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DOES CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY MATTER TO YOU?
If you're like most ISHN readers, you handle safety and health issues at a work site with 500 employees or less. Of seven million workplaces in the U.S., 6.9 million operate with fewer than 500 employees. So should you concern yourself with all the talk these days about corporate social responsibility, ethical behavior, sustainability, accountability, and citizenship?
"The current bandwagon is PR, a joke," says a safety and health activist. "These companies want awards for what they should be doing all along."
"In a smaller company, a solid champion with an evangelical streak may be able to influence the actions of the organization," says James Platner with The Center to Protect Workers Rights.
"Most of us will have limited involvement on the social issues, except perhaps for child labor, safe work conditions, and the environment," says Zack Mansdorf, environmental health and safety corporate director for L'Oreal in France.
Opinions vary, as you see.
If you're not with one the big name transnationals, you probably don't have a consumer brand image to guard. Nor face potential charges of exploiting teenage working women living in dorms in Asia. Probably don't have titles in your organization like DuPont's Director of Sustainable Development or MTV Networks's Vice President of Public Responsibility.
And you're probably not going to attend conferences like "How to Manage Corporate Social Responsibility, Why It's Essential, and How to Make it Pay" in New York City, October 2-4. Or a corporate social responsibility workshop for contractors and suppliers in Shenzhen, China, October 24-25, sponsored by Business for Social Responsibility.
So do trends like these matter to you?
Is President Bush talking to you and your company when he says it is time for a new era of corporate accountability. . . "built on a foundation of integrity"?
After all, as the chairman of Goldman, Sachs Group recently told The New Yorker magazine, "There are more well-run companies in the United States than there are anywhere else in the world."
The odds are your company is one of them. In a recent survey of ISHN readers, only one in five said they needed greater support from their managers on safety and health issues.
Only about one in ten readers is out looking for a new job at a different company.
CAN YOU PROVE IT?
OK. You feel pretty good about how your company handles "social issues" like the safety and health of your employees. You believe your company manages to operate profitably and responsibly. You comply with OSHA and EPA laws. Treat employees fairly. Contribute to the economic, environmental and social well-being of your community - the so-called "triple bottom line."
And you've worked to make your production processes more "sustainable", by identifying and controlling hazards, reducing toxic exposures and ergonomic risks, and wringing waste and inefficiency out of your systems.
Can you prove it? Document it?
Put it in a report and communicate your responsible actions to your employees, their families, your customers, community leaders, regulators, environmental groups, and if you are a publicly-held company, your investors?
Do you have a "management system" in place that ties together all your policies, procedures, training, monitoring, and reporting in a documented program that could, if necessary, be verified by an outside auditor?
That's where this corporate social responsibility movement could be heading. And it will affect not only the Big Boys, the multinationals, but smaller companies, contractors and suppliers, all down the supply chain.
If you want contracts from the Big Boys, you will need to meet their requirements to guard against business interruptions, liabilities, and risks to their reputations. That could include standards of social responsibility, just like it has for quality and environmental management.
That's why, even if you are a small operation seemingly off the responsibility radar screen, it is worth tracking reports, polls, and news stories about corporate social responsibility. International standards on accountability and reporting already exist, and ISO could be getting into the act.
One consultant, DNV, has issued about 40 certificates verifying compliance with Social Accountability standard SA 8000 - which includes requirements that companies must meet basic health and safety standards, and provide safety equipment and training. (The cost? Small firms can expect to spend $7,000-$12,000 over three years to become certified against SA 8000.)
"Small enterprises will be concerned about corporate social responsibility because they are in a conglomerate's supply chain or may be required to be certified by a brand-conscious buyer," explains Russell Thornton, manager, EHS certification, for DNV. "The conglomerate's strategy will be to reduce the social risks in their supply chain."
Baxter International is one of those conglomerates. Last year it launched the "Doing Business with Baxter" program. Key suppliers complete a detailed questionnaire on environment, social, and economic performance and participate in on-site workshops to understand Baxter's expectations of suppliers.
WHAT SOME COMPANIES ARE DOING. . .
Industry surveys might show which way the wind is blowing, but nothing beats case studies to prove there is a pay-off for companies investing to reduce social risks. Be on the look out for stories like these:
A task force of major U.S. companies has been set up by Organization Resources Counselors, a consulting firm, to develop a library of socially responsible projects related to safety and health best practices. ORC's Steve Newell calls it a "bottom up grassroots effort by safety and health pros to identify real projects that add real value to the business."
