Sponsorship Ethics: National Conference 2010
Call for input and feedback - YOUR OPINION the sources of funding for this conference.
Something that really bothered me last year when I attended conference was the big Shell Oil emblem that was being displayed everywhere. Shell Oil has a pretty bad track record, especially in Africa (see quotes & links below).
So I started asking questions:
"What do we do about this?
-->We are Canadian university students interested in ensuring that prosperity, sustainability and social justice and all achieved in the future of Africa (right?).
So why are we partnering with multinational corporations who are contributing to the environmental, social, and economic degradation of Africa?"
Because I am not an expert on the topic, I wanted to open this up to discussion and collaboration.
Please contribute to research on this topic, share it and your opinion below. Let's think about how we can work with this to address these issues at conference this year.
I did a quick little search and found this:
"Shell companies have worsened fighting in the Niger Delta through payments for land use, environmental damage, corruption of company employees and reliance on Nigerian security forces. The action of Shell companies and their staff creates, feeds into, or exacerbates conflict." (Niger and Oil)
"Iko residents told us how Shell's nearby facility had greatly degraded surrounding mangrove areas on which the community was dependent. In the late 1980s, after community members noticed a decline in fish stocks, which they attributed to Shell's oil spills, the community started protesting and requested electricity and clean water.33 Years later Shell promised to provide a "fish pro-cessing plant," an ironic measure considering the impact of oil spills on aquatic life. Oil slicks are visible in some water bodies. Though Shell claims on its website that the company-built facility has been operational since 1996, the facility (an impressive and large building, definitely photo-worthy) stands unfinished, and the community says it has never functioned." (Section three)
Nigeria and Oil
Shell in Nigeria: What are the issues?
SECTION THREE: Oil companies' responses to local communities' protests
I understand that it is necessary to seek funding to make amazing things, such as EWB National Conference, succeed. Although, I think that we need to strike a balance here.
If we are going to accept dirty money, let's make it worth everyone's while. Both our sponsors (Shell & Hatch) opperate in Africa. We are a bunch of bright kids concerned about the future if Africa.
I thought that, instead of boycotting Shell and having no funding for Conference, we could use our intellectual capacity to help them improve their ethical practices.
This could be done in a number of ways (just a few ideas, please ADD):
- Pre-Research and workshops at home in respective chapters.
- A collective campaign run by those who are interested to do research and start this dialogue through myEWB.
- Workshops at the conference: case studies and comparisons and analysis of practices, suggestions for the future.
- Formal suggestions to the CEO and/or key stakeholders (would be more effective to get them there in person).
We are trying to build a movement, right? Why not give our best shot at suggesting changes to the ethics of one of the BIGGEST MULTINATIONALS IN THE WORLD!
I feel that Dan is making a very solid point. We cannot help with CSR unless we work with companies that have room for improvement.
Alluding to the previous points, I think that the only way we can use funds from Shell (or similar sponsors) is if we leverage whatever influence this gives us to inform their higher-ups about what we do, why its important, and how they can (and should!) be a part of this. In this regard, we confort ourselves by asking, "Who better to fund the anti-Shell campaign than Shell?" I support the previous posts in that regard.
Having said this and despite doing everything we can to influence Shell (or similar sponsors)..... there remains a serious danger in accepting this funding. We risk a 'transfer of values' when we collaborate with organizations that have a negative impact on social justice and the environment; that is, our members and potential members receive the impression that the source of funding doesn't matter. Whenever our logos appear in the same place, it sends out the message that Shell not so bad and EWB is not so good. But it's more than just an image thing. It's shameful to imagine that our sponsor might acquire money by exploiting people so that we can attend a conference and bask in the priviledge that is 'discussing' how not to exploit people. My point is that the question is not, WHETHER the source of funding for conference matters (the answer is an unequivocal YES!); rather, the question is HOW we cleanse this money in the short run and long run.
At a conference a few weeks ago I heard some interesting statistics from GlobeScan, a trends analysis company that does a lot of work related to CSR for large corporations. Many responds to the survey (which included people from around the world in the for and not for profit sector) felt that their support of a company would go up if the company partnered with charity. Unfortunately, 46% of people say that support for a charity would go down if they partnered with a company.
This is essentially the paradox we are faced with today. Companies want to sponsor charities out of the goodness of their "hearts" and in order to increase public perception. We, as a charity, at the other end of the stick feel like our support will go down. Will EWBs support actually go down if we partner with "evil" multinationals?
My guess is probably not. As "Engineers" Without Borders it is expected that we will be supported by engineers.
How many of you have, or have friends, that have worked for Shell or Hatch specifically? Off the top of my head I can think of six. How many of our large corporate donors and professional members also work for oil companies or other companies working in developing countries? My guess is more than a few. We, unlike many charities, have members and supporters that work for, and understand, the complexities of making change in these industries - because we are a part of these industries.
If we are going to invest time and resources into CSR we need to be very strategic about how we do it. Should we move resources (money and people) from one of our other outcome areas (http://www.wiki.ewb.ca/en/EWB_outcome_areas) to work on CSR directly?
My vote is on no. There are lots of "anti-everything" groups out there such as:
- Greenpeace http://www.greenpeace.org
- CorporateWatch http://www.corpwatch.org
Can we do nothing? Probably not.
The cool thing about this is that we are doing something. Every time someone who cares about people and the planet goes into engineering because they see the positive impact engineers can have at a SO presentation -- we are doing something. Every time a classroom full of engineering students learns about Root Causes or the challenges of implementation in the "real world" -- we are doing something. Can we do more? Can we do better? Yes, but we need to leverage the strengths that we have. We need to be careful not to spread ourselves to thin or to do what others are doing as well, or better, than we can.
