Religious Investors, Advocacy Groups Issue First Global "Bench Marks" for Corporate Behavior

Source: ICCR, 23 May 2003

Corporations around the globe for the first time now face the prospect of uniform standards and expectations from religious groups, other concerned investors and advocacy groups on a comprehensive range of issues, including sweatshop labor, pollution control and access to affordable pharmaceuticals, including HIV/AIDS medications. Ten years in the making and released for the first time today, Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance is the work of a diverse global coalition of religious organizations and advocacy groups.
The Global Bench Marks are expected to focus and significantly increase the pressure brought to bear on corporations that fail to practice corporate social responsibility on major matters of concern. The work of 53 delegates from 22 countries, the new report stands alone as an across-the-board measuring stick for the conduct of global corporations. The Global Bench Marks call for the development of a human rights policy based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; respect for the dignity of every person; for workers right to organize a union and bargain collectively and for all core labor rights as defined by the International Labor Organization; a new relationship between corporations, communities and ecosystems; preservation and protection of the environment for present and future generations; and commitment to the principle that every worker has the right of access to health care, accessible and affordable medicines, including antiretrovirals for the treatment of AIDS.

Reverend David M. Schilling, director of global corporate responsibility at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) in New York, said: With this new report in the hands of religious, labor, human rights, environmental and womens groups in communities around the globe, the potential for changing corporate behavior for the better increases in a dramatic way. For instance, there is a call for corporations to respect basic human rights in their business dealings and in the societies in which they operate. While some companies have taken steps to adopt human rights policies, many have yet to define their role in promoting human rights initiatives and avoiding human rights abuses, directly or indirectly.

Bishop Jo Seoka of the Anglican Church of Pretoria, South Africa and head of the Bench Marks Foundation of Southern Africa for Corporate Responsibility, said: Our work in South Africa is to address both the unequal globalization process and the historical consequences of apartheid, to build a new relationship between business and civil society, one that is to the benefit of workers, civil society and business. Additionally, we are working to restore many social structures, which are crumbling in the face of our AIDS pandemic. We would hope that any corporation doing business with and employing South Africans include mandates to deal with HIV/AIDS.

UNDERSTANDING THE BENCH MARKS

The Global Bench Marks report contains a detailed array of standards and criteria for corporations to follow on nearly every major issue of concern today. Among the issue-specific discussion are the following examples:

Workplace conditions/sweatshops. The Global Bench Marks recommend that corporations adhere to global standards governing employee practices and industrial relations. These should include a genuine respect for employees right to freedom of association; labor organization; free collective bargaining; non-discrimination in employment; no violation of the rights of children; payment of a sustainable living wage with equal remuneration for work of equal value; a healthy working environment free from all forms of harassment and work schedules that are reasonable and enable employee and their families to live in a sustained and healthy manner.

Pollution control. The Global Bench Marks call on corporations to pay careful attention so as to avoid damaging the global and local environment. Issues such as climate change, bio-diversity and pollution prevention should be considered. Companies should adopt, at a minimum, internationally recognized standards and ensure they are implemented universally. The Global Bench Marks ask that a company take responsibility for the environmental impact of its production processes and its products and services throughout the life cycle of these products and services.

Access to pharmaceuticals, particularly HIV/AIDS drugs. The global AIDS crisis has caused considerable damage to social structures and economies worldwide. The Global Bench Marks report calls on global corporations to provide adequate coverage for its employees and their dependents, where governments do not provide universal health coverage. This coverage should include necessary essential medicines, including antiretrovirals for HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the Global Bench Marks ask that companies adopt a policy of non-discrimination and commit to programs to overcome discrimination and stigmatization of employees with HIV/AIDS.

Other key issues covered in the Global Bench Marks report include: sustainability of local communities, genetically modified organisms, contract supplier guidelines, indigenous rights, public reporting, corporate lobbying, corporate governance and stakeholder involvement in corporate decision making.

Barbara Hayes, chair of the Ecumenical Council on Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) in London, England, said: The Global Bench Marks will help us concentrate on key issues with our global partners. We will be able to involve our partners in gathering information on companies for analysis and then to act together. We believe that this approach will be helpful for responsible investors and for those working more directly with the communities.

Mr. Hildebrando Velez, executive director, Censat Agua Viva/Friends of the Earth in Bogota, Columbia, said: Global corporations have major influence in trade policy and their activities have resulted in the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, in weakening international efforts, like the Kyoto Protocol and in exploiting cheap labor. In this context, the Global Bench Marks and the groups coming together from many countries, is important to identify and stop the negative impacts of global corporations in many communities around the world.

Helga Birgden, chair of the Christian Centre for Socially Responsible Investment in Melbourne, Australia, commented: The Bench Marks provide an economic imperative for investment managers from affluent nations to assess the sustainability of their portfolios in terms of management of financial, environmental, social and governance risks. It allows managers of sustainable and socially responsible funds to engage with companies in collaboration with a global agenda and network from a coherent perspective. The Bench Marks challenge the all too prevalent practice of corporate social responsibility, which does little for social change and justice, instead it calls on companies to aspire to global sustainability.

ABOUT THE GLOBALIZING THE PRINCIPLES NETWORK

The Bench Marks report is the work of the Globalizing the Principles Network, which was established after the Hengrave Conference in 1999 and was organized by the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility of the United Kingdom, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) in the United States and the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility of Canada (now KAIROS-Canada). The steering group that produced the report includes: Helga Birgden, Australia; Daniel Gennarelli, Canada; Hildebrando VĂ©lez, Colombia; Crispin White, United Kingdom; Chan Kawai, Hong Kong, China; Jo Seoka, South Africa; and David Schilling, United States. New members include Barbara Hayes, United Kingdom and Nancy Palardy, Canada.

ECCR, ICCR and what is now KAIROS-Canada distributed the first edition of the Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility in 1995 for comment. A second document was published in 1998 incorporating comments received by others as well as the three groups experience in utilizing the document with corporations. The 1999 Hengrave Conference in Great Britain brought together 53 delegates from 22 countries to expand work on the Bench Marks. In 2002, feedback on the 1998 Bench Marks document was received from individuals and groups from around the world. The Steering Group met in South Africa in October 2002 to finalize the 2003 edition of the Global Bench Marks, which is being released for public distribution for the first time today.

The Globalizing the Principles Network is made up of faith-based groups and nongovernmental agencies from around the world. The Secretariat for the Network is housed at the Bench Marks Foundation of Southern Africa for Corporate Social Responsibility in Pretoria, South Africa. Visit the Networks Web site at www.bench-marks.org.

The benckmark website