Exposing the CSR Pretenders

Exposing the CSR Pretenders

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 4 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

“Industrialism created a limitless appetite for resource exploitation, and modem science provided the ethical and cognitive license to make such exploitation possible, acceptable, and desirable” – Vandana Shiva

Can Big Tobacco ever be responsible? British American Tobacco (BAT) have engaged in extensive stakeholder consultation exercises and, since 2001, their businesses in more than 40 markets have produced Social Reports, many of which have won awards from organisations as diverse as the United Nations Environment Programme, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants. BAT has also been ranked in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the FTSE Ethical Bonus Index and Business in the Community (BITC) Corporate Responsibility Index, and they funded Nottingham University’s International Centre for CSR.

Yet this is the industry where, in 1994, the CEOs of 7 of America’s largest tobacco companies[1] testified before the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment of Congress, all denying that cigarettes are addictive. They lied under oath. And this is the business that, according to the World Health Organization, kills more than AIDS, legal drugs, illegal drugs, road accidents, murder and suicide combined.’ Of everyone alive today, 500 million will eventually be killed by smoking, and while 0.1 billion people died from tobacco use in the 20th century, ten times as many will die in the 21st century. Isn’t responsible tobacco an oxymoron?

Of course, it’s not just Big Tobacco. What about Big Oil? This is the industry that set up and funded the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) to lobby against the emerging consensus of climate science and policy development until it was embarrassed into disbanding in 2002. A 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, entitled Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air, documented how ExxonMobil adopted the tobacco industry’s disinformation tactics, as well as some of the same organisations and personnel, to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue. According to the report, ExxonMobil funnelled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organisations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.

Or what about BP? In 2000, the company reportedly spent $7 million in researching the new ‘Beyond Petroleum’ Helios brand and $25 million on a campaign to support the brand change. Greenpeace concluded at the time that ‘this is a triumph of style over substance. BP spent more on their logo this year than they did on renewable energy last year’. Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil (2008), is similarly sceptical, claiming that at its peak, BP was spending 4% of its total capital and exploratory budget on renewable energy and that this has since declined. That’s even before we factor in the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005, or the catastrophic Gulf spill in 2010, or BP’s ongoing investments in the Alberta tar sands. Isn’t sustainable oil a contradiction?

While many of these examples – and I could cite countless more, from automotive, agricultural, chemicals and other industries – are a little more than the familiar toxic mix of old-fashioned dirty lobby tactics, many companies today in engage in far more subtle and seemingly plausible campaigns of misdirection – investing in environmental management systems, producing  …


[1] Philip Morris U.S.A., RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, U.S. Tobacco, American Tobacco Company,  Lorillard Tobacco Company, Liggett Group, Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company

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Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) Exposing the CSR Pretenders, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 27 October 2011.

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