Authenticity and Connectivity: Two Words for the Enhancement of Corporate Social Responsibility!

By Paula Cortes

CSR has been controversial because of how corporations have failed with their green logos. An example is Terra Cycle, a recycling company whose tagline is “Eliminating the Idea of Waste”. For example, the company makes plastic lumber products out of single-use coffee pods. But many environmentalists are unconvinced: “if TerraCycle really wanted to eliminate waste, it would suggest consumers make coffee the old fashioned way”  (1.)

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Many brands are using corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a communication strategy to improve their corporate image; consumers, however, are often overwhelmed by these more or less well-founded CSR claims and can have trouble identifying what distinguishes a truly responsible firm. This confusion has promoted ‘greenwashing’ practices and may make CSR initiatives less effective (2), despite their rise as a prominent international interest. It has also become a research priority in public relations and has been considered as one of the key aspects of that field for decades (3).

In a TED talk video Dr. Mc Elhaney proposes the use of her four core values when consultants are working for a company doing CSR: “Authentic, Bold, Connected and (Damn) Useful” are the strategies for better CSR programs according to her.  In the talk she points out Authenticity as an initiative that represent economic benefits because being the author of one’s own innovation shows a higher self-awareness and engagement from the shareholders. Additionally, it will improve the consumer’s perception. To put this into perspective the CSR of every company should demonstrate a realistic concern for the implication of their processes. For example a company in the mining sector after achieving EIA approval should be authentic in its CSR design, including realistic needs of the community on its guidelines, for example training local people to be employed by the mining enterprise, creating better access to basic resources as water and aliments and ensuring healthy labor conditions in order to demonstrate that the company understands the particular needs of the community where the mine is located.

Dr. Mac Elhaney focuses on the importance of being authentic and, despite the fact that she does not rationalise the other core values mentioned before, I would like to take into consideration the importance of being “Connected”. Firms involved in repeated interactions with stakeholders that are based on trust and cooperation have an incentive to be honest and ethical. They have demonstrated that this behaviour is beneficial to the company; therefore, it is important to generate permanent bonds between people as we care better the ones that we know (5). Being connected includes having effective communication. Informing the public about the company management of environmental challenges and the preventive and corrective actions to environmental threats brings trust and a better perception from the public. In the example of noise annoyance, a refinery that Irving Oil developed a reducing noise program which has been decreasing noise in the neighbourhood around the refinery, minimizing the use of flaring as well as installing a range of noise silencer technologies. (7) This demonstrates that the company is connected enough to hear and be aware of community needs and to respond to improve people’s quality of life.

CSR is a challenging process that requires a comprehensive approach on the part of the people who are creating the strategy. In this article I briefly explored two of the core values mentioned for the Dr Mc Elhaney; however, it is important to take into consideration that all companies have different missions and visions, which makes them unique. Authenticity might be sometimes hard to achieve as it is necessary to have a budget to implement new practices, if the company has many standardized processes probably would prefer to maintain its traditional ways. To be able to be authentic requires engagement from the workers, open communication and a committed disposition of the shareholders.

If there is an opportunity to modify and improve a process in a company, it should be easy to communicate to the main chair about it. When companies have quality systems they have an advantage in this process as these protocols have continuous improvement guidelines. Social responsibility requires a real engagement to achieve all the company goals expressed in a mission and vision. It should exist as a participatory mechanism for any person to take part of it and cooperate in the enhancement of the different processes. With real consistency and authenticity communicated, the company’s relations with consumers will be smoother because the public will better trust a company that shows that what they promote agrees with what they do, and then CSR wouldn’t look like just another greenwashing initiative.

Sources:

(1) http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/aug/25/5-sustainability-greenwash-products-ecofriendly-boondoggles-design

(2) Parguel, B. Benoît-Moreau, F.Larceneux F. 2011. How Sustainability Ratings Might Deter ‘Greenwashing’: A Closer Look at Ethical Corporate Communication.August 2011, Volume 102, Issue 1, pp 15-28.Journal of Business Ethics

(3) 2007. Capriottia, P. Moreno, A. 2007.bCorporate citizenship and public relations: The importance and interactivity of social responsibility issues on corporate websitesPublic Relations Review Volume 33, Issue 1, March 2007, Pages 84–91

(4) Arenas,D Lozano, M & Albareda L.2009. he Role of NGOs in CSR: Mutual Perceptions Among Stakeholders Journal of Business EthicsAugust Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 175-197Date: 05 Aug 2009.

(5) McWilliams A, Donald S.Wright, P 2006. Corporate Social Responsibility: Strategic Implications.Journal of Management Studies Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 1–18, January 2006.

