Corporate SA and supply chain accountability

The Nineties saw a worldwide increase in consumer awareness about corporate accountability in terms of labour practices and human rights in the workplace.

Non-governmental lobby groups and society itself increasingly started holding corporations accountable for how they created profits, and brands that were caught out for sweat-shopping and trade-zone related labour shortcuts suffered serious reputation damage.

As South Africa prepares for a massive influx of tourists and potential foreign investors in 2010, companies will do well to start planning early for the next regulatory and reputational hurdle: Supply Chain Carbon Accountability.

Brand image vs. labour reality
Household brands, even those as progressive as The Body Shop, have suffered bad publicity on account of dubious chemical usage and animal testing in the past. The brand’s negative exposure was compounded by the fact that
the company had engineered an exceedingly socially accountable brand image from day one.

This child labour scandal compelled the chain and its founder, the late Anita Roddick, to make some serious changes in order to fight loss in market and share value. Their efforts are credited to have helped eradicate child labour, and earned the brand a lasting reputation as an ethical cosmetics retailer and a “force of good” in the world. 

 Similarly, American favourite Kathie Lee Gifford got caught red-handed for sweat-shopping and the use of child labour, and had to clean up her act – virtually overnight.

Outsourcing the problem
In an effort to subvert this Nineties consumer-driven outcry, many companies pointed out that they didn’t employ full-time production workers, in an attempt to shirk responsibility for sub-minimum wages and shocking workplace conditions.

What the consumer says goes
But consumers weren’t having any of it; buying power is as powerful a tool as political voting, and “brand scandals” such as these dramatically curbed exploitative labour practises.  

 NGOs took to using “name and shame” tactics, and companies soon started learning from their competitors’ mistakes.

Further bolstered by more rigorous legal and regulatory restrictions, supply chain accountability became a key consideration in the allocation of tenders and production accounts – both nationally and in foreign jurisdictions.

By the same token, it will only be a matter of time before carbon-neutral production and full supply chain accountability becomes a regulatory requirement, and hence an even greater reputational risk factor for organisations.

Can your organisation afford to be known as a carbon criminal?
Would you really like to find out how your share value will hold up if a respected NGO’s investigation showed that your company – or your supply chain – is the biggest producer of carbon dioxide in your sector or city?

Wouldn’t you rather play it safe and commit to carbon offsetting before your competitors do?

Putting your money where your mouth is pays
In recent years, European countries and corporations have spearheaded a drive towards greater environmental accountability. Big names such as Marks & Spencer, for example are setting the benchmark with a £500 million, 5-year plan to become a 100% carbon-neutral retailer by 2012.

The positive publicity the brand received for addressing the climate crisis has been stupendous.

Your organisation only stands to gain by enforcing carbon accountability in-house and all the way down its supply chain.

Why not become an “early adopter” and build a progressive reputation for your company?

Keep reading SA Climate Crisis for more information on creating an organisational framework for carbon accountability, and be sure to sign up for our carbon-neutral RSS feed.

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Climate change and the future: How bleak is REALLY bleak?

In most civilised countries, it is quite a hard thing to explain to people how bad things are going to get if they don’t start changing their ways. In South Africa, it is even harder, because we’re already largely living a worst-case scenario on a daily basis.

Who needs environmental headaches when you have crime, corruption and Aids? 

When I quote Friends of the Earth and say that, at the rate we’re emitting carbon dioxide now, the number of climate refugees will climb from 1 million people in 1990 to 70 million in 2080, you tell me that it’s a subsidiary issue when you consider that the average person that’s alive today in SA will not live much past their 40th birthday, thanks to Aids and Extreme Drug Resistant TB.

You tell me that the climate crisis can kiss it because the biggest cause of death among men aged 30 and younger today is caused by trauma – gun, knife and car accident related – not pathetic little 5% rises in global temperatures every century or so.

Yet influential thinkers and scientists such as Al Gore and his climate change expert panel agree that with global warming comes more floods – and more long-term droughts.

My dad’s problems are bigger than yours
Now when you consider that 70% of all Africans are farmers, and that 40% of their exports are agriculture-related, that leaves but millions of very poor people very vulnerable to climate-related catastrophes.

