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Trade & Development PDF Print E-mail

As an NGO with an environmental mandate we look at the effect debt, unsustainable development and trade have on natural environments. A natural environment comprises communities, a human society with social, economic, health and educational systems. As people the world over depend on their environment for their very survival, it is in the interest of each individual to protect their home and to do this sustainably, also as stewards for future generations. But in order for the environment to sustain life, it needs unpolluted soils, water and air.

Unfortunately trade related activities are polluting environments the world over and posing a threat to the survival especially of indigenous peoples and communities and in consequence to their cultural systems.

Corporate Social Responsibility Introduction

A much-quoted definition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is ‘the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.’ (as defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), - CSR: Meeting Changing Expectations, 1999.

The demand for corporations to behave more ethically resulted in the Corporate Social Responsibilty (CSR) movement (see, for example, Business in the Community). The concept of CSR has gained increasing importance over the past ten years. This rise in recognition mirrors the rising awareness of the exploitation of the global South, including its people, resources and environment, especially when environmental and social protection are placed second in importance to profits.

Industries such as tobacco, textiles, alcohol, gold, uranium, cotton, food, chemicals and of course oil, have had huge negative affects on the environment. Pollution affects waterways and fields, as do pesticides and fertilisers. While multinational companies reap profits from mining diamonds or precious metals, or from the export of fruit and vegetables, or from the mass production of export goods in sweatshops, local communities in the global South are used as badly paid labour and are left undeveloped, rarely seeing the income from their resources. The cost of clearing up pollution, or of the burden placed on health systems through deteriorating health, is usually borne by the public, rather than corporations.

CSR – The Critique

The WBCSD definition given above, in common with many others, understands CSR as the responsibility that corporations take upon themselves for the sake of behaving ethically and promoting a more friendly (and therefore profitable) image.

However, critics of this view hold that corporations will never act in a way that will harm their share price – and thus will never act to undermine their profits. Thus, they argue, it is necessary to impose restrictions at the policy level – and that governments, intergovernmental and global agencies must also all take responsibility for restricting the power of big business to act in ways that degrade the environment and abuse human rights.

Many businesses and multinational companies now have their own corporate social responsibility programmes or departments. While in some cases these have had a positive impact, there is a case that says that ‘corporate social responsibility’, when practiced by companies themselves, without policy change at the international level, is merely a new friendly image hiding the same old degradation and abuse. For a critique see Christian Aid’s report: ‘Behind the mask. The real face of corporate social responsibility’.

The CSR movement has been responsible for helping to raise awareness of the problems caused by huge corporations when they fail to act ethically. However, the problems are still with us, and vast further reforms – from businesses and governments – are still necessary to protect our planet.


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