January 16, 2002
Canadian Citizens and Investors Favor Corporate Accountability
by William Baue
According to a recent poll, as well as public hearings conducted by a government commission,
Canadians largely support corporate social responsibility.
On January 9, the Canadian Democracy
and Corporate Accountability Commission announced the findings of a poll conducted by Vector
Research between September 28 and October 8, 2001. Vector interviewed 2006 adults aged 18 and
older throughout Canada by telephone. The results suggest that
investors and non-investors alike support the idea of corporate accountability.
In a report on the survey, the commission encapsulated the two extremes of the social
accountability issue. On the one hand, some people believe that a corporation's responsibility is
exclusively financial: to generate profits for its shareowners. On the other hand, some argue that
financial success cannot be divorced from social accountability.
The poll asked
respondents to choose the view they supported the most. In an effort to avoid influencing
respondents, the two views were presented in random order. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of
Canadian citizens chose corporate accountability over pure profit. Of the Canadians that
identified themselves as investors, 74 percent placed greater importance on corporate
accountability. The margin of error in such a sampling is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.
Other results from the poll demonstrate strong support for corporate accountability, both
in the general population and in the investment community. For example, 84 percent of the Canadian
population believes that the federal government should pursue multilateral international agreements
on corporate accountability, or implement unilateral codes if international agreements cannot be
reached. Approximately the same percentage of investors (81 percent) felt the same.
The one area where Canadians expressed skepticism regarding corporate accountability is
consumer commitment. Almost three-quarters of those polled (73 percent) doubted that consumers
would pay more for products and services produced by companies that operate in socially responsible
ways. More than three-quarters of investors (81 percent) believed this to be true as well.
The poll's findings augment information gathered between February and June 2001 at public
hearings held by the commission in seven cities across Canada: Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto,
Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver.
"We invited organizations and individuals from all
sectors of Canadian society . . . to participate," said Susan McMurray, the commission's project
manager. "Accordingly, we heard from organizations that believe that no changes to corporate
accountability are required, as well as those who believe that we need much stronger regulation to
reverse 'corporate rule.' Interestingly, though, the majority of participants had overlapping
For example, most organizations agreed that Canada should promote corporate
accountability globally; at issue was whether it should do so multilaterally or unilaterally. Some
groups proposed that multilateral agreements would promote a more level playing field among
international competitors, while other groups promoted cautious unilateral action.
others argued that the apparent conflict between competitiveness and corporate social
responsibility is a red herring and that, possibly, unilateral progress on corporate accountability
would enhance competitiveness," the commission stated.
"We anticipated discord, but we
also found consensus," said Ms. McMurray. "Most participants, including those from the business
world, strongly agree that as a matter of daily routine, corporate practices must take into account
broader social responsibility. Some companies already do, and at our hearings, Alcan, The Body
Shop, and Shell Canada discussed how they do so, as well as the benefits to their organizations of
doing so. The tougher question, then, was how to help others become more socially responsible."
The commission will address this issue in its final report, which it will release at the
end of January.