Making the market a force for good
Monday, June 25, 2012
When women in Haiti added fruit flavouring to purified water and sold it to their peers, an impromptu community business was born. While the main aim was a health-related one – the women used purifying sachets distributed after the 2010 earthquake to clean the water – the unforeseen knock-on effect involved women educating their peers about not drinking contaminated water and running their own mini-enterprise.
This example of social impact, from Procter & Gamble, the multinational consumer goods company that produces the water-purifying packets, was among those discussed at a recent roundtable debate hosted by the Guardian. The event, held in association with international mining company Anglo American, explored how far companies go beyond traditional philanthropy, and looked specifically at ways to factor social responsibility into corporate strategy. For example, while the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which were drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), provide voluntary recommendations for businesses to comply with wherever they operate, the roundtable discussed how firms might go the extra mile to make positive social impact par for the course.
As the economic climate is making already marginalised communities more vulnerable, the roundtable heard that there is an even greater need for businesses to create positive social change. “There’s a storm blowing in Europe,” explained John Morrison, executive director of thinktank the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), adding, “what’s going to be a fundamentally bad time for Europe in the next few years will also be an opportunity for a rethink [on this agenda].”