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Global Compact


January 2nd, 2014
Top 10 corporate responsibility stories of 2013


Plus ça change in corporate responsibility. If nothing else, 2013 provided ample evidence that, contrary to popular belief, corporate responsibility issues, even the huge stories that dominate the media, do not exactly come out of nowhere. So many of the top CR stories of the year, like the Rana Plaza disaster, Apple's tax problems, and JP Morgan's huge fine, were already prefaced by the big stories of the previous year. Among our top 10 of 2012 were a Bangladesh factory fire, corporate tax avoidance, criticism of tech companies, and prosecutions in the financial sector. So the writing was already on the wall for most of the big stories of 2013. It would appear, as Ethical Corporation editor Toby Webb said recently, that with all the excitement about new opportunities and win-wins, companies are underestimating the importance of sound ethical risk management in the corporate responsibility equation. So, if you want to know what CR risks lie ahead for 2014, you could do worse than checking through our list of the big stories of 2013.

1. Rana Plaza building collapse
Back in April 2013, more than 1100 people, mostly garment workers, died when the Rana Plaza building collapsed near Dhaka in Bangladesh. It was probably the single worst garment factory disaster yet, in an industry that has suffered more than its fair share of needless fatalities. But Bangladesh had already seen a series of major industrial accidents leading up to Rana Plaza, which had been met with little tangible response from business and government leaders. Rana Plaza looks to have at last changed that. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, signed by nearly 100 global retailers, as well as labour unions and NGOs is a legally binding agreement to ensure worker safety through independent factory inspections, mandatory repairs, financial support, and sanctions for noncompliance. More than 2m vulnerable Bangladeshi garment workers are already covered by the Accord. A competing agreement, signed by Walmart, Gap, Target and other North American companies was criticized for having weaker enforcement and failing to involve labor unions. Nonetheless, both pacts are evidence that factory safety in Bangladesh is finally getting the concerted attention it deserves.

2. Apple's tax avoidance
Corporate tax avoidance had been a growing story in the UK and elsewhere prior to 2013, as evidenced by our top stories listing of 2012. But the issue exploded onto the public consciousness when Apple's CEO Tim Cook was forced to testify to a Senate committee in Washington back in May of this year. The company had avoided paying literally billions of dollars in tax by exploiting various loopholes in international tax treaties and funnelling its European profits through a shell company in Ireland. All completely legal, of course, but hardly what the public expects of a good corporate citizen. Now that attention to corporate tax avoidance has gone global, and with inequality and government debt the two biggest global risks today, the obvious questions are which country will be next in taking aim and which company will be in the firing line? Corporate tax reform is also undoubtedly going to loom even larger in the coming year.

3. NSA spying
Without doubt, Edward Snowden's whistleblowing on the US National Security Agency's (NSA) mass surveillance programs was the story of 2013. Nothing else even got close. However, the corporate responsibility dimensions still remain somewhat murky, which is why it doesn't quite make it to the top of our list. We do know, however, that telecoms companies like Verizon are required to hand over all call records  (or "metadata") to the NSA about cell phone calls made in the US. We also know that none of these companies ever sought to challenge the legality of the action. Another revelation was that the secret PRISM spying program allows the NSA to tap into the servers of internet companies like Google and Microsoft to access customer data. We also know that NSA pays millions of dollars to these same companies. We do not yet know exactly how complicit tech companies have been in the whole mess but one thing for sure is that they now realize that the NSA spying story is undermining their customers' trust and are calling for government reform. Expect much more to come in 2014.

4. JP Morgan's $13bn misconduct settlement
Our annual list of major corporate responsibility stories would not be complete without an entry from the finance industry. As we predicted at the beginning of the year, 2013 was marked by the return of government and some major financial sector scalps. None of these was bigger than the whopping $13bn fine landed on JP Morgan for misleading investors in the same of mortgage backed securities in the lead-up to the financial crisis. To date, it is the settlement ever between the US government and a corporation, and will come as some (though probably not enough) relief to those who have viewed most of the finance sector giants as getting away with the crisis relatively unscathed. On the other hand, JP Morgan is probably pretty sore about catching the flack for misconduct that was less about their own practices and more down to firms like Bear Stearns that they were encouraged by the US government to acquire at the height of the meltdown. No one comes out of this looking good.

