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Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Survey shows few believe companies' environment claims

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Human-rights groups and green campaigners believe that the glossy publications companies produce extolling their environmental and social record are unsatisfactory, with fewer than half of groups saying such statements are "believable," a new survey showed yesterday.

Alarmed by the fall-out from public relations disasters such as Brent Spar, companies are embracing the corporate social responsibility movement and its demands that they account for more than just their financial record, according to consultancy Burson-Marsteller.

But its survey of 56 leading lobby groups found that few believe the corporate responsibility statements that companies produce. The statements would be more credible, the lobbyists say, if companies admitted non-compliance, poor performance or significant problems meeting the tough new standards they have set themselves.

"With the growing influence of the NGO (non-governmental organization) community, it's no longer enough for companies to hope that keeping quiet about the challenges they face will make them disappear," said Gavin Grant, managing director of corporate social responsibility at Burson-Marsteller. "NGOs and other stakeholders are more likely to acknowledge progress and success if companies are honest about the challenges they face and the mistakes they make."

Using outside bodies to certify compliance, and providing full information about performance on the different standards helps improve credibility, the survey found.

Some lobbyists argue that the corporate social responsibility movement is no substitute for regulations.

"Coporate responsibility has a very limited role to play because businesses can only justify it if it makes economic sense," said Deborah Doane, head of the corporate accountability program at the New Economics Foundation. "Voluntary efforts just aren't producing the necessary changes in corporate behavior. You need sticks as well as carrots."

The majority of NGOs (66 percent) believe the chief executive, more than any other individual or institution, bears the greatest burden for restoring trust in corporate America.

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