Getting CSR On the Corporate Agenda

published in CSR Wire, 2002
At the recent Business for Social Responsibility conference in Seattle, several speakers and attendees held the title of Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility. While the title isn’t new, it is not yet prevalent in among multinational companies. Case studies of two major companies from the US and Canada illustrate that incorporating a corporate social responsibility position within a company is a process unique to each company and dependent on the dedication of the spokesperson for the issue within that company.Corporate Responsibility Officer Jeff Zalla says Chiquita’s move to write and publish its first social report was the result of a three-year process led by an internal steering committee that began with a review of the company’s core values in 1998.Steven Warshaw, who had just been promoted to President and COO, wanted to leverage a common set of values to align the management team across all of Chiquita’s business units. “We set out to prove to ourselves – and to our critics – that we were indeed achieving the highest possible social and environmental standards,” said Warshaw. Chiquita already had years of experience in getting its farms certified to the standards of the Rainforest Alliance’s Better Banana Project, and as it expanded its code of conduct in 2000, it adopted the SA8000 labor standard.Zalla’s own role evolved along with Chiquita’s program. He leads the Company’s steering committee and became full-time Corporate Responsibility Officer when Chiquita issued its new code. About a year later, he also became Chiquita’s VP, corporate communications, about the time Chiquita issued its first Corporate Responsibility Report. Within Chiquita, the two roles are intrinsically tied and dependent on one another. As VP corporate communications, he handles both internal and external communications. And a vital part of those communications to both internal and external stakeholders is the CSR side, where Zalla handles the measurement, verification, accountability, communication and reporting energy and chemicals company based in Calgary, Laura de Jonge holds the title of Integrity Coordinator, Safety, Environment & Social Responsibility.

De Jonge says she was offered her position in part due to her participation in an employee loaning program to the United Way. With a long history in community activism, de Jonge first worked for the company on contract in its legal department. In a strong move, she voiced her opinion to upper management, the company’s Vice President, General Counsel that her interpersonal skills could be used to better serve the company and pointed out that “the human side of business was something in which she wanted to become more involved.”

She was subsequently sent as a representative of the Company to the United Way’s loaning program. This program involved 40 loaned staff from Calgary companies who worked with 40 full-time United Way staff during its annual campaign. Together, they raised money to fund programs throughout the community. During her tenure there, de Jonge was able to work with a number of community service organizations, an experience, which serves her in her current position as Integrity Coordinator.

As Integrity Coordinator, de Jonge played an instrumental role in establishing and heading up a company-wide Integrity Team. The team is comprised of well-respected employees from each division, who are responsible for reviewing policy and making sure the Company and its employees could “walk the talk.” Last year, the team developed a workshop on integrity, which was delivered to approximately 2,000 employees worldwide. The Company’s approach also was the result of its involvement in the development of the International Code of Ethics for Canadian Business in 1997. Since then, Nexen also has committed to the UN Global Compact and other global initiatives. “Our CEO realizes the importance of having every employee know what we stand for and having an open channel to voice when values aren’t being met,” said de Jonge.

Two companies; two methods of incorporating CSR. One from the vision of the CEO coupled with concern about the media and brand reputation; the other, the strong voice of an employee, committed to stakeholder engagement and supported by senior management in putting CSR principles into practice.

Barbara Burton is an author/columnist and specialist on corporate social responsibility issues. She is the first US graduate ofAA-1000, a course on the process of social and ethical accounting, auditing and reporting, sponsored by the London-based Institute of Social and Ethical AccountAbility.