Green Groups urge Johannesburg leaders to regulate Corporate Social Responsibility

Green groups across Europe are calling for a legally binding international framework on corporate accountability and liability, and plan to make the World Summit on Sustainable Development their stage for this demand.

This week hosted a ‘Day of Action’ by the Friend’s of the Earth (FOE) and other environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This involved the launch of a 30ft, inflatable ‘Corporate Giant’ with Euros bulging from pockets over Edinburgh and Dublin on its tour of Europe to Johannesburg, representative of international companies who fail to act in a socially or environmentally responsible manner. FOE Scotland (FOES) have compiled a ‘Global role of dishonour list’ of corporate ‘planet trashers’ to be presented to the delegates at the Earth Summit.

There have also been activities in South Africa. The ‘Greenwash Academy Awards’, organised by FOE International (FOEI) and CorpWatch, along with South African NGO groundWork, have been distributed to allegedly duplicitous international corporations who appear to have ‘green’ policies but whose actions prove to the contrary.

All this is being done in an effort to direct the attention of world leaders at the WSSD to the need to introduce global laws for business, for the protection of people and the environment. There is concern amongst environmental groups that voluntary corporate social responsibility simply isn’t working, and that whilst many corporations masquerade as sustainable developers the reality is altogether different.

FOE recently reported on the oil giant ExxonMobil’s donations to groups who lobbied George Bush urging him not to attend the Johannesburg Summit. FOES have added ExxonMobil to their ‘planet trashers’ list for their “continuing attempts to prevent international action against climate change”. Exxon told edie they “strongly refute” FOES claim, saying the US lobbyists are independent groups and that “it is highly misleading of FOE to imply that ExxonMobil’s support for them resulted in the letter being sent”. Exxon’s Spokesperson pointed to their report from the Lloyds Register as testament to their environmental consciousness.

The Lloyds Register is a group of international quality assessors. They rated Exxon as being “among the leaders in industry” worldwide when it comes to integrating environmental management into business in 2001.

Other groups that have been added to the FOES list include Lafarge, for their attempts to develop a quarry on South Harris, and British Energy for their promotion of nuclear power, which FOES say, is the “least sustainable form of energy production”.

“These companies symbolise the gulf between rhetoric and reality,” Kevin Dunion of FOES stated. “Global corporations want to be centre stage at the World Summit. In return they are expecting less regulation and more market opportunities,” he added.

British Energy told edie “FOES have simply not done their homework on nuclear power. They are claiming we are lobbying to expand and that is a complete falsehood.” The Spokesperson added of nuclear power “it is clean and green, and gives off no greenhouse gas emissions.”

Meanwhile the FOEI’s ‘Green Oscars’ in South Africa have seen, very much tongue-in-cheek, awards to companies such as Shell and Nestle for their environmental ‘contributions’.

Whatever the individual company’s record, it is clear green groups fear social and environmental damage is incurred through lack of globally binding regulations. They have urgently called for a Convention on Corporate Accountability to try to redress a balance which they see currently favouring “profit” over “life”.

Story by Sorcha Clifford

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