Multinational companies’ attempts to talk up their social and environmental responsibility are so misleading that they are preventing progress towards a sustainable future, according to a University of St Andrews study.
Professor Jan Bebbington, one of the Scottish Executive’s leading environment advisers, found that less than 4% of the world’s 50,000 major companies produce reports on corporate social responsibility and that the quality of the reports is almost, universally, trivial.
A forthcoming study with fellow Professor Rob Gray claims most companies’ claims to be ‘green’ are crass and that ‘assurances’ that they have properly assessed their social and environmental impacts are useless and, often, highly misleading.
Professor Bebbington, based in the University’s School of Management, is a member of First Minister Jack McConnell’s Cabinet subcommittee on sustainable development. She was also one of the main speakers in a series of environmental debates at The Big Tent 2006, a festival of stewardship and sustainability held in Fife at the weekend.
Professor Bebbington said, “Unless we change the way the world is organised, we risk even greater social injustice and more ecological disasters. Driven by globalisation, problems of pollution, waste and global warming are all threatening to disrupt humanity in unprecedented ways. Controlling the multinational corporations that cause some of these problems is not going to be easy”.
Calling for more regulation, Professor Bebbington admitted that small but important glimmers of progress are being made in Scotland with the introduction of strategic environmental assessments and calculating ecological footprints. Her study was praised by the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE), which brings together campaign groups including Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and Amnesty International.
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