Sustainability/UNEP published their new report "Life and Science; Accountability, Transparency, Citizenship and Governance in the Life Sciences Sector". This report is the latest in the Engaging Stakeholders series looking at the quality of corporate communications.
Given the consumer backlash against modern biotechnology in agriculture the past couple of years, it is nothing less than incredible to consider that the introduction of genetically modified soya beans was originally reputed to have been "the most successful agricultural innovation since the plough." Subsequent events at least in Europe – as regular readers of the Review will know – have proved quite the opposite.
In response to this opposition, the industry itself, is beginning to reconsider the way in which it engages with external stakeholders. Bob Shapiro, CEO of Monsanto Corporation, stated in a debate with Peter Melchett of Greenpeace UK that his company would be moving from a model of debate and the zero-sum game, to one of dialogue where compromise and common ground are sought out and developed.
The report is intended to contribute to what we consider to be a still embryonic dialogue between the industry and its external stakeholders. The main body of the report considers twelve issues that have been raised as key concerns by a variety of stakeholders. Each section provides an account of the issue, including the specific perspectives of a range of different stakeholders, and then reviews the publicly available information produced by twenty-one of the largest companies involved in modern biotechnology, to assess the extent to which they acknowledge and manage the different issues. Among the companies included in the survey are: AstraZeneca, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Novartis, and Novo Nordisk.
The twelve issues focus on three key areas of corporate management and performance:
*Corporate Governance including corporate values, bioethics and research and development;
*Biotech Risks and Benefits including risk assessment, biosafety, ecoefficiency and endocrine disruption; and,
*Stakeholders including impacts on society, biodiversity, animal welfare, governments and regulators, and consumers.
While much of the debate surrounding modern biotechnology has, until now, focused on agricultural applications, our research suggests that pharmaceuticals and health care applications are likely to be even more controversial. Among the issues that are beginning to emerge as part of the wide-ranging and challenging agenda now facing some of the companies active in this industry are:
*how intellectual property rights might be applied to components of the human genome;
*the growing gap between health care standards for rich and poor;
*the bioethics involved in the management of new transgenic animals; and,
*the role of the internet in redefining relationships between companies, doctors and the public.
The report concludes that, with a few notable exceptions, most life sciences companies have so far failed to communicate and engage effectively with their external stakeholders. Furthermore, we believe that individual companies in order to make further strides towards sustainability will have to review operations in five critical areas.
*Limits Companies must learn to set limits on what they can and cannot do. As research advances, these limits should be set in consultation with society. As societys values change, so companies need to ensure that their own values and governance systems remain in close alignment with those of wider society.
*Dialogue A new model is emerging for how companies relate to and communicate with external stakeholders. Initiating and engaging in genuine dialogue that allows for shared-learning and helps to structure and guide corporate progress must remain a key strategic objective for companies in all sectors, and a particular priority for companies involved in controversial technologies such as modern biotechnology.
*Diversity The differences in culture and perspectives exhibited by different regions of the world have been clearly illustrated by the debate over modern biotechnology. Companies need to be aware of these differences and to respond to them through glocalisation strategies that combine a global strategy with local delivery and accountability.
*Markets The current focus on the markets of the developed world to the detriment of the needs of the developing world must be reconsidered. It is a sustainability imperative that new models of business practice are constructed that enable businesses to deliver value to and derive value from the development of services and products for the survival economies in developing regions.
*Partners Linked to the point above is the need for companies to actively seek partnerships with external stakeholders in developing solutions and in shaping the sustainable markets of the future.