Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer just a marketing buzzword but has become a mainstream part of business operations in companies the world over. From so-called triple bottom line accounting through legal frameworks to stock market indices that reward responsible business conduct on social and environmental fronts, company values increasingly reflect CSR values too. But what of their global supply chains, do they hold the same high values? How can multinational companies in particular be sure that the myriad firms they source from in poorer countries do not cut corners with people’s lives or the environment? The death toll from the collapse of the brand-driven Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013 was another tragic reminder that for CSR to have real value, much more needs to be done.
In this OECD Observer roundtable, we asked a range of stakeholders, from government, business, labour and civil society, for their views:
“What actions are you taking to encourage responsible business conduct and what new steps do you think are needed to strengthen corporate social responsibility worldwide?”
Whether you blame poor regulation, sloppy governance, greed or bad luck, banks were frontline culprits in causing the crisis. Governments have been working on reforms to fix the financial sector and improve governance, but a lot more work remains to be done. Some OECD principles can help.
Major events, like the Great East Japan earthquake or indeed the euro crisis, can have important ripple effects that spread well beyond the areas immediately concerned. More recently, the budget crisis that resulted in the shutdown of large parts of the US government and public services has raised the spectre of a default, the first in the country’s history.
There’s a very obvious remedy for governments that wish to restore the public’s trust: become transparent, honest and inclusive. This, however, is intrinsically difficult. Any government that managed it would not be a government as we know it, but something else entirely.
Promoting inclusive growth; rebuilding trust; fostering sustainability: these were the three themes that drove discussions at the annual OECD Forum in May 2013. Since 2000 the OECD Forum has become a major stakeholder summit and is the traditional curtain raiser of OECD Week, being held in conjunction with the Ministerial Council Meeting. The public event provides an opportunity for people from all countries and backgrounds–business, labour, civil society, students and academics, as well as ministers–to debate and understand global challenges and to feed their views into the ministerial discussions. This year some 1,520 participants from 63 countries engaged with 176 speakers to discuss a range of pressing global issues, while millions more were able to participate online.
When G20 regulators met in Pittsburgh in September 2009–it had taken them a full year to react to the collapse of Lehman Brothers–they set out an ambitious financial reform agenda. No stone would be left unturned, no shadow in the banking system unexposed. Action would cover all financial market segments and players, and lessons would be learned from the crisis to ensure that the 2008 debacle never happened again.
South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, holds up a mobile phone in London, 21 October 2003. Using his old convict number 46664 from Robben Island, Mr Mandela helped launch a global phone and internet campaign to raise awareness about AIDs. Originally published in OECD Observer No 240/241, December 2003
Read "President Nelson Mandela: Some personal reflections", by Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development, and Director, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford
See also www.oecd.org/southafrica/
The collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, killing over a thousand workers, was not just a human tragedy. The ready-made garmants sector is hugely important in Bangladesh, both economically and socially. This gives dealing with the Rana Plaza aftermath even greater importance.
Are global companies improving their environmental, social and governance performance? There is good reason to be optimistic, though there is much work to be done.
Mari Kiviniemi, Finland's Minister of Public Administration & Local Government©Finnish government
The global economic crisis is affecting families and communities across the planet. With regions bearing the brunt of the crisis, affecting businesses, jobs and people generally, regional policies are very much part of the solution.
On 24 April 2013 the Rana Plaza, a commercial building and garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, claiming some 1,130 lives and injuring thousands more. The shock was felt globally. How could this happen? Who was to blame? If the building was not fit for purpose, why was it being used? How could such a disaster be prevented from happening again?
In 1994, a simple disagreement in a marketplace in Ghana over the price of a guinea fowl turned ugly. The quarrel led to the violent death of one person, which provoked subsequent killings and then escalated into a cycle of revenge attacks. The dispute quickly grew to become what is today known as the Guinea Fowl War. By the time the Ghanaian military restored order, more than 400 villages had been burned and over 15 000 people are thought to have been killed.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has long played a leading role in facilitating the exchange of tax information by tax authorities. The publication on 18 June of a proposed framework for developing a standard multilateral model for automatic exchange of financial account information was another significant milestone in the broader conversation about tax information exchange and transparency.
