New fracking protest tactic in the UK, BMWs electric launch, brands refuse Uzbek cotton and why reputation matters
Get off my land
Greenpeace is hoping to obstruct hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for shale gas in the UK by encouraging use of trespass laws. Greenpeace campaigner Anna Jones says: “Under English law, if you own land, your rights extend to all the ground beneath it. If someone drills under your home without permission, it is trespass.” Fracking companies would have to obtain explicit consent from all landowners, Greenpeace says. Evidence for the claim comes from a legal case involving businessman Mohammed al-Fayad, former owner of Harrods, who in 2010 won compensation for trespass from an oil company that drilled without permission under his Surrey estate. The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change says that oil and gas developers can negotiate access rights with landowners.
A worker-safety accord committed to improving conditions in the factories of Bangladesh reached a 100-brand milestone in October. The three signatories that took the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety past its century are Woolworths Australia, Germany’s Gebra, which makes safety warning products, and international trader Wünsche Group. The accord was established by international unions IndustriALL and UNI in the wake of the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed more than 1,000 textile workers. By signing the accord, brands pledge to make funds available for factory safety upgrades, and that workers will continue to be paid while renovations are taking place.
Food for thought
Hard on the heels of revelations from retail giant Tesco about the amount of supermarket food wasted in the UK, the European commission in Brussels is considering European Union food waste reduction targets. The emphasis would be on cutting waste from the distribution and post-retail stages of the food supply chain, the commission says, meaning most pressure to achieve cuts could fall on supermarkets and consumers. The commission’s proposals could be published by the end of the year. Meanwhile, an October report from the non-profit Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) found that waste from the production of food in the UK outweighed waste arising from its distribution and consumption. In 2011, 4.3m tonnes of food was wasted, but 3.9m tonnes of that is “manufacturing waste”, Wrap says.
BMW has been taken aback by demand for its first electric car, the i3, which will start to be delivered in Europe in November. About 8,000 of the cars have been reserved by customers, exceeding the firm’s expectations. The i3 will sell for about £30,000, and BMW is seeking to soothe “range anxiety,” or concerns that electric vehicles will too quickly run out of power, by offering customers the option of a back-up conventional vehicle that can be used for longer journeys. BMW chief financial officer Friedrich Eichiner says: “If demand holds, and that’s what it is looking like, we will have to invest more.” Electric cars look set to roll out on an ever greater scale: Volkswagen has outlined plans to offer as many as 40 models of electric vehicles.
Concern about forced labour in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan is prompting an increasing number of brands to refuse to buy cotton from the country, according to campaign group the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN). In the run-up to this year’s cotton harvest, Ikea, Marks & Spencer and Canadian sportswear label Lululemon athletica joined 133 other signatories in a pledge against forced labour. As we have reported in Ethical Corporation, each year in Uzbekistan, under a “quasi-feudal” system, state employees, students and even young schoolchildren must help out with the harvest or face punishment. Uzbekistan has this year, for the first time, allowed International Labour Organization inspectors to observe the harvest, though it is “difficult for citizens to speak openly with ILO monitors”, RSN says. Most Uzbek cotton goes to Bangladesh and China, making it hard to assess the effect of the brands’ boycott.
Companies with better reputations for corporate responsibility are much more likely to be recommended by their customers than laggards, according to the 2013 CSR RepTrack 100 study, carried out by US-based consultancy the Reputation Institute. The RepTrack survey, covering 55,000 consumers globally, found that 73% would recommend companies perceived to be “delivering on corporate social responsibility”, but only 17% would recommend companies seen to be “poorly delivering”. The companies with the world’s best reputations, according to the study, are Microsoft, Disney, BMW and Google. “Companies must recognise that creating social value is a prerequisite to creating business value. That makes monitoring and quantifying the returns on CR essential,” the Reputation Institute says.
Zurich-headquartered Credit Suisse has launched what it says is the world’s first stock market tracking index to follow the performance of companies with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) friendly policies. The index follows US companies that score high on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which benchmarks corporate policies and practices on LGBT employees. Companies tracked by the index include Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Wells Fargo. Timothy O’Hara, Credit Suisse global head of equities, says: “Wall Street, and Credit Suisse in particular, has a strong track record of providing leadership and support for LGBT-related issues.”
Practise what you preach?
A number of companies that promote themselves as green business leaders have had their commitment to sustainability brought into question by signing a letter to President Obama calling for the approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The October letter, signed by 168 chief executives, emphasises the need to boost economic recovery and enhance US competitiveness, and says environmental concerns could “be managed”. Signatories include the leaders of GE, Siemens and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which compiles the Carbon Disclosure Project’s indexes. Critics say the letter demonstrates business hypocrisy when it comes to reducing emissions and combating global warming. The Keystone XL pipeline would transport emissions-intensive oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Texas Gulf coast.brands CSR news Fracking reputation Sustainability news