Matt Wardman writes:
One of the organisations we have spoken to while pursuing the SPCK/SSG story has been the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, a research and campaigning organisation started within the Industrial Chaplaincy movement that is now almost 20 years old. I first met them when they were developing a set of Environmental Benchmarks as far back as 1993 in partnership with organisations in the USA and Canada, and applying them to a large British Company. Miles Litvinoff has kindly supplied this article to bring their story up to date.
ECCR typically do long term work in partnership with groups such as Trade Unions and voluntary groups, and (in my view anyway) have demonstrated a great capability to engage in work for corporate responsibility at an institutional level.
The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) is a coalition of the British and Irish churches and others working for economic justice, environmental stewardship, and corporate and investor responsibility. It undertakes research, advocacy and dialogue with companies and investors and seeks to influence company policy and practice and to raise awareness among the churches, the investor community and the general public. ECCR member organisations control and influence more than £10 billion of invested assets.
ECCR was founded in 1989 following a meeting between British industrial chaplains and visiting Philippine trade unionists concerned about impacts of the operations of UK sugar transnational Tate & Lyle on communities in the Philippines. Responding to local concerns regarding operations of British business overseas has remained central to ECCR’s mission.
Church connections alerted ECCR in the 1990s to social conflict and human rights abuses linked to the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. After initial dialogue with the Shell Group, ECCR brought a ground-breaking shareholder resolution to Shell’s 1996 AGM. There had been few civil society shareholder resolutions in the UK before, and this helped bring about a major response on the part of Shell in of addressing corporate responsibility issues and relations with Niger Delta communities.
ECCR developed links with the Centre for Social and Corporate Responsibility (CSCR), a non-governmental organisation founded in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in 2001. Since then we have maintained a joint dialogue with Shell directors in Nigeria and Europe to articulate the rights of people living in the Delta.
In 2006 ECCR brought a second shareholder resolution to Shell’s AGM, focused on the company’s social and environmental performance not only in Nigeria but also in Ireland (the Corrib gas project, County Mayo) and Russia (Sakhalin II oil and gas project). Some 17% of shareholders voted against or abstained from voting with the company on this resolution, a similar proportion as in 1996.
CSCR has provided ECCR with regular reports on the Niger Delta based on its participatory work with communities. This knowledge sharing informs ECCR’s and its members’ engagement with the company and brings considerable credibility to CSCR in Nigeria.
In 2007 ECCR and CSCR met in London with Wim Kok, former Dutch Prime Minister and chair of Shell’s Social Responsibility Committee, to discuss problems arising from poor implementation in Nigeria of its global operational standards. The meeting led to Shell’s Nigeria management participating in a multi‐stakeholder forum with Delta communities co-organised by CSCR. And following concerted pressure involving ECCR and faith-based investors in the USA, CSCR has recently reported successful rehabilitation of neighbourhood water boreholes by Shell Nigeria. Admittedly, many severe oil-industry-related problems remain for Delta communities that ECCR, CSCR and other civil society organisations must still tackle.
Other recent work by ECCR includes researching and reporting on the worldwide operations of mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, co-founding the Working Group on Mining in the Philippines (chaired by former UK development secretary Clare Short MP), pioneering analysis on the global `water footprint’ of British and Irish food and drinks transnationals, and work-in-progress on vulnerable migrant workers in the British and Irish economies.
Shareholder engagement shows growing potential in the movement for greater corporate accountability in relation to human rights and the sustainable development agenda. The approach is in the main non-confrontational, mobilising institutional investors and civil society to press for constructive change on the part of companies. Although reforming corporate policies may be more easily achieved than changing practice on the ground, ECCR’s experience with Shell – and work by other coalitions such as on the cost of AIDS drugs, corporate lobbying, environmental standards and labour conditions in retail supply chains – shows that real change can be achieved.
Co-ordinator, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR)
PO Box 500, Oxford OX1 1ZL, UK
tel. +44 (0)20 8965 9682
mobile +44 (0)7984 720103
(ECCR is a company limited by guarantee in England & Wales (No. 2764183) and a Body in Association with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.)