NEW YORK CITY — Mega corporations have attracted a lot of negative attention lately with recent scandals surrounding the unsafe and miserable conditions in overseas sweatshops, like the factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 workers, or the multiple suicides and attempted suicides at Foxconn factories where Apple, Samsung, Sony, and Dell electronics were made.
Consumers and workers alike are also hearing more talk of socially responsible changes from the highest levels of these big businesses, but that may just be another clever ploy to spin bad news into positive press. The reality on the ground remains far removed from the promises on the surface, according to a new report by the UN Global Compact.
When 8,000 companies announced that they were on-board with the UNGC’s list of standards for human rights and environmental responsibility, it certainly looked like progress in the way they do business. However, the changes that would fall in line with these 10 principles largely remain to be seen.
The report indicates that over 80 percent of these big companies that have expressed a willingness to comply with the standards said that their inability to do so lies in their supply chains, with only 18 percent of suppliers implementing the goals, and just 9 percent of suppliers willing to verify that they made changes at all. “Companies need to move from a defensive approach–just codifying something in their requirements–to a proactive one, where they’re exploring capacities and providing investment,” said the executive director of the Global Compact, Georg Kell.
For now, people who want to see socially responsible changes in big business can at least see progress in the sheer fact that thousands of companies have signed on with the Global Compact, which is “more like a guide dog than a watch dog.” All companies that have gained membership with the Global Compact must submit annual progress reports to show they are acting in line with the standards, or face expulsion.
Approximately 4,000 companies have already been dropped, resulting in a kind of “public shaming” in the media that would hopefully encourage greater accountability for members. Kell says that reaching a critical mass with corporate members is still far off, but more participants would ultimately result in real change. “The great majority [of companies]are still sitting on the fence. They are still pretending that these issues don’t matter to them and that it’s the business of governments to worry about these issues.”
– Jennifer Bills