Corporate social responsibility is rising up the business agenda, but firms have been slow to use HR to deliver sound corporate values. But in an increasingly socially and environmentally aware world, how can personnel professionals help companies to promote ethical behaviour to maximise their global brands? Stephen Overell reports
The Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum has a grand-sounding mission. "Our vision of CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] is open and transparent business practices that are based on ethical values and respect for employees, communities and the environment".
Set up by the Prince of Wales and several concerned chief executives in 1990, the London-based forum promotes ethical behaviour among companies and encourages thought for the economies and communities in which they operate. "Membership of the IBLF is a practical demonstration of a company's commitment to pursuing responsible business practices," its website proclaims
Yet some of the members of this network of 65 of the world's most powerful companies might raise a few eyebrows. There is GlaxoSmithKline, which led 39 pharmaceuticals companies in a three-year battle against the South African government in a bid to protect the prices it charged for anti-retroviral drugs used in the treatment of Aids, a disease threatening to affect 20 per cent of the South African population. In a settlement, earlier this year, the pharmaceutical industry was widely held to have lost.
Then there is BMW. In 1999, the German prestige car manufacturer took up Tony Blair's offer of a £140m tax break to keep open a facility for Rover at Longbridge, in the Midlands. Eighteen months later it pulled out, selling the loss-making Rover - known internally as "the English patient" - for next to nothing.
The network also boasts Chevron, the US energy giant. In 1998, the company admitted it had transported Nigerian military and police, who shot and killed community activists protesting at the Parabe oil rig in the Niger Delta.
Then there are Rio Tinto, Shell, Enron and Coca-Cola, all busy trying to patch up their reputations after long periods of dominance on global human rights and environmental charge-sheets.
Critics of the way business claims one thing and does another in the field of social responsibility do not have to look hard to find instances of, at best, rather l