5. Europe's horse meat scandal
At the beginning of the year, the big news was all about horse meat turning up in products it wasn't supposed to be in. Like those clearly labelled as "beef". The scandal started in the UK, quickly spread to a suspect supplier in Ireland, and soon rocked much of Europe. Customer trust rapidly evaporated as it became clear that effective oversight of the food industry was sorely lacking. Companies acted quickly to withdraw potentially contaminated products and shore up confidence but further revelations of large scale criminal activity in the food supply chain will do little to restore trust in a thoroughly compromised industry.

6. India's new CSR law
The world's largest democracy now has the world's most extensive CSR legislation. But that is not necessarily a good thing. Under the new Companies Act, passed by the Indian Parliament in August 2013, large Indian companies must spend at least 2 per cent of their net profits on CSR each year from 2014 onwards. It also requires firms to set up a CSR board committee and institute a CSR policy. The new CSR legislation has met with a mixed reaction, especially as it seems to institutionalize a somewhat backward looking approach to CSR which emphasizes philanthropic giving whilst ignoring the core strategic business of the firm. It will also be incredibly hard to enforce in a country already hamstrung by an overburdened legal system. On the plus side, the legislation does force many of India's laggard companies to finally take some responsibility for the various social problems faced by the country's citizens. For better or worse, CSR is no longer something that can be ignored in India.

7. Chevron's Ecuador pollution case
It has been a big year for Chevron and Ecuador in their long-running, aggressively-fought pollution case. In November, the Ecuadorean high court made its long-awaited appeal decision which upheld the original 2011 judgement requiring Chevron to pay $9bn to compensate for contaminating the rainforest during crude oil extraction over two decades ago. Chevron has never operated in Ecuador but inherited the lawsuit and its toxic legacy when it took over Texaco, the original operator, in 2001. For its part Chevron continues to dispute the legality of the ruling and has refused to pay. The appeal was at least partially successful for Chevron by halving the original $18bn damages bill, but not in overturning the decision. Chevron is now awaiting the outcome of a counter-suit heard last month in the US against the plaintiff's main lawyer, who the company claims engaged in bribery and fraud to secure the conviction. Meanwhile, attempts by the plaintiffs to seize Chevron's assets overseas to pay the fine also had their ups and downs in 2013. For example, Canada first denied them the rights of enforcement in May, only for a judge to overturn the decision on appeal in December. Other actions are underway in Brazil and Argentina. This has fast turned into a test not only of the Ecuadorean legal system, but of the global legal system's appetite to prosecute international legacy corporate responsibility issues.

8. Rosia Montana mining protests 
2013 saw major protests against mining operations all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Columbia, Greece, Niger, Peru, even Tibet. But the biggest of the lot was probably in Romania, which saw a mass protest movement arise in response to plans to mine around the town of Rosia Montana. If approved, it would be Europe's largest gold mine but critics claim that it would inflict untold social, environmental and cultural damage. Mass street protests erupted after the government proposed a new law that would enable the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (majority owned by the Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources) to finally start operations after years of failing to acquire the necessary environmental permits. At stake here then is not just the proposed mine but the legitimacy of the democratic process, which protesters feel has been fatally undermined by the hastily forced through legislation. As one protester put it: "People today confront a corrupted political class backed up by a corporation and a sold out media; and they ask for an improved democratic process, for adding a participatory democracy dimension to traditional democratic mechanisms."

