While various large corporates in Australia are keen to play up their increasing focus on corporate social responsibility, most simply have done the easy yards.
Money for remote Aboriginal communities, check. Money for education programs, check. Reduction in corporate carbon footprints, check.
The real test on how serious large Australian companies are about corporate social responsibility is coming up and it is called the Beijing Olympics. While there has been little focus on the Beijing Games in Australia beyond whether or not Thorpie was going to swim or not, a much more serious debate on the subject is occurring overseas.
In the recent French presidential campaign, centrist candidate Francois Bayrou raised the prospect of a boycott of the Beijing Olympics over the Chinese Government’s ongoing support of the regime of Sudan and the lack of action over Darfur. The response from one Chinese Foreign Ministry official was: “We can see that the Darfur issue is very complicated and sensitive.”
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Actually, it’s not complicated. Fathers tortured and killed in front of their families, women gang-raped and children dying from preventable diseases in overcrowded refugee camps.
In the United States an even stranger thing has happened than the French call for a boycott. Despite the bitter divisions in the American body politic, the issue of China defending the Sudanese Government, buying most of Sudan’s oil, and supplying weapons to the regime has managed to unite Hollywood liberals and Washington neo-conservatives.
The “One World, One Dream” games are fast earning the nickname the “Genocide Olympics” overseas. Significantly Sports Illustrated recently carried an article by a leading writer detailing exactly what Chinese action or inaction means for the citizens of Darfur.
Where do Australians companies stand on this issue?
BHPBilliton announced a sponsorship deal with the Beijing Olympics in 2005.
On their website, BHPBilliton highlight their extensive corporate social responsibility credentials including this statement in their Sustainable Development Policy … “wherever we operate we will … ensure … we understand, promote and uphold fundamental human rights within our sphere of influence”.
The question that must be asked is whether a company can claim to subscribe to these CSR principles on the one hand, and on the other be a sponsor of the world’s largest sporting event in a country whose officials describe the Darfur issue as “very complicated and sensitive”?
I’ll let readers be the judge of that question.