Archives for posts with tag: CSR

 

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Clothing Facts – Should this be on all clothes?

Triple Pundit put together a great series of articles on the sustainability of the fashion industry. With thoughts of Memorial Day, I took a look at the article asking a simple question: Is made in the USA always the most sustainable choice?

The answer it seems is not so clear cut. When it comes to clothes, a number of social and environmental factors play a role in the sustainability of our purchases. Labor concerns are perhaps the most recognizable struggle of the garment industry, and the environmental impacts are nothing to blink at as Triple Pundit points out:

Among the environmental concerns associated with the clothing and textile industry are:

  • Pesticides used to protect textiles can harm wildlife, contaminate water supplies and get into the air and the food we eat.  Cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world
  • Chemicals that are used to bleach and dye textiles are often toxic.
  • Discarded clothing fills up landfills. Americans generate 12.4 million tons of textile waste annually. That means that, on average, every American throws out roughly the equivalent of their own body weight in clothing every year.
  • Textile machinery causes noise, sound and air pollution.
  • Over-usage of natural resources like plants and water depletes or disturbs ecological balance. Most of this usage is in the agricultural phase, with lesser amounts in the production phase and consumption phase for laundering.

These concerns can occur anywhere, though some countries have stronger environmental regulations than others.

Now, by default garments made in the USA must adhere to EPA and local standards regarding waste water as well as labor laws, but this does not mean they have to go organic or have the smallest carbon footprint of anything available on the shelf. One of the questions we have to ask when buying any clothing is – what is it made of?

Organic boyfriend material?

This is where the Triple Pundit article begins to struggle with what the best choices are for the sustainability minded consumer as it begins to delve into the economic consequences of outsourcing manufacturing due to lowered labor costs and how that in turn reduces the power of american consumers to buy made in the USA products as they have higher labor costs and thus higher prices. A vicious cycle indeed.

While articles made in the USA carry less of a carbon footprint in terms of miles traveled, and support our economy locally by paying higher (not necessarily living) wages, these are just some of the many factors to be considered when shopping with sustainability in mind. This is well demonstrated in the OneGreenPlanet guide for those of us looking to wear green, and it considers many of the ‘other’ factors outside of location of creation.

But how about you readers – how much do you consider sustainability when buying clothes? is it all about looks or does your beauty sense go deeper than what covers your skin?  Know of any other resources on where one can shop for green clothes? Do you have any clothing that you consider green or fair trade?

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Kurt Vonnegut’s vision of the Chronosynchlastic Infidibulum has come true, except instead of our bodies being dispersed across interstellar space,  it is our everyday products that are dispersed over space and time across the globe. Networks of suppliers are mirrored by social networks with information flowing (relatively) freely to anyone with a wifi connection… and informed consumers are now scrutinizing their purchases to a greater degree than ever before. The rise of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement fueled an expectation of transparency amongst the multi-nationals that operate from a nominal home base but only truly coalesce as a product in your living room, or in this case a consulting report for building a dam.

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Rumfoord’s dog Kazak materializing on Titan

Poyry, with over 5000 employees, is one of the largest international consulting design firms in the world and a major economic player in its home base of Helsinki, Finland. Yet Poyry’s work reaches far from Finalnd, and its role in the Xayaburi dam project represents a case of how the evolving legal concepts around CSR are starting to provide a mechanism through which stakeholders can influence company policies. As The Diplomat reports:

The Xayaburi dam project has been the subject of an international consultation process under the auspices of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which comprises four member states: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam

But the MRC has split between Laos and Thailand, which support the dam (Thailand is providing all the funding and will purchase 95% of the power generated), and Cambodia and Vietnam, which view dams on the Mekong as a cumulative threat to agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods.

Scientists warn that a cascade of dams threaten food security along the Mekong for around 65 million people. The prime minsters of both Cambodia and Vietnam have demanded further scientific studies on downriver impacts to be carried out prior to any construction, but supported by Pöyry’s recommendations, Laos has ignored its Indochina neighbors.

