Two sides to the CSR/Sustainability argument

So I’m back visiting my colleagues in Shanghai. WordPress is (still) inaccessible through the Great Firewall Of China so I am having to take alternative measures to keep posting.

Anyway – The Doctor is kicking off a Carnival of Sustainability blog posts this week. I am trying to see if I can make some useful points about the intersection of e-auctions and sustainability that are beyond the obvious.

But first, a couple of points I noticed whilst catching up on some reading on the plane. From my two favourite publications: The Economist and Private Eye.

From The Economist’s Special Report on Corporate Social Responsibility, January 19th 2008, a quote about Tata – makers of the famed 1 lakh car:

“India has a long tradition of paternalistic philanthropy. Big family-owned firms such as Tata are particularly active in providing basic services, such as schools and healthcare, for local communities.”

And now, from Private Eye, issue 1201, 11 Jan – 24 Jan 2008, again about Tata, and again under a banner called Corporate Responsibility:

“[Tata’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility] might surprise the farmers of Singur … where the car is being built. The 997-acre site produced three crops a year and provided a decent living to more than 20,000 people. But when Tata picked it for its new plant in 2006 … the chief minister of West Bengal … announced that the land was to be forcibly acquired … Many of the farmers and sharecroppers dug in their heels when they realised the non-negotiable compensation would be half the market value.

“Others baffled by Tata’s claims to being socially concerned include tribals of Bastar in Chhatisgarh, fighting to prevent their ancestral lands being torn up for a Tata iron ore mine; and relatives of 13 tribal people shot dead by police at Kalinganagar in Orissa in January 2006, a village earmarked for a Tata steel plant.”

The point is not to try to make a point about Tata. Nor is the point to get into a debate about where CSR stops and Sustainability starts. Will the Tata site in Singur be better or worse for the farmers? For the people who will now be able to afford the new car? Will the factory be more sustainable than farming? Who wins from CSR and Sustainability? Who loses? The point is to remember that, yes, the whole sustainability issue is genuinely complex. And, yes, pity the poor overburdened word “sustainability” which seems to mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people.

And then, when you start to despair of the sheer complexity of the task at hand, have a read about Norway’s audacious, inspirational (yet fundamentally pretty simple) plans to become carbon neutral by 2030.

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