Corporate Social Responsibility – working towards global environmental protection

Can companies be part of the solution when it comes to global environmental protection? This was the guiding question of the KAAD seminar held in Gelsenkirchen from 10 to 13 March 2016. Scholars from more than 20 countries took the opportunity to discuss their countries’ perspectives with experts.

 

Unternehmensverantwortung_1Michael Reckordt presented the potential of sectoral certification schemes and codes of conduct in the mining sector. As a researcher for the Berlin-based organization PowerShift, Reckordt gave the situation in the Philippines and in Brazil special attention. It became clear that civil society plays a crucial role in turning multi-stakeholder processes into success stories. The planning phase of large projects is particularly critical in this regard: Determined and coordinated efforts have to be made to put the environmental concerns of affected local communities on the agenda. International solidarity networks can help to protect local activist against threats. Transnational cooperation also plays a significant role when it comes to developing norms for due diligence by companies along their globalized supply chains.

In any case, credible corporate responsibility efforts should be offering more than an end-of-pipe approach. In his presentation, Stefan Schridde, founder of the civil society organization “MURKS? NEIN DANKE!” passionately challenged CSR approaches that are not addressing the core business of a company, particularly in the field of product development and process organization.

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Planned obsolescence is a telling example of how companies neglect responsibilities in their core business activities: The same companies which fuel the wasteful consumption of resources by using cheap wear-out materials routinely advertise their CSR engagement. It’s time for alternatives, says Schridde: By introducing the innovative business case of the Fairphone, he inspired the seminar participants to form creative “R&D teams” and explore a more resource-friendly product design that puts emphasis on repair and recycling options.

The second seminar day was dedicated to the reflection of ethical principles on which corporate social responsibility efforts rest. Professor Dr. Joachim Wiemeyer from the University of Bochum (RUB), who is a long-serving member of KAAD’s selection committee, elaborated on the core principles of Catholic social teaching on CUnternehmensverantwortung_3SR. According to Wiemeyer, serious voluntary standards always have to meet the test of independent external checks and allow for sanctions. He encouraged the seminar participants to also consider the pressure potential of citizens engaged in economic activities as consumers (sustainable consumption) and bank costumers (ethical investment). Voluntary efforts have a clear potential as they can complement regulatory policy and help develop it further. Working groups on the Papal encyclical Laudato si’ looked deeper into the different dimensions of corporate responsibility for global environmental governance.

The seminar was concluded by a fascinating visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Zeche Zollverein in Essen.