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Rejecting Bad Company

... But recently, they [Argentine victims of anti-union repression] found an unexpected ally in their bid to uncover the truth: German shareholder activists who forced DaimlerChrysler, owner of Mercedes-Benz, to begin investigating whether plant managers had collaborated with the military in the disappearance of Reimer and 13 other workers.

Pressure has intensified in recent years for corporate boards to weigh the human rights consequences of their business practices. Activists have put such titans as Nike and Wal-Mart in the spotlight for using sweatshop labor, while Unocal is currently being sued in US courts by 13 Burmese villagers, who charge that the firm knew about the Burmese military's use of forced labor on a $1.2 billion pipeline project.

But the DaimlerChrysler case appears to take these efforts one step further, targeting not just bad labor practices but possible corporate collaboration with a repressive government. DaimlerChrysler is the first firm to open a public investigation into what role, if any, it played in disappearances that occurred at its factory during the dirty war.

... "If you look at the charter of any corporation in the United States," says the Rev. Séamus Finn of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, "the right was always there for a shareholder to bring a resolution." What's new, he says, is that socially responsible investors are "expanding the universe that corporations are concerned about: not just the financial bottom line, but the social bottom line, the human bottom line, the environmental bottom line."

The movement has grown far beyond its religious roots. Today, according to the Social Investment Forum, an industry trade group, $2.3 trillion is invested in the US under guidelines that take into account the human and environmental consequences of company policies.

Good news from the corporate world.


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