The corporate responsibility (CR) movement is bumping up against real limits, according to a new SustainAbility report.

Some responsible businesses have scratched the surface of global issues like climate change and HIV/AIDS, but just as many work to maintain the status quo.

The report concludes that the CR movement is constrained by too narrow a focus and the lack of appropriate links to wider global, regional and national governance frameworks. Where links between companies and government do exist, they are often dominated by regressive lobbying — the automotive industry lobbying against effective action on climate change, for example, or fast food companies lobbying to slow controls on their industry.

When this happens, industry or corporate public affairs activities are often at odds with the declared CR initiatives of the same business.

The report notes that a few companies have made significant cuts in CO2 emissions, but globally emissions have increased 8.9 percent since 1990, against a 60 percent reduction target.

On the health front, some companies are helping to fight HIV/AIDS by providing anti-retrovirals to their employees. Yet in the poorest countries, less than ten percent of the six million people who need such drugs currently get them.

What to do? The report recommends that companies must:

  • Be more transparent and consistent in their public policy positions — and they need to involve other interested parties.

  • Demonstrate real progress in integrating CR into core business operations.

  • Form "progressive alliances" with governments and civil groups to achieve public policy changes that directly address social and environmental challenges.