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Key questions for corporate membership groups on CSR

Anyone working in responsible business knows that there a few types of corporate membership groups.

There’s the big, “old school” business lobby groups, who largely move at the pace of the slowest (or biggest) members.

Then there’s the general corporate responsibility member groups. Who try to tread a tricky line between encouraging action and annoying their members, some of whom have only really joined for show.

Finally, there’s this fascinating and totally uncoordinated new grouping. These are based on either industries or new issues that cross industries. Examples would be cars, palm oil, sustainable coffee or cocoa.

We’ve been tracking some of these groups for years, writing about their work and trying to keep up to date with what they do.

Here’s a recent article we ran on some of them, and their pros and cons.

And we’ve just published an in-depth 125 page report on different initiatives, and what companies make of them, get from them, and do because of them.

Details and a free summary are here.

Some of the initiatives we’ve looked at include:

Forest Stewardship Council
Common Code for the Coffee Community
International Cocoa Initiative
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Fair Labour Association
International Council of Toy Industries CARE Process
Equator Principles
Business for Social Compliance Initiative
International Council on Mining and Metals
Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices
Social Accountability 8000

Here are some of the key questions that emerge from the research we have done:

1. Many companies are finding it difficult to promote both the brand of the initiative and their product. Is this why only 13% of initiatives offer the use of a product label to their members?

2. Are initiatives themselves ethically-run? Why do nearly all initiatives studied hide their costs of membership?

3. Many industry CSR initiatives have strong growth ambitions in membership. They are also moving away from providing standards on niche ethical issues, and towards standards that embrace social and environmental issues. Will they be able to handleexpansion of both membership and goals?

4. Are organisations that manage initiatives and standards able to find consensus. Can they meet the needs of different stakeholders?

5. How can member responsibilities and costs be more transparent?

6. Industry-specific initiative challenges. I.e. For initiatives that focus on agricultural commodities are often challenged by mixed sources. Companies struggle to source enough volume of products with an equal ethical standard. Other key issues include air miles, carbon footprint, water use and producer access to financing.

Much more to be done in this area then, and the initiatives themselves need to consider these questions, I would suggest.

The free summary is here for download.

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