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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Strategic CSR - Welcome back!

Welcome back to the Strategic CSR Newsletter!
The first Newsletter of the Fall semester is below. As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.

The article in the url below discusses the idea that the ecological environment is an identifiable stakeholder of the firm with rights that are protected by law (Figure 1.1: A Firm’s Stakeholders, p4). These rights are being realized in the U.S. by a dozen municipalities that have passed laws to this effect. The article leads with the example of the small town of Shapleigh, Maine:

“At a town meeting, residents voted, 114-66, to endow all of the town’s natural assets with legal rights: “Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve within the Town of Shapleigh.” It further decreed that any town resident had “standing” to seek relief for damages caused to nature - permitting, for example, a lawsuit on behalf of a stream.”

But, the article points out that a similar sentiment is also being expressed elsewhere in the world:

“… in 2008, when Ecuador adopted a new constitution, it recognized nature’s “right to exist, persist, maintain itself and regenerate its own vital cycles, structure, functions and its evolutionary processes.” A campaign is also underway in Europe for a UN Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights, which would attempt to enshrine such principles in international law, following the model of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Advocates for legal representation of the environment present their case as a natural extension of the granting of human rights to other groups in society that have not always had them:

“After all, not so long ago, slaves and women were in some legal regimes deemed property, just as nature is today. Now we all accept universal human rights. The concept of animal rights has also become familiar, if much more contested. Advocates of this agenda see the extension of rights to ecosystems as the natural next step. And they believe it could spark a profound shift in our relations with nature, leading to more effective environmental protections.”

In addition:

“Other nonhuman entities have long enjoyed certain rights under our legal system: ships and corporations are two examples of entities entitled to “personhood,” meaning they can bring lawsuits to court.”

The idea is controversial and the article has an interesting discussion of some of the legal and philosophical questions it raises. It also discusses less controversial solutions. One example, which does not involve recognizing that non-human life has legal rights and standing to sue, is for society simply to pass a law that assigns value to the things it seeks to protect:

“The distinction can be subtle. It doesn’t mean we must diminish the worth we assign to nature; it just means acknowledging that we as a society are assigning the value. We could, for example, liberalize standing for humans - make it easy for people to sue to protect nature, without granting official standing to the natural objects.”

Although controversial, the issue is central to the stakeholder model we present in Strategic CSR—all organizations (whether for-profit or nonprofit) have a vested interest in identifying their key stakeholders and working to meet their needs and expectations wherever possible. In addition, however, the rationale a firm uses to identify its key stakeholders is central to its ability to integrate a CSR perspective throughout all aspects of operations. The principle that the environment is a common resource that should be protected from the self-interest of a minority, for example, is an important component of the Moral Argument for CSR (Chapter 1, p15). Those firms, however, for whom the environment is a key strategic resource (Nestle is mentioned in the article) have a vested interest in protecting it from over-exploitation (Chapter 1: The Economic Argument for CSR, p18). Alternatively, even firms that do not draw on the environment for key raw materials or do not care about over-exploitation should, at a minimum, recognize that they likely have many other key stakeholder groups (consumers, government, NGOs) who do care and, therefore, that it is counter-productive to act in a way that contravenes these stakeholder expectations (Chapter 1: The Rational Argument for CSR, p17).

Take care

Bill Werther & David Chandler
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility
© Sage Publications, 2006

U.S.: Sued by the forest
by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow
The Boston Globe
July 19th, 2009