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As an expatriate Englishman with an anthropological penchant, it is perhaps unsurprising that my interest is in the socio-cultural aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Recently, when researching mining companies working in Papua New Guinea (PNG), my attention was drawn to the issue of how large corporations are impacting non-industrial or non-capitalist societies.
The presence of mining in PNG has inarguably changed the cultural landscape of the area. Many communities not just in PNG but globally, have been thrust into the economic sphere of influence of the Western world, with little preparation or choice, due to their geographical proximity to operations owned and run by large multinational corporations.
Environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) has the potential to assist companies and communities to understand project scopes, identify priority community needs and issues, and establish plans for impact mitigation and benefit realisation. But only if done well.
Experiences of the past few weeks have given me the opportunity to reflect on several of the major debates and potential opportunities surrounding ESIA. In early May, I was privileged to deliver a guest lecture on gender and cross-cultural considerations in impact assessment to budding SIA practitioners at Macquarie University, NSW. It was heartening to hear many of these nascent practitioners questioning traditional ESIA methods which may belie the gendered and cultural complexities of the communities at which the assessments are aimed. Students questioned the upfront or ‘anticipatory’ approach to ESIA and we all agreed that there is a need for further development of gendered and culturally sensitive ESIA methods which are seen as part of the life-cycle process and not simply as a one-off, compliance-driven exercise.
The recent furore surrounding Coles, milk prices and the social responsibilities of the supermarket giants provides a useful opportunity to reflect on the state of CSR in the Australian retail sector.
An online review of some of Australia’s largest retail and consumer goods companies paints a decidedly mixed picture.
Controversies aside, the two retail conglomerates – Wesfarmers and Woolworths – are clearly well on the sustainability journey. Wesfarmers is the only Australian retailer to be listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, while Woolworths is mid-way into an ambitious seven-year sustainability strategy.
Beyond the two big retailers, however, the picture is much less encouraging. The websites of some of Australia’s largest brand retailers, including Myer, David Jones, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Just Group and Pacific Brands suggests only a limited commitment to CSR, minimal reporting, and little evidence of integrating CSR into core business.