Add to that the fact that 60 – 80% of African cash is spent on food, and you have a very bleak future risk picture at hand.

To you, it’s just 0.2 to .5% warmer per decade. To the average third world state’s citizen, it is the difference between harvesting crops and reaping the whirlwind.

Now whether you choose to do something about global warming for the sake of the civil-war-crippled poor living in coastal areas of countries like Mozambique, or whether you want to leave your children’s children a planet that can sustain them;

Whether you do it for ethical reasons or simply to feel better about your smoking habit, it is time to start doing something proactive.

For those of you that can recall the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), our man Bush gave the entire proceedings the stubby dry finger and kept pumping carbon dioxide like there’s no tomorrow. (Please see below.Fuck you, Third World!)

 And the way America’s going, that’s fast becoming a possibility.

When will the world stand up and demand the enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol’s stipulations?

When will the very notion of “carbon credits” be abolished?

And before all this happens, will you be protesting in the streets? Will you be teaching your children climate struggle songs and how to burn furniture?

Carbon accountability is as much up to the individual as it is to corporates and ruling parties in developed countries, and voting is powerful. As a medium for civil expression, it has the power to overthrow corrupt regimes.

It has the power to change everything.

Now the question is: If there was a political party that skipped the politicking and ID-style voter base pimping, a party that had the balls to take on industry and challenge government to drive carbon accountability at ALL levels, would they get your vote when next the elections rolled round?

Or would you keep on wasting your vote towards furthering individual politicians’ careers?

Yes, it IS political!
There’s no black and white when it comes to climate change, but it sure as hell is a key politicial issue that will directly affect the poorest of the poor worse than anybody else.

Aids will kill millions in the present, yet planetary failure will wipe out the possibility of a future.

Are you ready to take ownership of global warming as the single most critical challenge facing us as a generation? Or are you going to keep on supporting the Boks and drink SAB?

NOW who’s your daddy?

And now that I’ve totally killed your mojo for the day, you can get it back by sharing this piece of doom and gloom with the guy in your office that drives the biggest urban 4×4 to work on his ace every morning.

Individual accountability, remember? Yes aye!

And remember to CC in the entire holdings company – let’s expose the carbon criminals in our midst!

Fuck you, (Third) World!

Carbon neutrality: the next step in corporate accountability

Carbon footprint, you say?

The good folks at Wikipedia define a carbon footprint as the total amount of Co2 and other so-called greenhouse gasses emitted during the full life cycle of a product or service – or as a direct result of delivering these.

The deal with carbon footprints

Each person has a carbon footprint, an environmental impact on global warming as a whole, based on the fact that we drive cars running on fossil fuels, we produce waste that emits carbon dioxide during the disposal period, and we go through reams of paper that reduce the number of trees.

Heavy industries and primary producers obviously have a heavier footprint than service sector businesses and individual consumers, yet they nonetheless contribute to these industries’ carbon footprint by consuming their products.

Essentially, the carbon issue is everybody’s baby.

But what if my organisation is predominantly service-focused?

Realistically, primary production industries stand to make the greatest contribution through the optimisation of energy efficiencies and the reduction of emissions, yet it is also up to corporate and individual consumers to utilise products and services in a carbon-conscious way.

In Europe, carbon neutrality is fast becoming as big an advocacy and compliance issue as ethical labour outsourcing had been in the Nineties. Even in South Africa, corporate sustainability reporting already forms an integral component of shareholder communications.

And, as it turns out, there’s some serious money to be made from the global carbon market.

Getting on the green bus

UK retailer Marks & Spencer, for example, has unveiled a £200m, five-year plan to become carbon neutral by 2012. Given the fact that carbon neutrality is very likely to become a mandatory regulatory requirement in future, this early adoption has earned M&S incredibly positive publicity, and positioned them as a future-oriented, environmentally conscious and progressive retailer.

That’s setting the bar pretty damn high.

Reduction vs. offsetting

In brief, the distinction is the following:

You can reduce your own carbon footprint by being more energy-efficient. Think lift club to work, green cars, less plastic shopping bags and low-energy appliances.

Carbon offsetting involves activities that counter carbon emissions. It’s the process of neutralising your carbon impact by making up for it elsewhere.

