Submitted by: Yale University Press
Categories: Business Ethics
Posted: Jun 15, 2004 – 12:00 AM EST
Yale Authors See a New Model for Corporate Responsibility
Yale Authors See a New Model for Corporate Responsibility
"A painstaking report from three continents of a certified miracle--the social and environmental redemption of a corporate sinner.
--William D'Alessandro, former editor of the Business and the Environment newsletter
The notorious United Fruit Company, which became Chiquita Brands International, dominated Latin American agriculture for nearly a century, epitomizing the exploitation of local people and resources implied by the term "banana republic."
Beginning in the 1990s, an astonishing transformation began at Chiquita, a transformation not compelled by any government or policing agency, but driven by an unprecedented voluntary shift in focus and by a desire to protect its brand. In partnership with the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance, Chiquita set out to improve conditions for its workers, to minimize the environmental impact of its farms, and to conserve the rainforest surrounding its plantations. But could a longtime offender really work cooperatively with a group of activists? Could voluntary action really make a difference? And would progress be real and lasting or cosmetic and fleeting?
On April 15, Yale University Press published Smart Alliance: How a Global Corporation and Environmental Activists Transformed a Tarnished Brand, by J. Gary Taylor and Patricia J. Scharlin. The authors give us an objective, warts-and-all chronicle of Chiquita's revolutionary and startlingly successful transformation. Their findings reveal a novel and promising new model of corporate behavior at a time when corporate responsibility is a major public concern. And the certification of agricultural products by environmental organizations, a central part of the Chiquita story, is becoming an important tool for consumers who care about responsible corporate practices.
Why should we care about Chiquita? First, because bananas are important. Almost 70 percent of American households eat bananas at least once a week. Americans buy more bananas than any other fresh fruit. German and Swedish families consume 40 pounds of bananas a year. Bananas and their cousins the plantains provide more than a quarter of the food calories in some parts of Africa. In Uganda, working males consume 5 pounds of banana pulp per day. Bananas are the world's most exported fruit, and their farming, export, and handling are central to the economies of several countries. Second, we should care because banana farming has traditionally consumed large areas of virgin rainforest, destroying biodiversity and failing to restore ravaged land. Pesticides have poisoned laborers and the land where they live. And banana companies have a history of interfering with local politics and employing workers under inhumane conditions.
Taylor and Scharlin tell us that there is simply no precedent for a company with such economic importance and such a checkered past to spend millions of dollars voluntarily to improve environment, health, and safety conditions. As they examine the case of Chiquita, they show us how people who would normally be adversaries, a corporate manager and a conservation activist, find a way to trust each other. We see how the market-driven tool of certification provides a productive alternative to street protests and corporate bashing as a way of achieving actual reform. And we see how a CEO can embrace core values and social responsibility and still achieve high product quality and productivity.
Chiquita's program of environmental, health, and safety improvement is so effective on the ground and so transparent to outsiders that it has muted the complaints of almost all former critics, including purist conservation groups, workers' rights advocates, and labor unions. In an age when a brand can be vilified on the internet virtually overnight, Chiquita has found a path that protects its self interest while promoting global interests.
The story of Chiquita is not one of unmitigated triumph. There have been setbacks and failures, and there are areas in which the company has far to go. But it is a story that bears much hope, and in telling it, Smart Alliance opens new paths for corporations, activists, and citizens as they wrestle with issues of corporate responsibility in a complex world.
Yale University Press
"This hopeful book authoritatively documents how a potent combination of
NGO inventiveness, corporate resolve, and tough customers can make a huge
difference in the urgent global campaign to preserve biological diversity."
--The Honorable Timothy E. Wirth, president, The United Nations Foundation
"This book gets out important information in a timely fashion while the field is still being developed. Folks in both the green and corporate worlds should read it."
--William R. Burch, Jr., Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
"In this time of heightened concern for our national resources and precious environment, Smart Alliance is an especially important book that tells a story we all need to hear. In mesmerizing detail, the authors track the vision and accomplishment that led to the transformation of Chiquita Brands into a socially and environmentally responsible leader in international trade. Bravo for Taylor and Scharlin!"
--Judy Collins, singer, songwriter, author, and activist
"This remarkable story of mindsets transformed demolishes the myths that corporate profits must necessarily exploit people or nature or that environmental and social concerns are always bad for business. Here is a striking model for how corporations and civil society can evolve new kinds of partnership for the benefit of all."
--Ashok Khosla, president, Development Alternatives
"One of the fairest treatments of environmental and trade issues yet written. Since the Rio conference (1992), we have been challenged to see the synergies between economics and environmental protection, and this study is among the best."
--Jonathan Plaut, Science, Technology, and Society Program, The Pennsylvania State University, and former chair, NAFTA CEC
About the Authors
J. Gary Taylor is president and Patricia J. Scharlin is vice president of The Environment Group, New York City, a company that assists universities, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and multinational companies in understanding and responding to international environment and development challenges. www.smartalliance-online.com
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