Engaging the Community

CSR: Society’s Return on Investment?

Posted on: October 24th, 2016 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

Lanlin Bu and Michael Bloomfield

with research and writing assistance from Adrian Southin




Corporate social responsibility (CSR) runs the gamut from self-aggrandizement to crisis management to with the occasional act of generosity. Society deserves better! Tax payers invest heavily in business, providing research and development grants, tax breaks, transportation facilities and many other subsidies including cleaning up the environmental messes too often left behind. According to a 2014 Fraser Institute report, over a period of nearly 30 years, federal, provincial and local authorities spent nearly $684-billion on business subsidies. The fossil-fuel industry alone receives over $3.3 billion (CAD) annually (See Chart1 below)[1].


Chart1: Major Subsidies to Fossil Fuel Industry in Canada (2013-2015, average)



(From http://www.iisd.org/faq/ffs/canada/ )



Simply put, business owes society a fair return on its investment. More than that, companies gain and retain social license through product safety, compliance with legal standards, honest reporting, “truth in advertising”, protection of the environment and public health, as well as fair treatment of employees, customers and local communities. Volkswagen, a company that once topped the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, plummeted after the shocking emission scandal of 2015[2]. A long and tough road to recovery will cost VW billions.


So what’s a better way forward? First, let’s restore balance, recognizing business is part of society not its master. Business needs to work more collaboratively with civil society to advance the social development, human rights and environmental stewardship. Furthermore, it’s in business’ best interest because responsible companies get rewarded. Studies show that healthy, happy employees are more productive and absenteeism decreases.[3] Customer loyalty tilts toward companies they trust and respect, those who demonstrate high social and environmental performance. In addition, business does best in well-educated, prosperous and healthy societies. Moreover, if the advocates for a global economy are to be believed the movement should be about creating more opportunities in disadvantaged places not exploiting lower standards for worker health and safety, accountability and environmental protection.


CSR is much more than just marketing tool or stay-out-of-jail card. For companies to truly be responsible, they need to commit throughout their operations. Take Loblaws as an example. It’s great they have programs such as the President’s Choice Children Charity. Yet, through the Joe Fresh brand, Loblaws was one of the companies involved in the 2013 Rana Plaza sweatshop collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1100 people.[4] Justice still has not come to the victims. Similar examples include Streit Group’s sales of armoured vehicles to South Sudan[5] and Saudi Arabia, Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp’s mistreatment of local residents in Guatemala, and Canada’s tobacco and toxic waste shipped to Asia. This kind of behaviour overseas is damaging Canada’s reputation and relationships. No wonder Canada is increasingly seen as just another country willing to compromise public health, human rights and the environment to increase profit. Why do we allow these companies to hide behind lax local regulations to justify their actions while representing Canada abroad?


Sadly it’s not just overseas where Canadian companies are failing to meet public expectations. The Mount Polley BC tailing ponds breach by Imperial Metals, CN Rail’s denial of any responsibility in the Lac-Mégantic disaster and the Canadian clients of KMPG involved in an offshore tax scheme on the Isle of Man[6], each demonstrating how business puts profit over its legal and moral responsibilities, even here in Canada. Don’t we Canadians deserve better?


It’s time to a shift CSR away from brand promotion and crisis management. Transformational CSR must become corporate culture, practiced up and down the chain of command. Corporations must work in good faith with all stakeholders, including civil society to achieve economic development without harming the environment and public health.


The voluntary approach relies too much on the goodwill of individuals rather than a committed corporate culture. Furthermore, voluntary efforts do not provide a level playing field for business, favouring the laggards over the leaders who already are investing in positive action on conservation, climate, human rights, worker health and safety and so on.


Therefore Harmony Foundation proposes that senior levels of Canadian government work with business and civil society to develop and implement a protocol that guarantees the same standards of human rights, health and safety, and environmental protection, whether operating in Canada or aboard. Not only it is the right thing to do, but also this is our best chance to improve Canada’s reputation and long-term opportunities internationally. That would truly be the Canadian advantage! In fact, that’s the clearest path to prosperity with integrity.



Please see our  paper “CSR: Society’s Return on Investment for more on this topic. You can download the paper from http://harmonyfdn.ca/?page_id=2775. The paper lays out in more detail the elements of the protocol which was first presented in Canadian Mining Operations Around the World: Respecting People and the Environment (2013)


[1] http://www.iisd.org/faq/ffs/canada/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/dec/30/vw-exxon-lobbying-brazil-mining-tragedy-toshiba-corporate-scandals-greenwashing-climate-change

[3] http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/new_study_shows/

[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/bangladesh-garment-workers-lives-still-at-risk-the-fifth-estate-finds-1.1959518

[5] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/canadian-company-sold-armoured-vehicles-to-south-sudan-report/article31191713/

[6] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canada-revenue-kpmg-secret-amnesty-1.3479594

Food Security Advocate Vandana Shiva Visits Victoria, Feb.29, 2016

Posted on: January 13th, 2016 by Harmony Foundation No Comments


Vandana Shiva, globally renowned food sovereignty activist will be speaking to Victorians on February 29th, 2016 highlighting local food systems, ecosystems and community resilience. Co-hosts Harmony Foundation of Canada, LifeCycles Project Society and the University of Victoria’s Institute for Studies and Innovation in Community University Engagement (ISICUE), invite you to join this vital discussion at UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium.


