Power Shifts: How Natural Disasters, Political Turmoil, and Economic Transitions Impact Corporate Responsibility
The following is an excerpt from the AccountAbility CR Intelligence Briefing -- a monthly report prepared for AccountAbility Members. Learn more about the benefits of membership.
The TakeAway: Social and environmental upheavals create “opportunity gaps” that companies can fill with innovative programs and strategies that forge new partnerships with other practitioner disciplines, along with diplomatic, humanitarian, and civil society groups – possibly even the military – to alleviate suffering, uphold human rights, and jumpstart disrupted economies.
Since January, two regions critical to the world economy have undergone massive upheaval. In the Middle East, collective social action driven by the unquenchable thirst for freedom and self-rule produced political instability in ways unimagined by even the most knowledgeable experts. In Japan, a triple whammy of earthquake / tsunami / and nuclear disasters produced a stunning scale of human loss. The former offers a glimpse of a future of reconfigured political systems. The latter put us on notice that that power failures – affecting not just energy but also leadership and governance – can have catastrophic consequences far beyond our best-laid readiness plans—that is, if we even have them.
As of this writing, events are still unfolding in Japan, so it’s too early to tell the full magnitude of devastation, much less what “recovery” means. Japan’s economic uncertainties aren’t just domestic; they have a ripple effect throughout the world. However, this CR Intelligence Report will concentrate on the wave of revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and beyond, and what it means for building sustainable economic enterprise. As the euphoria of newfound victory gives way to the realism of regime blowback, it’s time to ponder the region’s future and the role corporate responsibility might play in opening opportunities for sustainable prosperity, peace, and stability.
Indeed, the private sector can help cultivate local institutions, civil society, and an ethic of entrepreneurialism. In concert with NGOs, educational institutions, and other actors, business can help bring the Arab states into the 21st century, shifting from autocratic rule to a culture of innovation. Drawing on their own experience as economic agents committed to core principles of ethics and sustainability, enlightened companies can help tackle the region’s basic needs for food, water, health services, and housing, as well as developmental needs in the following areas:
- JOBS: including sustainable job creation, fair hiring practices, labor rights, wage parity, and social entrepreneurship—particularly for young people;
- HUMAN RIGHTS: including gender equality and free expression in a digital age (for example, via the Global Network Initiative). This June, the UN will consider the “Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN Protect, Respect, and Remedy Framework”, the final stage in a project begun in 2005 when Harvard’s John Ruggie was appointed Special Representative of the UN’s Secretary General (SRSG) for business and human rights. The “Ruggie Report” reflects dozens of multi-stakeholder consultations and commentary on the Protect, Respect, and Remedy Framework, and its applications.
- SUSTAINABLE TECHNOLOGY AND LIFESTYLES: including sustainable investments; sustainable agriculture, and sustainable consumption.
But first, a look at cause and context . . .