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Corporate Cultural Responsibility

Tom SweeneyAs suggested in my previous blog From Social to Cultural Responsibility, I advocate increased cultural sensitivity and protection by organisations operating in close proximity to indigenous or culturally non-westernised populations.

Therefore, I decided to look at how the world’s most used sustainability reporting framework, the GRI, could be used to protect the cultural heritage of indigenous populations. Currently, the GRI indicators that relate most materially to indigenous culture focus on the human rights aspects of organisational interaction with indigenous populations.

Given the current power balance between business and politics, the GRI’s ability to influence organisational reputation is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful regulators of corporate behaviour. Stakeholders’ increased power and the unprecedented levels of virtual interconnectedness of even isolated peoples through the internet and media put the corporation in a pseudo-panopticon. Corporations now perceive their actions to be scrutinised by their stakeholders at all times.

This creates the optimal environment for sustainable business practice evolution. It also, however, puts a great deal of responsibility on those who design reporting frameworks such as the GRI.

As although not legislated, sustainability reporting in some, industries is seen as a requirement to avoid reputational damage and the incumbent profit risk associated with it. However, sticking religiously to a doctrine of Corporate Responsibility will inevitably lead to organisations focusing on certain areas (those covered by the framework) and not on others (those omitted from the framework such as cultural protection).

Currently, the protection of indigenous populations is under the authority of varying levels of government who face difficulties in protecting their native peoples. Governments’ focus on development and financial stability means that organisations are often afforded privileges and opportunities that conflict directly with indigenous populations’ best
interests. The inclusion of specific cultural protection indicators in standardised and commonly used reporting frameworks such as the GRI has the potential to alter the interests of the governments to more closely align with those of indigenous populations.

If large organisations have specific desires to protect indigenous populations’ cultures, to meet GRI indicators, then governments’ desires to increase their countries financial productivity would be directly linked in a mutually beneficial way with protecting their countries unique cultures.

I am perhaps biased in my assertions that cultural protection is a noble and worthwhile enterprise. In some cases such as bull fighting, cultural mutilation of minors, ages of consent and cannibalism, it certainly appears the protection of culture for cultures sake is at odds with our own understandings of propriety. I feel, however, that the status quo of
cultural heterogenisation, under the banner of progress or development, is equally as abhorrent, it also constitutes a human rights violation for those cultures that do not make a conscious decision to become globalised.

My education and career trajectory have forced me to focus on social issues.
However, as I discuss in my blog, Is integrated reporting the logical progression for Sustainability Reporting?, the first public comment period in the development of the G4 framework is currently open so now is your chance to make a case for omissions or inclusions in the next incarnation of the GRI reporting guidelines.

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