What do KPMG, Walt Disney, Novartis and the Royal Bank of Canada have in common? Throughout the years, they have all been recipients of an award recognizing them as the most irresponsible company of the year! This less than glorious award is given out as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum in Davos and its distinguished list of nominees are voted online by the general public as part of the Public Eye Awards.
What did these businesses do to deserve this kind of “recognition”? In 2005, KPMG is accused of suggesting a variety of creative accounting measures meant to defraud tax authorities; in 2006, Walt Disney is accused of violating human rights and promoting unfair working conditions in its subcontractors’ plants; in 2007, Novartis purportedly sought to prevent Indians from gaining access to a generic drug to fight leukemia sold 10 times cheaper than Glivec, which is produced in their labs; and finally last year, the Royal Bank of Canada is accused of financing the extraction of oil from Alberta’s tar sands.
As I write these lines, the 2011 winner has just been announced following an online vote to which some 53,000 Internet users participated. And the winner is….Neste-Oil, a Finnish energy corporation, with 4,000 votes over BP, the first runner-up. After BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last spring, we have to wonder what kind of business Neste Oil was running to outdo BP in the running for such a singular designation. In point of fact, the company is accused of green washing. Although it boasts of selling “green diesel”, the biofuel is produced from palm oil, which accelerates wide-spread deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. According to calculations, the final carbon balance of this “green diesel” far outweighs traditional diesel.
The Public Eye Awards were launched by the association for the Berne Declaration, which Greenpeace Suisse has recently joined, and they have pushed irony to its extreme by creating a Hall of Shame page on their website where all of the award winners are listed. If there was ever a time when controlling all of the information posted about a company was possible, that time no longer exists. In reality, this unique dishonour can be awarded to a company for its participation in an industry, without necessarily being involved in the activities being condemned; the Royal Bank of Canada is a good example, it received the award because it finances pollution-causing activities, and not because it is actually polluting. From now on, evaluating a company also means the whole industry is put under the microscope.
It is within this context of mistrust and extreme transparency that cooperatives from around the world will be put on display in 2012 as they celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives. We should expect to be scrutinized and put under the spotlight. Actually, La Coop fédérée’s Board of Directors has just ordered an ethics analysis within the company. Are the values we promote truly ingrained in our work methods? Have we implemented the right mechanisms and the right tools to guide our elected leaders and our employees toward enviable decisions and practices within the cooperative world? Once the diagnosis will have been made by an outside party, a plan of action will be put into operation to better understand the cooperative ethic at all company levels.
This approach may very well contribute to give a meaning to our commitment to La Coop fédérée and pride at being associated with it. Indeed, the International Year of Cooperatives will be a perfect opportunity to shout our identity loud and clear…but let’s be sure that our claims meet our expectations.