We need to keep doing what we are doing. Painting a picture of what engineering is, and what it can be. Companies like Shell, whether we know it or not, are seeing the world we are creating. A world with engineers that care and seek to serve the world. It is going to take time, and we need to make sure at the end of the road these companies feel like, and were, a part of this movement. I say take all the support we can get. And do what we do -- cause no one else will.
Over and out.
Some good points in the previous post, but I'd have to say disagree with the point that we needn't worry about losing people's support if we partner with "evil" multinationals. Losing support for this reason would be bad, sure, but so would NOT losing support for this reason. I think if we didn't lose support for partnering with shady business, it's no victory..... it means we've failed at getting people to care about CSR.
Past discussion on this topic:
It's good to see this kind of discussion! This issue has come up before, and your concerns are definitely valid. The 2010 Fundraising Team has asked themselves many questions over the past few months: if multinationals were approved as sponsors in previous conferences, do we automatically approve them? Have previous conference teams done the necessary CSR research? Do we have faith that the research of our peers and predecessors was sound and thorough? (As a side note, if I'm not mistaken, we have a multi-year agreement with Shell for sponsorship of the National Conference.)
Now, I won't be able to respond in a more in-depth capacity until I'm up to speed with regards to our Lead sponsor, Hatch. I've done a CSR sweep for a few other companies, but not that one specifically.
During Josh Vanwyck's visit to the MUN chapter last month, we had an extensive conference update meeting, and from that, we decided to organize a way to communicate CSR research to the chapters and delegates. Since we can't reasonably expect to pay EthicScan Canada for their third-party opinion, we have to do the research ourselves. As an offshoot of the Fundraising Team, I have been appointed as the new "Director of CSR Research," and am currently working on producing a CSR report on the Lead, Host, and Platinum sponsors in order to mitigate these kinds of questions, promote independent research and dialogue on the part of chapters and delegates, and increase transparency with regards to how we're picking/approving sponsors.
There will be three components to this: seeking corporate input and provision of info (and subsequently, consent for what we'll be publishing); my own supplementary research to double-check each claim made by each sponsor (i.e. if the info isn't easily accessible, there's no point in mentioning it); and a list of resources that can be used for research by chapter members and delegates (e.g. Jantzi-Maclean's, Corporate Knights, Business and Human Rights, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, etc.). These "requests for CSR information" will follow a general template with a focus on EESG: environmental, economic, social, governance. I'll be looking at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines in order to develop this template (http://www.globalreporting.org).
Keep in mind that CSR initiatives and policies tend to be very different from company to company - they are emphasized to different degrees, and are recognized to different degrees by third-party evaluators/reporting organizations. There is no one overarching, universally agreed upon standard. For instance, the Global 100 list (a project initiated by Corporate Knights Inc.) "does not discriminate on the basis of how companies earn their revenues," which means that both a fast food chain and a weapons manufacturer could theoretically make the cut (http://www.global100.org).
You're right in saying that we, as an organization, can push for change. Obviously, it would take our concerted efforts - not just of the conference team - to make this happen. Whether or not we'll be effective ... well, it could go both ways: we could be more effective since we've partnered with these companies, or we could be less effective since we'd be biting the hand that feeds. Hopefully, at our urging and with our help, Shell will someday go the way of Nike, Gap, and Talisman (which, in 2001, "was accused of complicity in genocide" in Sudan: http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/06/15/talisman-a-responsible-corporation).
Along with Theresa, I'm one of the fundraising team members. Just wanted to leave a quick note here that as a Platinum sponsor, Shell is offered the opportunity to either take part in a workshop or be on a panel. One of the representatives from Shell quickly contacted us to say they want to take part in a CSR panel (decision pending). Of course this is publicity to improve their image. Nevertheless, they are eager to actively engage in dialog with the members of an organization like EWB regarding their CSR. As Theresa has mentioned, we already have a multi-year agreement with Shell for sponsorship of the National Conference. With that being said, we could make the best of this situation by letting our delegates know why Shell is in fact present at the National Conference: in addition to monetary support, we hope to positively influence Shell's corporate responsibility.
I also want to throw out there that we haven't just been thinking about CSR since Josh' visit. We started with a long list of past sponsors and possible companies to approach, research each of their CSR standards and made a call on whether we would approach them.
Theresa mentioned that she cannot comment on Hatch. That doesn't mean we didn't do research on Hatch, the fundraising team did the research and said that yes, we should partner with them. (Theresa was a late comer to the team.)
I also want to note that at the beginning of this process I started in the "boycott" camp. I strongly felt we should not even be talking with Shell because of their association with their parent company Royal Dutch Shell (the real folks who are allegedly messing up things in Nigeria). I am now (I think) in the engagement camp where I think we should be talking with companies in a mutual respectful manner (after all, they are providing a service we demand, and we do increasingly demand that it is given to us at a lower price; though I personally think we pay too little for 95% of what we buy).
I think our CSR approach as an organization should be concerted but I also think it will take a number of years of relationship building before we can actually engage in a real and effective dialogue on the companies activities. So, I do believe that we should have sponsors who may have questionable behaviour (to a certain degree; we have rejected some companies, even some who may be very likely to give us funds) so that a relationship can be built.
Those are my thoughts, officially as a conference co-chair, and as a citizen of our world.