Editorial comment.

Author:Prickett, Ruth

There's nothing new about social and environmental reformers campaigning for big business to show a more caring side. For every Dickensian Scrooge or Bounderby who loomed large in Victorian industrial mythology, there were real people like George and Richard Cadbury and William Lever building philanthropic villages such as Bournville and Port Sunlight. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, the emphasis has shifted. On the whole, employees are better protected in most developed countries, and attention has turned to protecting those working for multinationals in developing countries.

And, while ethical arguments about treating your staff fairly wherever they work gain ground among modern-day philanthropists, other, more pragmatic reasons for change are creating some surprising allies. As the focus of campaigns has become more international, investors and insurance companies have started to ask questions about the behaviour of global giants. Closer to home, increasing evidence of worldwide pollution and long-term environmental damage mean that even the most apathetic consumers are starting to worry about what their purchases are doing to their chances of a long, healthy life.

Huge multinationals such as Shell are finding that a single ecological or social blunder can damage their reputation, their share price and even their efforts to recruit and retain talented staff (page 14). As a US court ease looms for multinational companies accused of supporting South Africa's former apartheid government (page 5) and Premier Oil pulls out of Burma, many firms should be asking themselves whether...

To continue reading