With losses due to UMTS licence costs, mass redundancies and falling market prices, many financial analysts are advising selling shares in telecommunications companies. Can the sector manage to overcome the sharp financial downturn and at the same time meet its social and environmental responsibilities? oekom research recently conducted a Corporate Responsibility Rating in which it examined 38 of the worlds major telecommunications companies. On a scale from A+ to D, Deutsche Telekom scored a B+, followed by British Telecom and Swisscom, both with a B. At the bottom of the ranking came the American company Nextel with a score of D. Insufficient activity in the environmental and social areas meant that 14 of the companies could not be evaluated.
All 24 of the companies evaluated have drawn up their own environmental guidelines, and 18 of them publish an environmental report. Despite these positive signs, there were scarcely any companies with company-wide environmental management systems in place. At sites in non-OECD countries, in particular, oekom research was able to identify clear shortcomings in this respect. The high energy consumption levels of the networks give rise to significant environmental effects. Virtually all the companies recognise the potential for making reductions here and are working on increasing their energy efficiency. However, it is as yet impossible to assess how successful they will be in their efforts. The possible health risks posed by electromagnetic radiation from transmission equipment also remain unclear. Comprehensive research projects should remedy this situation. None of the companies was able to demonstrate which company-wide standards applied to radiation from transmission equipment. Instead, the companies cited the relevant domestic legislation of the countries concerned.
The sector demonstrated limited transparency with regard to social and cultural issues. While all the companies reported on isolated social/cultural activities like sponsoring, only a small number published a comprehensive social report. As far as the large-scale job cuts are concerned, the sector must be given credit for having generally carried these out in a socially acceptable way. Early-retirement schemes and part-time arrangements for older staff have virtually become standard. The high level of unionization among employees may be responsible for this. Some companies grant reduced tariffs for socially disadvantaged customer groups and a number of companies have developed special products and services for blind, deaf or elderly people. Examples of this include the visual telephone or the transmission of sign language via video phone.
The evaluation of the telecommunications sector, which was based on the 200 criteria of the Corporate Responsibility Rating, showed that the stance companies adopt toward their social and environmental responsibilities differs enormously. While Deutsche Telekom the most progressive of the companies in the environmental and social areas was accorded a B+ and B respectively, the tail-ender in the industry could only manage a D- and a D. These wide performance differences resulted in the sector as a whole attaining a modest average of C in the Corporate Responsibility Rating.
24 companies were analysed in the present Corporate Responsibility Rating: AT&T (US), BCE (CA), BellSouth (US), British Telecom (UK), Cable & Wireless (UK), Deutsche Telekom (DE), France Telecom (FR), Nextel (US), NTT (JP), Orange (UK), PCCW (CN), Royal KPN (NL), Sonera (FI), Swisscom (CH), TDC Group (DK), Telecom Italia (IT), Telecom Italia Mobile (IT), Telefónica (ES), Telekom Austria (AT), Telia (SE), Telstra (AU), Telus (CA), Verizon (US), Vodafone (UK). The following companies could not be evaluated due to insufficient activity in the environmental and social areas: China Mobile (CN), Colt Telecom (UK), Elisa Communications (FI), Hellenic Telecommunication (GR), MobilCom (DE), Mobistar (BE), Portugal Telecom (PT), QWest Communications (US), SBC Communications (US), Singapore Telecom (SG), Sprint (US), Tele2 (SE), Telekom Malaysia Berhad (MY), WorldCom (US).