Cracking the CSR Codes Puzzle

Part 5 of 13 in Wayne Visser's Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media
Mar 7, 2012 2:50 PM ET

Posted by Wayne Visser

Looking back, we can see that the 1990s were the decade of CSR codes – not only EMAS, ISO 14001 and SA 8000, but also the Forest Steward Council (FSC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certification Schemes, Green Globe Standard (tourism sector), Corruption Perceptions Index, Fairtrade Standard, Ethical Trading Initiative, Dow Jones Sustainability Index and OHSAS 18001 (health & safety), to mention just a few. But all that was just a warm up act when we look at the last 10 years, when we have seen codes proliferate in virtually every area of sustainability and responsibility and all major industry sectors. So much so that in the A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility, we included over 100 such codes, guidelines and standards – and that was just a selection of what it out there. To illustrate the point, here is a sample of what has been thrust onto corporate agendas since the year 2000:

The Carbon Disclosure Project; Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation; GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines; Kimberley Process (to stop trade in conflict diamonds); Mining and Minerals for Sustainable Development (MMSD) Project; UN Global Compact; UN Millennium Development Goals; Voluntary Principles on Human Rights; FTSE4Good Index; Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS; Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Business Principles for Countering Bribery; Publish What Pay Campaign; Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development; London Principles (finance sector); AA 1000 Assurance Standard; Equator Principles (finance sector); Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil; Global Corruption Barometer; UN Convention Against Corruption; UNEP Finance Initiative; UN Norms on Business and Human Rights; World Bank Extractive Industries Review; AA 1000 Standard for Stakeholder Engagement; EU Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment; ISO 14064 Standard on Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Verification; Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change; Bribe Payers’ Index; UN Principles for Responsible Investment; ClimateWise Principles (insurance sector); UNEP Declaration on Climate Change; UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME); Bali, Poznan and Copenhagen Communiqués (climate change) ... and many, many more.

No wonder companies are suffering from code fatigue and audit exhaustion. It is the supreme paradox of the Age of Management – companies are pressured to standardise their efforts on sustainability and responsibility, while stakeholders and critics (myself included) remain unconvinced that this approach identifies or addresses the root causes of the problems we face. Many of the institutional failures over the past 20 years have, I would argue, been systemic failures of culture, rather than bureaucratic failures of management; they have more to do with a prevailing set of values than a particular set of procedures.


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About the author
Dr Wayne Visser is Founder and Director of the think-tank CSR International and consultancy Kaleidoscope Futures Ltd. He is the author of thirteen books, including The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business (2011), The World Guide to CSR (2010) and The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility (2010). He is the author of over 180 publications (chapters, articles, etc.) and has delivered more than 170 professional speeches on in over 50 countries in the last 20 years. In addition, Wayne is Senior Associate at the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, Visiting Professor of Sustainability at Magna Carta College, Oxford, and Adjunct Professor of CSR at Warwick Business School, UK.