For the sake of brevity, it involves this:

A shovel, a seedling, a hole in the ground and you.

That’s it!

Planting a tree is not only ridiculously good eco-Karma, but a great work-out too.  If you have a patch of soil to your name, populate it with trees – and if you don’t, go plant one somewhere where it won’t get you arrested.

And if it could – well, then don’t get caught.

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Outsourcing: what about environmental accountability?

In business, and especially when it comes to the outsourcing of production, the following truism is used as a benchmark for commercial success: Delivery must happen – right on time, right on price, and right in terms of quality.

Yet nowhere is there a clause stating that all production processes must be strictly carbon neutral, and precious few South African outsourcers are concerned with anything beyond turning a profit and keeping staffing headaches to a minimum.

Not yet, in any event.

A carbon footprint? What a vague and wishy-washy Greenpeace concept.

What about minimum wage thresholds for outsource labourers?

What about bilateral empowerment deals and non-sweatshop, non-firetrap working conditions for “outsource employees” in foreign jurisdictions?

“Check.”

Now that you’ve established that your company’s outsourcing does not constitute a human rights violation, are you sure that its tight-fisted negotiation of outsourcing contract fees isn’t forcing suppliers to resort to non-environmentally friendly tactics in order to eek out a living?

Does your company’s level of payment enable suppliers to afford replacing their banged-up 1970s vehicle fleet with more modern, fuel-economical and environmentally friendly delivery vehicles?

Or do you leave your suppliers no option but to keep driving them into the ground?

Cost-effectiveness can be an acutely short-sighted consideration.

Take action

Start investigating how you can empower your production line and outsourced suppliers to deliver – on time, within budget and carbon neutral in terms of environmental sustainability. Then take your finding and get key role players to champion the cause.

The WWF carbon footprint calculator isn’t a bad place to start. Also visit trees.co.za for inspiration how your company could get involved with Food and Trees for Africa, South Africa’s sole national non-government, non-profit, greening organisation. 

Defining “atrocity” in environmental terms

Let’s play a little game with words today.

My Oxford English dictionary defines an atrocity as “an extremely cruel or wicked act”. Given this definition, let us assume that “cruel” serves to describe the nature of the act in question, whilst “wicked” refers more to the intrinsic nature of the agent committing the act, i.e.:

  • “Cruel” – describes nature of act itself
  • Wicked – describes nature of agent committing act

Given the traditional and commonly understood characteristics locked up inside the word “wicked”, the word can also be said to connote an intent that is malicious, or evil.

So far so good.

Given this awareness of intent, being wicked therefore per definition also means being conscious of your own wickedness, and of what you’re doing to others.

Now imagine that in a beautiful place such as the Bazaruto Archipelago (just off the coast of Mozambique), for example, a company – let’s call them Sasol – is scouring the shallow island waters in search of hydro-carbon deposits by means of high-decibel explosions of compressed air.

These seismic soundings are fired off every 9 – 12 seconds, on a 24/7 basis, for three months at a time, and seem to traumatise resident dolphins and dugongs – an endangered and enigmatic mammal species – to the point that they beach and die. In droves.

Although nothing is proven yet, the signs point to the seismic testing being responsible. As any self-respecting and politically correct neo-imperialist would do, however, Sasol places the tests on hold, and – wait for it – funds a study of dugons and their habitat.

At this point, Sasol knows that they may be stress-torturing the dugongs and dolphins of Bazaruto in an aural-tactile fashion. That is to say, they ARE AWARE of the fact that they may have been committing ACTS OF CRUELTY.

Bye-bye Dugong

Should Sasol choose to continue their operations – and they seem dead keen to – the environmental impact should logically be far worse than that of the testing only. There would remain a strong possibility that their operational expansion in Bazaruto would then rightfully be described as an atrocity, and that Sasol, by implication, would be a wicked company – regardless of any assessment study’s findings.

(Or that would be the case if you buy into this blog’s earlier unpacking of the concept.)

Given the fact that there are only  about 200 Bazaruto dugongs left –the only viable population in the region – would it be too much to ask for Sasol to show some respect?

If not,we would all be compelled to get out there and tell our friends and fellow energy consumers exactly why we think that Sasol’s “reaching new frontiers” motto is atrocious.