 9. New UN Global Compact 100 Index
There were several entrants to the new corporate responsibility standards and guidelines category in 2013, with the G4 guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative probably being the most talked about. But September's launch of the Global Compact's new stock market index, the Global Compact 100, for us represented the most significant development. First, as John Entine noted, it offered a welcome new development in a social investing field "hungry for innovation and dogged by ideological correctness". But more than that it showed just how far the UN was willing to push the needle on its voluntary approach to corporate responsibility that heavily prioritizes incentives rather than enforcement. While many are still criticizing the Global Compact for not having sharp enough teeth to weed out laggards and green washers, the new index makes it abundantly clear that the UNGC is moving in a very different direction. Ten years ago it would still have been unthinkable, but the reality is that the UN is no longer just in the business of accords, declarations, and principles but is now also firmly in the finance industry.

10. South Korea's nuclear corruption scandal
GSK's corruption scandal in China may have got most of the headlines, but in our book, the corruption scandal that has engulfed South Korea's nuclear industry this year tops it for potential impact. Two short years after Japan's Fukishima disaster, neighbouring South Korea is also facing a devastating loss of confidence in its nuclear industry which supplies about a third of the country's energy needs. The scandal has centred on a swathe of faked safety certificates that have been issued for critical nuclear reactor parts over the years, and the bribes that have allegedly been paid to look the other way. Most commentators pin the blame on the closed structure of the nuclear industry in South Korea with only a single national operator and close ties between the operator, suppliers and testing companies. The prime minister has likened the industry to the mafia. A number of reactors have been shut down, trust in the industry has plummeted, a national energy shortage is underway, and now some 100 officials have been indicted for their part in the scandal. Corruption that compromises the safety of the nuclear industry is probably about as bad as it gets. And its unclear yet whether South Korea can really turn this one around.

Photo by rijans. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence




June 27th, 2012
Rio+20: Business Models for Small-Scale Farmers and Solutions for Big Cities among the Innovations Put Forward at Private Sector Track to Rio+20



(Rio de Janeiro) – New ways to bring energy, light and water to the world´s rapidly expanding cities, and possibilities for small-scale farmers to emerge from poverty and feed the world´s growing population, emerged from the third day of the private sector track to



June 27th, 2012
Rio+20: UN Global Compact and The Rockefeller Foundation Announce A Framework for Action on Social Enterprise and Impact Investing



New Model Designed to Scale Up Global Social Enterprise Movement  Across Key Sectors – Food, Water, Energy, Health  (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – A new Framework for Action launched today offers investors, large corporations and Governments a valuable resource for engaging with and supporting an



June 27th, 2012
Rio+20: 300 Leading Business School and University Representatives Worldwide Agree on a Roadmap for Responsible Management Education



(Rio de Janeiro) – A series of measures to inject sustainability principles into management and business school curricula were announced today at the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Outcomes of the Third Global Forum for Responsible Management Education include: Comprehensive Anti-Corruption Guidelines



June 27th, 2012
Rio+20: Business Leaders in Rio Respond to UN Secretary-General’s Call for “Tipping Point” in Corporate Sustainability



(Rio de Janeiro) –The first full day of the private sector track to Rio +20 opened with business schools stepping up sustainable development curricula, investment firms backing natural capital accounting, and corporate action on biodiversity. “Corporate sustainability is an idea whose time has come”, UN



June 27th, 2012
Rio+20: Business Leaders to Deliver on Strategies for Sustainability at 15-18 June Forum, Ahead of the Rio+20 Summit



(Rio de Janeiro) – “Innovation and collaboration are driving a bottom-up change process across many critical areas of contemporary life,” UN Global Compact Executive Director Georg Kell said at the opening of a business forum that precedes the United Nations sustainable development conference in



June 27th, 2012
Toward Rio: Global Compact LEAD Launches Guide to Social Investment and Philanthropy



(New York) – A new report from Global Compact LEAD released today takes a close-up look at various approaches to social investment practices in the context of corporate responsibility. The good practice guide, titled New Paths to Performance, was developed by the Global Compact LEAD



June 27th, 2012
Toward Rio: New 3.2m Euro Program to Boost Sustainable Business in Developing Countries



