage in an equitable conversation.


Both ENDS is a pioneer with such an initiative, called the Dispute Settlement Facility at the Round Table for Sustainable Palmoil. But we also work with people who follow the formal, judicial route for bringing human rights violations to a solution. So we are definitely interested in mechanisms such as these. Especially because we realise that the formal route via judiciary powers is unattainable for many local communities regarding to human rights. They are often up against businesses with lawyers who set themselves the target to “litigate untill hell freezes over, and then we’ll skate on it.”


That’s why I continue to have doubts concerning the functioning of businesses in relation to international cooperation and development. In the conference, there was also a panel with representatives of companies that discussed what they did in order to prevent, and if necessary contain, conflicts. In the year 2012, managers still turn out to have to convince their CEO of the importance of human rights. And apparently, they will only succeed if they underscore the importance by means of a price tag. This is because the argument is that social unrest and litigation not only cause reputational damage, but also increase production costs significantly. Therefore, it is cheaper to not violate human rights.


Is this really the modern CSR? Are we seriously choosing a bottom line that is expressed in costs and benefits? And if the price tag is not fitting, we will just defy universal human rights?


Surely, the managers of these companies wouldn’t mean it like this last week. But what became clear to me is that we are in the process of dehumanizing some fundamental problems in our global economy. That we seem to lose ourselves in technical feats, and forget that the basic rights of people all over the world are violated in order to produce more meat, new TVs or some nice bananas. If businesses and their CEO do not understand that human rights are also the true bottom line for them, CSR is just purely a façade.  

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