(6) Reinhardt, F. 1998. ‘Environmental product differentiation. California Management Review, 40, Summer, 43–73. Web of Science® Times

(7) http://irvingoil.com/

(8) www.cartoonstock.com

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Interpreting the duty to consult in the Innu vs. IOC case

In 2013, the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam and of Matimekush-Lac John filed legal proceedings for an injunction against the operations of the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) and for damages incurred on the two communities from violations of their Aboriginal title and rights 1, 2. The two communities declare Aboriginal title in their territory Nitassinan, which is an area covering more than 70,000 square km of the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula1.

IOC and its majority owner, Rio Tinto, filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the basis that the government should be sued first 6 to establish Aboriginal title and rights, and that “private parties have no obligations with respect to claimed but unproven Aboriginal rights”1. The Superior Court of Quebec rejected that motion and the Court of Appeal has refused IOC’s application for permission to appeal the decision in January 20151.

IOC has been operating mines in the Quebec-Labrador area since 1954. Negotiations between the Innu of Quebec and the mining company have been ongoing for the past 4 years with no resolution 2,3. Out of all the companies that operate on the Innu’s ancestral land (four other companies), IOC remains the only one who has not signed an impact benefits agreement with the Innu of Quebec 2,3. Chief of Matimekush-Lac John, Réal McKenzie states that

“IOC operated twenty mines in the Schefferville area before abandoning them (while savagely destroying the city of Schefferville) in 1982, and continues to operate nearly ten mines on our territory in the area of Labrador City. All of IOC’s projects and activities blatantly violate our rights, particularly our Aboriginal rights and our Aboriginal title. Even after 60 years of discrimination and violation of our rights, we have tried to sit down with IOC to find a solution, and the company has time and again demonstrated that it is not at all interested in reaching a fair agreement, preferring to continue to ignore us just like they always have.  We are fed up.  It is long overdue that IOC pays its rent.” 3

The video below depicts the history between the Innu and IOC and was made for  the “IOC/Rio Tinto Pay the Rent” Innu campaign against the mining company2.

Recently, IOC has increased its production capacity from 18 to 23 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate per year and has plans to open another mine in Labrador City 3. The Innu of Quebec also plan to file legal proceedings with respect to this new mine (Wabush 3) that is to be built on their Nitassinan2.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled ten years ago that governments have a constitutional duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples that may be affected by a project4. In this case, it seems that the government has failed to recognize the constitutional rights of the Innu. In fact, a direct quote from IOC’s project description to register the environmental assessment of the Wabush 3 mine states that:

“… existing and available information does not indicate that Labrador and Quebec Aboriginal groups currently undertake traditional land and resource use activities within or near the proposed Project area. This is in keeping with the fact that significant mining activity has occurred on IOC’s Labrador West properties since the early 1960s, with associated and long-standing public site access restrictions which has prevented the site’s use for traditional and recreational land use activities.” 5

In other words, the Innu are not expected to face significant project impacts because IOC’s operations have illegally occupied their land for the past 60 years. Is it acceptable that the government’s disregard of Aboriginal rights and land claims in the past can be used against those same groups by corporations who plan to develop projects on Aboriginal land in the future? While there is no debate that IOC/Rio Tinto’s stand to hide behind the law is shameful, ultimately, why isn’t the government held accountable for its role in these events? Doesn’t the government owe the Innu of Quebec more than just silence?

References:

1. Tyler, K J. and Chaffai-Parent, C (2015). Uashaunnuat (Innus de Uashat et de Mani-Utenam) V. Compagnie minière IOC Inc. Retrieved from http://www.blg.com/en/newsandpublications/publication_3955. Accessed on February 7, 2015.

2. IOC/Rio Tinto Pay the Rent (2014). Retrieved from http://ioc-riotinto-innu.com . Accessed on February 1, 2015.

3. Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (2014). “Stones of Shame” returned to IOC/Rio Tinto: Innu First Nations demand that IOC/Rio Tinto pay its rent . Retrieved from http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1420994/-stones-of-shame-returned-to-ioc-rio-tinto-innu-first-nations-demand-that-ioc-rio-tinto-pay-its-rent. Accessed on February 4, 2015.

4. Cardinal, E. (2014). A Decade of Duty to Consult with Aboriginal Peoples. Retrieved from http://www.national.ca/Bold-Thinking/A-Decade-of-Duty-to-Consult-with-Aboriginal-Peoples.aspx. Accessed on February 4, 2015.

5. AMEC Environment & Infrastructure , Iron Ore Company of Canada (2013). Iron Ore Company Of Canada Wabush 3 Open Pit Mine Project Labrador West- Environmental Assessment Registration
 Pursuant to the Newfoundland & Labrador Environmental Protection Act. Description of a Designated Project
Pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/env_assessment/projects/Y2013/1711/registration_1711.pdf . Accessed on February 6, 2015.

6. Brown, J. (2015). Quebec Innu win right to sue Rio Tinto. Canadian Lawyer In House. Retrieved from http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/5418/Quebec-Innu-win-right-to-sue-Rio-Tinto.html . Accessed on February 6, 2015.