It was the deadlock inside the MRC that prompted the government of Laos to hire Zurich-based Pöyry Energy, allegedly with a view to circumventing the consultation procedures laid down by the 1995 Mekong Treaty

In response, fourteen Finnish NGOs filed a landmark case against Pöyry, alleging that it had violated OECD rules. Finland was obliged to set up a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee in 2012, to hear the complaint against parent firm Pöyry PLC, the parent company in Helsinki.

As the largest donor to the MRC, Finland has a special interest in the Xayaburi controversy. All development partners of the MRC have expressed deep concerns about the environmental impacts of Xayaburi,   the first dam to be built on the Lower Mekong.

The Finnish NGOs have accused the international consultant Pöyry of promoting a reckless and irresponsible mode of development, and undermining international cooperation among the riparian countries through the Mekong River Commission.

Pöyry has since announced that it has won a new eight-year contract to supervise construction of the Xayaburi dam.

Poyry’s work on the Xayaburi was not the first time the company was involved with the Mekong. In the 1990’s, Vietnam hired Swiss consultant Electrowatt (now part of Poyry) to build a controversial set of dams on a tributary to the Mekong in Vietnam, despite the protests of Cambodia. Like the situation in Xayaburi, Electrowatt’s analysis did not include any downstream impacts from the dam construction. The case of the Yali Dam set a precedent for ignoring regional neighbors, and it appears Laos took note of a compliant consultant to hire.

OECD guidelines stipulate that “Enterprises should contribute to economic, environmental and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development”.  Poyry’s role in shepherding along approval of the dam in Laos and its subsequent multi-million dollar contract to oversee construction, present an affront to the OECD guidelines, not to mention a conflict of interest.

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Protesters downstream of the proposed dam referring to Poyry’s role in the process

This was clear to the group of over a dozen Finnish NGO’s who sued Poyry, claiming the company was in violation of international law and undermining the Mekong River Commission as detailed on the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. The case ultimately went to the Finnish Ministry of Employment and Economy for a ruling from its committee on Corporate Social Responsibility. Through a series of secretly submitted documents, Poyry was ultimately able to escape any sanctions for its behavior in the case, as OECD Watch reports:

The final statement confirms that consulting and business service companies such as Pöyry are covered by the Guidelines and have a responsibility to conduct due diligence to avoid being linked to adverse social and environmental impacts caused by their clients. However, the NCP determined that Pöyry had not acted in breach of the Guidelines in this case. Finnwatch, an NGO advising the NCP, issued a statement disputing this finding.

The case, which was the first ever handled by the Finnish NCP, raises serious concerns about the NCPs equitability. The NCP gave in to Pöyrys demands for an excessive degree of confidentiality and did not allow the complainants to see or rebut to the companys response to the allegations. The NCP based part of its final statement on Pöyrys confidential response, which was never shared with the complainants a practice that has been deemed unacceptable by other NCPs. Recall that a similar lack of equitability led the UK NCPs Steering Board to overturn its own flawed final statement in the BP BTC case in 2011.

Regardless of the ultimate result, the case presents an example of the maturing of the CSR field from a series of well-(or not)-intentioned yet unverified reports of corporate progress to a verifiable and accountable set of policies and actions taken by corporations with true legal and economic consequences. Though it was the first case heard by the Finnish government regarding OECD CSR guidelines, it will certainly not be the last, and that type of precedent is one other stakeholders can utilize to address social and environmental concerns.

When it comes to intractable trans-boundary natural resource problems, which the Mekong is a prime example of, the more stakeholders with a voice at the table the better the outcomes can be. Consultants and coprorations operating in the developing world would do well to consider the full sustainability impacts of their operations lest they find themselves in greater legal risk from newly emerging models of regulation in regards to CSR.

What do you think? Are new legal mechanisms for CSR compliance (e.g. OECD Guidelines) an effective means to enforce good corporate governance? Or do they need more teeth to make an impact? Feel free to share thought and any similar examples.