Several efforts and interventions have been directed towards resolving the myriad issues that impinge on peace, security and development in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Insecurity and conflict hinder human, and economic development. The Saharo-Sahelian region today presents some of the most daunting global security threats, which seriously undermine the stability and development of the region. The 2012-2013 crisis in northern Mali, though centred in one nation, epitomises the wider, cross-border dimension of these challenges. Here we point to some of the available policy responses towards their resolution.
The Russian Federation took over the G20 presidency on 1 December 2012, a time when all international organisations and countries had downgraded their growth forecasts for the year ahead. Against this background and the need for urgent and co-ordinated policy action to put the recovery back on track, we decided to refocus the G20 agenda on the issue of growth and jobs, and to work on very concrete actions and commitments for G20 leaders to discuss and possibly endorse at the Saint Petersburg summit in September 2013.
One of the biggest targets for reform in the pursuit of leaner government budgets is public sector pay and performance. Because of the crisis, some countries have frozen or even reduced salaries, while others have preferred to reduce benefits, even pensions. Others have decided to do nothing for the moment.
Trust in leaders
Apparently, the United States enjoys a surplus of deficits. President Obama’s first State of the Union address warned that we are weakened and endangered not only by our financial deficit, but also by a deficit in trust.
Trust comes from within
Russians are becoming increasingly active in the country’s social arena. While activists remain a small but growing and visible minority of citizens looking for changes in governance, many more are becoming involved in the day-to-day affairs of their communities.
The Arab Spring and the rise of new social and democratic movements throughout large parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) may not have changed the world quite as much as millions had hoped, but at least they gave a new impetus to the use of information and communications technology and the potential of “e-government” to foster participation and engagement, increase transparency and restore public trust.
Growth is not enough
Brazil’s labour leaders have long argued against pursuing economic growth for its own sake. What matters most, they believe, is not the size of the economic pie but how it’s carved up. In recent years, calls for social justice have increasingly informed policy in Brazil, bringing about a veritable “revolution” in the economy.
There are good reasons why the public has lost confidence in banking and finance. Two issues in particular must be addressed before it can be restored– moral hazard and conflict of interest. Reforms should ensure that banks and bankers–not taxpayers–pay the price of failure and are held fully accountable for their actions.
The current crisis has continued to affect people’s lives across the world, and nowhere is this more evident than in the deteriorating labour market in many countries. Young people have been hit particularly hard and risk being permanently scarred from joblessness and even exclusion.
A recipe for trust
Have the policy errors that contributed to the global economic crisis been rectified? Sharan Burrow, who heads the International Trade Union Confederation, shares her vision for building trust and restoring confidence in the countries still suffering from the crisis.
This year the parliaments of two OECD member countries passed legislation broadening the institution of marriage to include same sex couples. Such marriage is now legal in 14 countries worldwide, 11 of which are OECD members.
How to get it right
Austerity programmes to restore order to public finances can add to the woes of already struggling economies, leading to more job losses and social hardship. But there are ways for governments to put their fiscal houses in order, while supporting growth and reducing income inequality at the same time.
The cost of mistrust
Trust is at the heart of today’s complex global economy. But, paradoxically, trust is also in increasingly short supply in many of our societies, especially in our attitudes towards big business, parliaments and governments. This decline threatens our capacity to tackle some of today’s key challenges.
What the BEPS are we talking about?
Bloomberg’s “The Great Corporate Tax Dodge”, The New York Times’ “But Nobody Pays That” and the Guardian’s “Tax Gap”: these are some examples of the wide media attention given to global tax issues in recent weeks. The public is understandably becoming alarmed, since what is at issue is how profit shifting by multinationals is eroding their national tax bases. OECD initiatives on tax policy can help.
Climate change won't wait
The European Union may be facing some difficult economic challenges, but that's no excuse for not acting now to create an economy based on resource efficiency and low-carbon development. The benefits are potentially enormous, including lower greenhouse gas emissions, more efficient use of energy and resources, and rising growth and innovation.
A major step forward towards putting the measurement of well-being at the heart of policymaking was taken at the OECD’s World Forum on Measuring Well-Being for Policymaking and Development, a four-day international conference held in New Delhi in October.
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