Whether this past year in Washington or next week in Davos, "corporate responsibility" has become synonymous with combating company wrongdoing. But for the vast majority of global firms who
play by the rules, the term signifies something rather different.
What do companies mean when they say they are committed to operating responsibly? And what instruments do they find most effective in measuring and improving their impact on stakeholders and on society? A new statement from the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) provides much-needed answers.
Businesses are grappling with an expanding array of guidelines and codes of conduct on international corporate activity. A 2001 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identified no fewer than 182 such initiatives, including well-known efforts like the U.N. Global Compact, the Global Sullivan Principles and the OECD’s own Guidelines for Multinational Enterprise.
USCIB’s paper, "Advancing Corporate Responsibility," defines corporate responsibility as "a commitment by a company to manage its various roles in society, as producer, employer, customer and citizen, in a responsible manner." It says three critical aspects must be part of any external
corporate responsibility initiative if it is to win widespread business support:
— voluntary commitments, in order to encourage companies to go beyond
existing legal and regulatory requirements;
— flexibility, permitting companies to tailor corporate responsibility principles to local conditions in a given country;
— company participation in decision-making, to ensure corporate responsibility initiatives reflect the experiences and realities of a wide range of industry.
"Corporate responsibility is a bottom-line issue for companies doing business abroad," said Gene Endicott, public affairs director with Agilent Technologies, Inc. and chair of USCIB’s Corporate Responsibility Committee.
"We hope these principles will assist policymakers and other stakeholders in formulating appropriate initiatives and help companies decide which of them merit support."
USCIB promotes an open system of global commerce. Its membership includes some 300 leading U.S. companies, professional services firms and associations whose combined annual revenues exceed $3 trillion. As American affiliate of the leading international business and employers organizations, USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide and works to facilitate international trade.