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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – Environmental Protection or Creating Disguise?
The promotion of environmental responsibility amongst transnational corporations (TNCs) has become an important topic of debate in recent years. While government regulation might achieve environmental goals in a blunt manner, business community argues that voluntary measures can achieve them in a more efficient way (Utting and Marques 2010; Clapp 2005). One of the commercial drivers of private forms of (self) regulation, such as ISO 14001 standards, is desired to keep smaller firms out of profitable markets by raising the barrier to entry and increasing the costs of compliance with standards (Clapp, 1998, cited in Newell and Levy 2006).
Tobacco companies for instance claim that they are engaged in CSR because of being concerned corporate citizens. In reality, CSR activities cost tobacco companies very little in relation to their annual profits. In 2009, British American Tobacco (BAT) spent USD $22.3 million on CSR compared to the USD $4.8 billion it earned in profits (TFK 2011).
BAT runs several CSR program in Bangladesh notably, Afforestation Program - to offset the deforestation (30% of the country total; TFK, 2011) caused during tobacco drying and Sustainable Agriculture - to minimize the environmental degradation (BATB 2010; Ahmed 2012). Which are greatly outweighed by the detrimental effects of smoking and now illegal in Bangladesh as a signatory of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO 2013).
On the other hand, ‘[c]corporations performed as shapers and negotiators of environmental rules as well as play central position in informal governance of the environment that derives from their daily operations. Corporations play multiple and potentially conflicting roles as lobbyists, experts, (self) regulators and providers of the capital and technologies necessary to realize environmental policy goals’ (Newell and Levy 2006).
In contrast, recent years have seen a number of cases of ‘accidental’ or ‘unintentional’ releases of genetically modified organisms (StarLink, Bt10 maize, Liberty Link RICE 601). Behavior of the firms responsible for the illegal releases in these three cases raises important questions about the effectiveness of voluntary corporate responsibility measures. Which demands strong regulatory rules to incorporate regular external monitoring and oversight by governments, as well as more stringent penalties and assignment of legal liability, alongside voluntary codes (Clapp 2008).