Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Big business 'must answer for corporate wrongs'

A poll shows that the British public wants firms to be responsible for social and environmental impacts, writes Anita Pati.

Nine out of ten people in Britain want the Government to bring in laws to make corporations responsible for their social and environmental impact on poor communities, an ICM poll revealed last week.

The research, commissioned by the corporate responsibility coalition Core and the Trade Justice Movement, coincides with both coalitions' launch of Right Corporate Wrongs, a campaign to insert trade justice and corporate accountability measures into the Government's Company Law Reform Bill, which will work its way through Parliament in the next few months.

The Bill, which is currently at committee stage in the House of Lords, promises the biggest overhaul of company law in 150 years.

The ICM survey, for which more than 1,000 adults were interviewed at the end of March, also found that 89 per cent of voters think multinationals should be obliged to report on how they treat employees and local communities, including those abroad.

Deborah Doane, director of Core, said the findings show that "the British public is clearly in favour of new rules".

The Right Corporate Wrongs campaign will call for a legal requirement on corporations to report on their social and environmental impacts, and on directors to mitigate any damage by their companies to local communities and the environment. It also wants people harmed by a British company's activities overseas to be able to take action against the firm in a UK court.

Both coalitions, which include groups such as Amnesty International, ActionAid and Scope, as well as trade unions, will encourage their combined nine million members to lobby their local MPs during April and May. A spokeswoman said there were also a number of orchestrated 'surprise' events planned.

One example of 'corporate wrong' quoted is that of Tesco, which announced a record £2bn profit last year. In its report Rotten Fruit, ActionAid alleges that thousands of casual women workers picking apples and pears on farms for the supermarket reported poverty wages, dangerous exposure to pesticides and increasingly insecure employment.

A spokeswoman for Tesco denied this, however. "We have met ActionAid and explained that our investigations had not found the issues in its report," she said. "We asked it to share further information with us so that we could address any issues, anonymously if necessary, and it declined."

anita.pati@haynet.com

KEY POINTS

- The Core Coalition and the Trade Justice Movement last week launched a joint campaign, Right Corporate Wrongs, to enshrine trade justice and corporate accountability in the Government's Company Law Reform Bill

- Both coalitions will encourage their nine million members to lobby their local MPs during April and May

- An ICM poll commissioned by the coalition found that 89 per cent of voters think multinationals should have to report on how they treat employees and local communities

- The survey also revealed that 64 per cent of respondents think company directors should not put their profits before people.

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