Harmony is sponsoring this exciting evening” said Michael Bloomfield, Founder and Executive Director, “because, along with our partners at LifeCycles and ISICUE, we recognize the critical importance of public participation in ensuring community stewardship over our food supply, and supporting the land and water and people that produce it.


Shiva, a celebrated international speaker, will inspire listeners with global examples of the community-led initiatives that can inform local efforts here in Victoria. Shiva’s broad experience in food systems highlights the connections between climate change, poverty, gender inequality, loss of bio-diversity and food insecurity, as well as weaves stories of how communities respond creatively to these challenges.


We’re thrilled to be co-hosting such an accomplished activist who brings a depth of knowledge and insight around the power of localized responses to the global industrialized food system and the resilience of organic agro-ecosystems,” says Maurita Prato, Director of LifeCycles. “We’re particularly excited for this event to catalyze communities here to keep asking questions around what actions we can be taking towards more sustainable local food systems.”


There will be time for questions from the audience and to hear about how you can connect with local, on-the-ground food initiatives in the Capital Region. A book signing will follow the public presentation– bring a Dr. Shiva’s publication to be signed!


Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Purchase yours at www.tickets.uvic.ca, or 250-721-8480.


To learn more about this event, please visit lifecyclesproject.ca or https://www.facebook.com/events/958064100939189/

The Northern Gateway Pipeline: Why Social License Has Been Denied

Posted on: June 25th, 2013 by Harmony Foundation No Comments



Map Source: Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines





While The Northern Gateway Pipeline debate is loaded with emotion, objectivity and trust are in short supply.  Under these circumstances, can government and business acquire the social license to proceed or will they over-ride opposition and proceed without public support?


The debate about social license can be distilled to a few pivotal questions:  Is the project in the best interest of Canadians, including future generations?  Can the social and environmental risks be justified? Who has the moral authority to make these decisions? Can business and government proceed without social license from Canadians, especially from the communities and First Nations directly affected?


What about Enbridge and their gateway proposal raise so much opposition?  Is it that the 1,177-kilometer pipeline would cut through aboriginal communities and countless lakes and rivers across northern Alberta and B.C. to Kitimat for export to Asian markets? Is it the risks to the environment from pipeline or tanker accidents? Or perhaps it is widespread distrust of the process and the unrelenting propaganda campaign?


For months, community engagement has focused on hearings by the Joint Review Panel. While the merits and risks were debated something more fundamental surfaced, and has not been addressed; a lack of trust in the integrity of the process.


Many people asked: are these hearings a way for the federal government to learn more about the opinions of concerned citizens, or simply a procedural process to legitimize approval?   Does the panel, its members and mandate, faithfully represent all stakeholders, or was its composition skewed in favour of business and political interests?  What public interest is driving the process?  How can those who participate in these hearings be sure that their submissions will actually influence the assessment process?


These questions point out fundamental flaws in current community engagement practices in Canada. Many British Columbians, feel that efforts to engage community members were too little and too late. Others see an imbalanced panel as evidence that the process is biased. The panel consists of two members that represent the National Energy Board, and one that is a professional Geologist, involved in extractive industries[1]. There are, however, no members with credible expertise in environmental conservation or social justice. Under these circumstances, many people simply do not agree with arguments in favour.


Scientific concerns abound too.  A key scientific study presented to the review panel raised serious questions about Enbridge’s Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment (ESA), including the company’s approach to climate change. Scientists from Raincoast Conservation expressed alarm that climate change has not been addressed in the Enbridge Northern Gateway ESA, despite compelling reasons to do so.


What can be learned from this assessment process?  Effective community engagement requires full participation of advocates for and against development if companies wish to operate with social license.  Concerned citizens want to be heard with respect.


Does offering jobs and other monetary compensation make up for the environmental damage or the relocation of residents to make way for Enbridge’s pipeline, or the risk of a rupture, shipwreck and environmental disaster? Apparently that’s not the case in the opinion of those affected and most British Columbians. Perhaps this is why the B.C. government has officially come out in opposition


Sometimes, when competing interests are a stake, differences can be addressed.
It seems in this case, the proponents and their government backers failed to understand that this conflict is over fundamental values of social justice and environmental stewardship versus short-term economic gain, not to overlook fairness to future generations who are also entitled to share the benefits from these public resources.


These are difficult decisions, let alone when public trust is lacking and the intentions of government and business and the veracity of Enbridge’s safety claims raise concerns based on their track record.


If Canadians are to attain meaningful public participation, business and government must sincerely seek social license on resource management decisions, the rules of engagement need to be fair, and the public interest must be protected, indeed given priority. That said, attempts to purchase social license raise further questions about fairness.


As long as the proponents have the unfair advantage of resources, government support, and panel composition, it is difficult to see how social license can be obtained without subterfuge or connivance. When government or corporations propose resource development, they must engage affected communities as partners not as a means to realize their political and economic goals.


And what of the Chinese citizens who have their own concerns about environmental safety and public health? What about the large volume of water to be used for processing in a country already beset by shortages and contamination? More and more Canadians are becoming increasingly aware of the effects, both social and environmental, that this project would have in Canada. How much do we care to know about the potential effects in the receiving countries?


In the recently published e-book, CSR Guide for MNCs in China, the Harmony Foundation offers invaluable insight on how companies can strengthen community engagement so that tangible benefits are generated for both business and society. More information can be found at http://harmonyfdn.ca/?page_id=997

[1] Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel. http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/bts/jntrvwpnl-eng.html