(New York) – A new 3.2 million Euro program that aims to build capacity of local businesses in developing countries on corporate sustainability management and reporting is being launched by the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Swiss State Secretariat



June 27th, 2012
Toward Rio: Global Compact Launches Local Network Report 2011



(New York) – The Global Compact Local Network Report 2011 was released today, in advance of the Annual Local Networks Forum (ALNF) to be held during the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum in Rio de Janeiro (15-18 June). The Annual Report features an overview of 2011



June 27th, 2012
Toward Rio: Caring for Climate Launches Case Compendium Featuring Companies Adapting to Climate Change



(New York) – A report launched today by Caring for Climate (C4C), the UN’s voluntary action platform for companies seeking to demonstrate leadership on climate change, showcases ten case examples among a broad range of C4C and CEO Water Mandate companies that are ahead



June 27th, 2012
World Day Against Child Labour Spotlights Human Rights of Children



(New York) - With the theme, "Human rights and social justice...let's end child labour", World Day Against Child Labour today spotlights the right of all children to be protected from child labour and from other violations of fundamental human rights. The World Day Against Child



June 27th, 2012
Toward Rio: New E-Learning Tool Guides Companies on Supply Chain Sustainability



(New York) – Today the UN Global Compact, in collaboration with BSR and Maplecroft, launched the UN Global Compact Quick Self-Assessment and Learning Tool, an online platform developed to help companies evaluate their approach to supply chain sustainability and identify areas for improvement. The tool



June 27th, 2012
Toward Rio: White Paper Addresses How Conflict Can Affect Water Resources



(New York) – The UN Global Compact and the Pacific Institute today released a white paper, Water as a Casualty of Conflict: Threats to Business and Society in High-Risk Areas, in advance of the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, to be held 15-18 June 2012



June 11th, 2012
Toward Rio: Global Compact Aims to Advance Sustainability with Integrity



(New York) – To highlight the importance of ethics and compliance in delivering corporate sustainability’s full potential, the UN Global Compact has developed a new report, Sustainability with Integrity: Organisational Change to Collective Action. The publication illustrates a range of corporate actions to implement the



June 11th, 2012
Toward Rio: New Report to Address Scaling Up Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture for a Future with Zero Hunger



(New York) – The UN Global Compact today released a new report, Scaling Up Global Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture, in advance of the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, to be held 15-18 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The report highlights leading-edge practices being



June 11th, 2012
Toward Rio: Leading Business Sustainability Groups Make Case for Greater Scale and Collaboration



(New York/Amsterdam) – Two of the world’s most prominent business-oriented sustainability organizations – the UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) – today issued a joint statement highlighting the urgent need to take pioneering corporate sustainability practices to greater scale, and calling



June 11th, 2012
Toward Rio: Report Highlights Corporate Progress in Advancing Low-Carbon Global Economy, Names 25 Climate Champions



(New York) – A report launched today by Caring for Climate (C4C), the UN’s voluntary action platform for companies seeking to demonstrate leadership on climate change, showcases progress made by 353 corporate signatories in addressing climate change while highlighting areas where additional action is needed. The



June 11th, 2012
Toward Rio: Leading Universities and Management Schools are Paving the Way Toward a Sustainable Future for All



Inspiring examples of how universities and management schools across the globe are aiding the transition to a sustainable future are detailed in a new publication, available online today, from the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) (New York) – The Inspirational Guide for the



June 11th, 2012
As Sustainability Commitments and Policies Gain Ground, Corporate Practice Still Lags Behind



(New York) – As a deeper understanding of sustainability issues is gaining momentum around the world, companies of all sectors are stepping up efforts to build environmental and social considerations into management strategies and policies. However, much remains to be done to truly operationalize



June 4th, 2012
First Online Course on Global Compact Principles Kicks Off in Latin America and the Caribbean



(Santiago de Chile) – Global Compact Local Networks in Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, in close collaboration with CapacitaRSE, have developed the first comprehensive “Online Diploma” covering the Global Compact’s ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption. The
















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