Big oil takes responsibility; Corporate Social Responsibility is sometimes viewed as the philanthropic impulse of big business. Not so, argues Stephen Williams, who reports that significant numbers of oil majors as well as companies operating in other sectors in Africa are realising that engaging with their host communities is good for business.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Corporate Social Responsibility
 
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When industry leaders, ministers and other stakeholders gathered in Madrid in July for one of the most important of the world's oil and gas industry meetings, the World Petroleum Congress (WPC), this three-yearly event had a number of special features. Not only did it coincide with Spain, the host country, winning the European Cup on the evening of the WPC's opening gala dinner, contributing a festive feel to the occasion, but great attention was paid throughout the congress to the issues surrounding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

A special two-hour CSR session was incorporated into the WPC's proceedings. Given that 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it was deemed appropriate that the discussion, moderated by Lionel Jospin, the former French prime minister, should focus on this particular aspect of CSR.

The session's speakers included Rilwanu Lukman, former secretary-general of OPEC and Nigeria's one-time presidential advisor on oil and gas, and Georg Kell, executive director of the UN's Global Compact (UNGC).

Once thought of as simply a charitable afterthought, CSR is now a mainstream consideration in the business plans of major corporations.

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This is largely due to the vision of the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan who, while addressing the 1999 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, challenged world business leaders to help build the social and environmental pillars to sustain the new global economy and make globalisation work for all the peoples of the world.

Annan's call led to the launch of the UNGC in 2000. The UNGC works closely with six other UN departments within four main areas, specifically the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. Those UN departments are the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Environment Programme, the ILO, UNDP, UNIDO and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

In effect, the UNGC acts as a network, linking together not only the work of the six UN departments but its membership in national and regional affiliations. The networks' knowledge of the local business environment and its familiarity with social, cultural and political factors are positive drivers for the implementation of collective action and the UNGC's 10 principles (see panel, right) that fall under the four main areas listed above.

The UNGC is a voluntary not a regulatory instrument. It does not police or enforce the behaviour or actions of companies. Rather, it is designed to stimulate change and to promote good corporate citizenship and encourage...

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