May 28, 2003
Religious Institutions Issue Benchmarks for Corporate Social Responsibility Performance
by William Baue
A global coalition of religious activists have published the third edition of a comprehensive set
of guidelines for corporate social and environmental performance.
Last week, religious activists from around the world released a set of benchmarks by which
companies and their stakeholders can measure corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance.
The Principles for Global Corporate
Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance provides a comprehensive
blueprint to guide companies' adoption of, and activists' advocacy for, CSR best practice. The
Bench Marks address broad issues such as environmental protectionism and specific issues
such as guaranteeing access to affordable pharmaceuticals, including HIV/AIDS medications.
Although the Bench Marks spring from a faith-based context, they address the
ecumenical issues inherent to operating businesses on a global scale, such as worker and human
rights protections. They also arrive well-tested. The Washington, DC-based Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), which helped
author the first edition of the principles in 1995, has used the Bench Marks to guide its
shareowner action at more than a dozen companies.
"For example, ICCR members have worked
with the Gap
(ticker: GPS) on sweatshop labor conditions in Gap supplier factories and helped set up independent
monitoring groups in Central America," said Rev. David M. Schilling, ICCR's director of global
corporate responsibility. The Bench Marks call for adherence to International Labor
Organization (ILO) standards as well as Universal Declaration of Human Rights conventions.
The Bench Marks have informed ICCR's filing of shareowner resolutions and communications
with other institutional investors on CSR advocacy. As well, they provided the vocabulary for
dialogue with top executives at such diverse companies as Disney (DIS), ExxonMobil (XOM), Ford (F), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Nike (NKE), Unocal (UCL), and
The London-based Ecumenical Council on
Corporate Responsibility (ECCR), which co-authored the benchmarks' first edition, used the 1998
second edition of the Bench Marks as a platform for its CSR reports on BP (BP), Beyond Innovation,
and Shell (RD),
Telling Shell. ECCR used the 2003 Bench Marks text for its CSR report on Astra Zeneca (AZN).
This current third edition is the product of a steering committee that met in South Africa
in October 2002. Whereas the previous two editions were the work of representatives from developed
countries in the northern hemisphere, the steering committee added the perspectives of
representatives of developing regions from the southern hemisphere.
A May 2000 study by
the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility of Canada (TCCR--now known as KAIROS-Canada) revealed much room for
improvement in CSR practice. The study, entitled Corporate Social & Environmental
Responsibility: Commitment, Conduct & Transparency, used the Bench Marks framework to assess
CSR practices at eight Canadian companies, including Placer Dome (PDG), Shell Canada,
The report found that seventy-five percent of the companies studied exhibited an
unacceptable level of implementation of CSR practices as outlined in the Bench Marks framework.
Besides guiding shareowner action and companies' CSR practice, the Bench Marks may
influence the composition of other CSR rating and reporting mechanisms. A November 2000 TCCR
report evaluated Global Reporting
Initiative (GRI) Guidelines, which represent the international yardstick for CSR reporting,
compared to the criteria outlined in the Bench Marks. The report found that GRI guidelines
adequately assess companies operating in relatively stable social and economic situations.
"However, in contexts of social unrest, pervasive and enduring economic disparity, or where
persistent and systematic violations of human rights occur, GRI Guidelines need greater
definitional substance," stated Daniel Gennarelli, corporate issues researcher and policy advocate
at KAIROS. "Our analyses called for improvements in social performance content, particularly in
specifying comportment to international human rights and labour standards, and the inclusion of
reporting considerations for social justice principles and Indigenous community expectations."
"The newly revised Bench Marks may be used to assess again the adequacy of the
August 2002 Draft of the GRI," Mr. Gennarelli added.