Thursday, March 07, 2013

Monitoring Corporate Social and Environmental Compliance: Oxfam Behind the Brands Campaign

I have suggested that over the last decade a complex system of governance has been evolving at the transnational level.   Backer, Larry Catá, Multinational Corporations as Objects and Sources of Transnational Regulation. ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2008. I suggested the way this transnational and private system operated within Wal Mart's supply chain:
Wal-Mart is able to use those contractual relationships to legislate behavior among its suppliers with respect to product quality, working conditions for the suppliers' employees, ethical conduct, and similar matters. The particulars of those behaviors reflect Wal-Mart's perception of the tastes and expectations of its consumers, investors and the financial community. Those tastes and expectations, in turn, are formed by elements of civil society and spread by elements of the media. Civil society elements serve not only to form consumer tastes, but also to develop Wal-Mart's specific set of behavior norms and then independently monitor compliance by Wal-Mart and its suppliers with their obligations. The media independently serves as the source of legitimacy and the conduit through which the results of civil society monitoring efforts, and the efforts of Wal-Mart to correct these breaches are transmitted. The media also serves as a forum through which consumer and investment tastes in behavior are developed. Together, multinationals, elements of civil society, the media, and the consumer-investor community constitute the elements of an autonomous system for the efficient regulation of economic behavior on a global scale that may contribute to the development of functionally differentiated and partial global systems of common law beyond the state. (Backer, Larry Catá, Economic Globalization and the Rise of Efficient Systems of Global Private Lawmaking: Wal-Mart as Global Legislator. University of Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 4, 2007.)

(Pix from Oxfam)
Oxfam has been a leading player in this system of global governance.  This post highlights a new initiative by Oxfam that goes toward the way n which compliance with global norms are being monitored and to the extent this monitoring affects investor and consumer tastes (and actions) enforced. Chris Jochnick, director of Oxfam America’s Private Sector Department (twitter: @cjochnick)recently announced the launch of Oxfam's latest and biggest campaign -- Behind the Brands (targeting the F&B industry) - as a potential case study and teaching tool.  We've measured and ranked the top ten F&B companies on a range of social/environmental issues (including, in parts, human rights) and are reaching out to consumers and the public through a very interactive web site, where the methodology/questions etc are all easily accessed  
Please have a look. You can get a quick overview by blog here and video here.  

For the twitterati among you, you can follow the campaign at #behindthebrands (and at my new account: cjochnick)
 Relevant downloads from Oxfam in a number of languages:

This from Chris Jochnick's Oxfam blog announcing the campaign:

Companies have had decades to hone their engagement strategies with activists, but still struggle to find the right approach. Initial reactions to Oxfam’s Behind the Brand campaign offer an interesting case in point. The campaign is only a week old, so these are early days – but already we can see certain styles emerging.

Behind the Brands is an aggressive effort to link consumers and the public with their most popular food brands around the enormous environmental and social “footprint” of the food and beverage industry. The campaign launched last week in countries around the globe with a flagship report, a scorecard (below) ranking the “Big 10” food and beverage companies, an interactive on-line platform to encourage public action, and various “visibility” activities at company headquarters. Media took notice, with stories in the NY Times, BBC, NPR, Businessweek among dozens of others. In the first 24 hours, 250,000 people visited the web-page; after a week, 10,000+ have taken some kind of action directed at the companies.

Oxfam was not out to blindside or gratuitously offend. We’ve worked with F&B companies in the past and expect to collaborate in the future. We spent months consulting with the companies about the Scorecard and let them know in advance what they could expect. So how have the companies reacted? Typical responses to a campaign can be grouped into three categories: (a) defensive (b) equivocal and (c) engaged. In this case, we’ve seen evidence of all three.
. . . . . . 
Behind the Brands aims to overcome this resistance by strengthening consumer and public voices. Consumer-facing companies like the Big 10 have to balance accountability concerns with risks to their brands – by far their most valuable asset. Defensiveness in the face of reasonable public demands will eventually take a toll. Oxfam knows that many consumers care about where their food comes from; if we can get enough of those consumers to think twice before making choices, companies will have to take notice.

Some company leaders already recognize a business case for treating farmers and planet well. And they know that transparency in this age is unavoidable. These companies will see dialogue with credible critical voices as an opportunity. Oxfam is counting on a handful of these companies to fully engage with the Scorecard – and all the issues underlying it — as a means towards strengthening their brands and business. (From Attack? Equivocate? Engage? How Big Food responds to a tough new campaign, Poverty to Power, March 3, 2013)
For more on transparency in business and human rights, see,  Backer, Larry Catá, Transparency and Business in International Law — Governance between Norm and Technique (March 17, 2012), and
Transparency and Business in International Environmental Law (January 12, 2012), an extended version of which was  published as "Transparency Between Norm, Technique and Property in International Law and Governance: The Example of Corporate Disclosure Regimes and Environmental Impacts,  Minnesota Journal of International Law 22(1):1-70 (2013). 

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