Church groups launch corporate code of conduct
Church groups from around the world have launched a global corporate code of conduct that will be used to help determine whether their investment arms should buy or shun shares in corporations working in developing countries.
"Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance" which has taken ten years to produce, addresses a wide range of issues faced by the corporate social-responsibility movement, including sweatshop labour, pollution control and access to affordable drugs.
It also calls for corporations to ensure adequate and continuing consultation with the local communities where they invest, to ensure that their operations are understood and supported by the people most directly affected by them.
The code was itself the product of consultations between church groups in the North with their counterparts and other NGOs in poor countries, according to Rev. David Schilling, director of global corporate responsibility at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) in New York.
"There is a strong emphasis on the dignity of the individual person and the sustainability of local communities," he said in a global teleconference with journalists."
"That differentiates this initiative from those, like the UN's Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative and other codes."
The corporate responsibility movement, which began when the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s pressed major U.S. and other western-based corporations to withdraw from South Africa, has become an ever-more prominent part of the business landscape, particularly since the end of the Cold War.
The ICCR, which played a key role in mobilising shareholders in many U.S. corporations to join the anti-apartheid struggle, has become an association of 275 faith-based institutional investors, including national denominations, religious communities, pension funds, endowments, hospital corporations and other entities with a combined portfolio value of about 110 billion dollars.
But its influence goes far beyond that, as money managers and institutional investors-especially union and public-employee pensions funds worth hundreds of billions of dollars-have decided that corporations with poor records on human and worker rights, environmental protection and related issues are often poor investment risks.
About trillion in portfolio assets in the United States are subject to some socially responsible investment (SRI) criteria, according to recent estimates.