The article in the url below presents an argument that I think CSR advocates will increasingly need to deal with:
"The destruction of the Amazon rainforest to make way for cattle ranches has been directly linked for the first time to patterns of consumption of beef and leather in the developed world, according to campaigners."
While it is fine to hold corporations to high standards of accountability and transparency regarding their operations; at best, firms can only move as fast as the consumers who buy their products. Ultimately, if consumers are unwilling to pay for socially responsible firms, then I do not think firms can be expected to engage in practices that will put them out of business:
"Greenpeace points to evidence of the supply chain for Brazilian beef and leather, tracing the progress of cattle herds raised on recently deforested land in the Amazon to slaughterhouses and processing plants in the south of the country. These slaughterhouses supply under contract to a wide range of companies round the world, including supermarkets, car manufacturers and fashion houses."
Consumers have a degree of responsibility in the CSR debate that is often minimized. It is only when sufficient information is made available for consumers to make educated purchase decisions, as well as consumers deciding to educate themselves about this information, that I think meaningful progress will occur. Much of this information is already out there, but many consumers do not ask the questions necessary to find it.
Progressive firms will see the opportunity for competitive advantage in this situation by operating transparently and remaining accountable to stakeholders. Less progressive firms, however, will resort to obfuscation or greenwash. Most of the firms that are listed in the Greenpeace report, for example, were contacted by the FT for this article. The most common (and extremely unimpressive) response was to dismiss the claims by stating that:
"… their suppliers had signed contracts guaranteeing that cattle did not come from the Amazon."
Oh well, it must not be true, then!
As you might be able to tell, I am not hopeful that this "meaningful progress" will occur any time soon. Importantly, however, I place an equal proportion of blame for this lack of progress with consumers as with firms.
Bill Werther & David Chandler
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility
© Sage Publications, 2006
Consumer link to rainforest destruction
By Fiona Harvey and Jenny Wiggins in London and Jonathan Wheatley in São Paulo
1 June 2009