In the fake July 4, 2009 edition of the New York Times distributed yesterday, pages were filled with stories many hope will one day be true – ending of war, healthcare for all, and accountability for past transgressions of the US administration. It also included “ads” for real companies that spoke tellingly about the often capricious, opportunistic corporate approach to social responsibility and respect for human rights.
An “ad” for ExxonMobil states “Peace can also be lucrative”; a De Beers “ad” explains how purchases of diamonds will go towards prosthetics for Africans whose hands were lost in the brutal diamond conflicts.
The messages in these careful, clever ads were both optimistic and pessimistic. On the one hand, corporate responses to their human rights impacts are often only skin-deep. On the other hand, there are real opportunities for us as conscious citizens of the world to press companies to do the right thing; where there’s a market, there’s a way. Just check out the McDonald’s “ad”, which exclaims, “we’re lovin’ revolution”. If we lead, companies will follow.
While human rights obligations should never be contingent on a company’s ability to turn profits, as the KBR “ad” explains, “if you make it law, we’ll make it work”.