Stay tuned. . .
STANDARDS HAVE SAFETY & HEALTH PROVISIONS
As these case studies show, there is a direct connect between safety, health and environmental management and social responsibility and sustainability.
To better grasp the connection, let's look at the definitions.
Corporate social responsibility means reaching business goals in ways that respect ethics, people, communities, and the environment. It means ensuring fair and reasonable employment, including safe and healthy workplaces. It also means ferreting out social risks, reputation risks, costs and potential liabilities and managing them. It is, in fact, a form of risk assessment and risk management.
Sustainable business practices to ensure life-sustaining resources for future generations necessarily involves reducing workplace hazards, toxic exposures, ergonomic inefficiencies, and other forms of waste (including injuries). A basic staple of safety - housekeeping - is key to waste elimination, according to Dr. Robert Pojasek. Safety and health pros are also involved in the cradle-to-grave stewardship programs that ensure efficient use and disposal of materials and products.
Now let's examine safety and health provisions of some of the international social responsibility and accountability standards.
Social Accountability (SA) 8000, released in 1997 by the Council on Economic Priorities Accreditation Agency, is based on United Nations and International Labor Organization conventions. It addresses nine areas of human rights, including these health and safety criteria:
The Global Reporting Initiative, established in 1997, recently released its revised 2002 sustainability reporting guidelines. Included are social performance indicators, mostly policies, procedures, and management practices. They include:
Countries are getting into the act, too. In Japan, there is the ECS2000 Ethics Compliance Management System Standard. In France, there is a new regulation requiring social reporting for publicly listed companies.
WILL ISO GET INTO THE ACT?
The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Committee for Consumer Policy met this past June in Trinidad and Tobago and recommended that ISO form an advisory group to study the question of developing standards for corporate social responsibility.
ISO is well positioned to take the lead in developing voluntary corporate social responsibility management systems and build on the infrastructure of ISO 9000 (quality) and ISO 14000 (environmental) standards, as well as the momentum generated by having close to a half-million firms certified to these systems, said Dr. Kernaghan Webb, author of the committee's report.
Firms could self-declare compliance with the proposed new standards or seek certificates from authorized third parties.
Said Dr. Webb: Firms complying with ISO corporate responsibility management systems standards will contribute to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of the communities in which they operate.
Other arguments put forth supporting an ISO standard included:
The recommendations of the ISO consumer committee to form an exploratory advisory group will be decided on by the ISO Council this month, according to ISO officials.
Again, stay tuned. These corporate social responsibility standards and sustainability practices aren't going away. Consultants smell a new certification market. Pressure groups are trying to crank up outrage over globalization abuses. And brand-reliant corporations selling to consumers are worried about reputation risks.
Here's one development to look for: Occupational health and safety management systems standards, such as the ANSI Z10 effort now underway, might be folded into broader social responsibility standards by a group like ISO.
LOOKING FOR CASE STUDIES
Tell us about your company's social responsibility programs or sustainability projects that relate to safety and health - and their benefits. We will feature them in a future newsletter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check out some success stories at Web sites listed below.
In ISHN's next e-newsletter, we will study more closely the role safety and health professionals can play in social responsibility and sustainability efforts.
WEB SITES TO CHECK OUT
Baxter International Sustainability Report http://www.baxter.com/sustainability/
3M Sustainability Report http://www.3m.com/about3m/sustainability/index.jhtml
Global Reporting Initiative http://www.globalreporting.org/
Social Accountability Standard SA 8000 http://www.cepaa.org/
Business for Social Responsibility http://www.bsr.org/
Sustainable Business.com http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/
Ethical Corporation magazine http://www.ethicalcorp.com/USA2002.asp
Ethical Performance newsletter http://www.ethicalperformance.com/
ECOS Corporation http://www.ecoscorporation.com
Organization Resources Counselors http://www.orc-dc.com
American Chemistry Council (Responsible Care) http://www.americanchemistry.com/
Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at email@example.com, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.
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Topics include: safety success stories, close calls and personal experiences, training tips, use of software, engineering controls (machine guards, lockout-tagout), gas detection and air monitoring, confined space safety, personal protective equipment, and OSHA compliance issues.
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