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August 04, 2004
Can Corporate Social Responsibility Put the Brakes on HIV in Africa?
    by William Baue

A field report from Africa by Dan Rosan of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.


A hair-raising ride on a two-lane road, passing truckers who carry cargo in their trailers and HIV in their bodies, delivering both throughout Africa. A visit to the world's largest anti-retroviral-dispensing clinic in Botswana, where four doctors and eleven nurses handle ten thousand patients. A visit to a Kenyan orphanage where HIV- and tuberculosis-infected children visit their fallen friends out back in a cemetery blanketed by wildflowers. Meetings with representatives from corporations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in heavily guarded office buildings in Johannesburg, well insulated from the violent street-crime outside.

These are just some of the experiences of the past several weeks for Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) Program Director for Public Health Dan Rosan. He is on a fact-finding mission on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the private sector in Africa. Mr. Rosan has met with corporations such as Coca-Cola (ticker: KO), PepsiCo (PEP), ExxonMobil (XOM), ChevronTexaco (CVX), Proctor & Gamble (PG), and Ford (F). He has also met with nongovernmental organizations such as AIDS Law Project, Catholic Relief Services, Doctors Without Borders, and Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network.

Mr. Rosan will write up his findings in a proprietary document for ICCR members, who are funding the trip, to inform their shareowner action strategies for resolutions filed in the upcoming proxy season. An executive summary of this document will be publicly released in September. In the meanwhile, he is publishing travel sketches on his weblog (or "blog").

In it he writes, "you can't understand AIDS in Africa without trucking" and "truckers have been a major vector for HIV since the beginning, and several people I have met on this journey whose family has been devastated by HIV had fathers who were drivers." How can the private sector best address problems clustering around transportation and HIV transmission?

"It is very difficult to figure out who should be responsible for their protection, because most truckers own their trucks and work as contractors, without access to regular medical care and often without stopping at any particular worksite, such as a bottler or a car factory, with frequency," Mr. Rosan told SocialFunds.com. "Nonetheless, the widespread HIV prevalence among truckers is a major risk factor for companies operating here, because there is literally no other way to move products around the continent."

"An example of best practice for companies dealing with HIV would be education and prevention messages given out in a systematized way, so every time a trucker picks up cargo he is exposed to the message--which for many companies includes condom distribution and addressing the issue of paid sex work," Mr. Rosan continued.

According to Mr. Rosan, many public health experts have recommended another simple solution: keep workers close to their families.

"That would imply short haul trucking, where drivers hand off loads rather than stay with their same load for a week or more--this reduces the uptake of paid sex work dramatically, and it applies not only to truckers, but also miners and other highly mobile workforces," Mr. Rosan said. "Unfortunately, I am not aware of efforts to implement such a program."

Companies are, however, successfully addressing HIV and other problems by creating synergies between their philanthropy programs and the corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

"For example, when companies fund community projects where their workers live, and workplace HIV/AIDS programs, they strengthen both programs--so the impact on protecting productivity is higher than either program by itself," Mr. Rosan said.

Companies outsourcing CSR programs to NGOs is a widespread practice, but "the jury is still out for me on its effectiveness," Mr. Rosan said.

Furthermore, large companies may be missing an opportunity to influence their suppliers and customers, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who do not have the capacity to carry out their own full-fledged CSR programs and could use help.

"Unfortunately, large companies don't seem to have realized how to integrate CSR into those upstream and downstream business relationships," Mr. Rosan said.

As of September 2003, the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) required all listed companies to comply with second King Report on Corporate Governance for South Africa. King II, as it is commonly known, calls for corporate governance best practice, such as the use of Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines for disclosing social and environmental performance. And earlier this year, the JSE launched a socially responsible investment (SRI) index.

"No one has been able to give me much insight into the question of what visible effects these initiatives are having on corporate practice on the ground--the answer seems to be, 'it is too soon to tell,'" Mr. Rosan concluded.

 

 
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