Oil firms fail to watch their lobbyists, Carlsberg’s punishing payment terms, and why brands are bamboozled by bamboo

Red faces in oil

If you work for a big company, it’s a good idea to know what your industry’s lobby groups might be doing in some way on your behalf.

At the very least, you run a serious reputational risk if your lobby group is behind the times, as the more progressive members of the American Petroleum Institute are discovering.

The API has asked its members to “deploy thousands of workers in so-called Energy Citizen rallies protesting against proposed climate change legislation”, according to a leaked document. The idea is to for this to happen in the two weeks before US Labour Day on September 7, continuing on into autumn this year.

ExxonMobil, says the Financial Times, likes the idea. It says proposed energy legislation could put US businesses “at a disadvantage” with global competitors.

According to the leaked API member memo: “The objective of these rallies is to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at those states’ US senators to avoid the mistakes embodied in the House [of Representatives’] climate bill and the Obama administration’s tax increases on our industry.”

But some of their fellow API members are also members of the US Climate Action Partnership, a fairly progressive group of companies supporting action on climate change. Among them are Shell, BP America, ConocoPhillips, General Electric and Siemens.

Someone at one of the oil companies leaked the API memo to Greenpeace, despite being implored in the memo to “treat this information as sensitive and ask those in your company to do so as well, as some of these places may be subject to change, and we don’t want critics to know our game plan”.

Greenpeace describes the call by the API to chivvy workers to protest “astroturfing”, a practice whereby PR firms and companies create or fund fake grass roots groups to do their bidding under a credible sounding name.

As a rule, if you work in corporate responsibility it’s always good to know what your lobby groups are doing. And then lobby back against it internally if it’s against your interests, and society’s.

Probably the longest payment terms in the world

The recession has been tough on all of us. But Greenwasher finds it hard to stomach the idea of profit-making companies lengthening supplier payment terms to maximise returns.

Aside from the ethics of it, it smacks to of laziness. It says: “Rather than focusing on opportunity and innovation, let’s squeeze the supply base for a few drops more.”
Morally speaking, it’s just wrong. There are no two ways about it.

Companies do it because of greed at the top, and because executives who have reached that level choose not to think about the impact their decisions can have, particularly on smaller companies. Greenwasher has criticised Tesco’s practices (see Ethical Corporation’s July/August issue) for paying non-food suppliers on 60-day terms. But some recent news on supplier payment terms is even more surprising.

Carlsberg, the Danish brewing brand with a prominent link to “CSR” on its website, is now taking up to 120 days to pay suppliers. The official policy, confirmed, says the Forum of Private Business (FPB), by Carlsberg marketing director David Scott, is 95 days.

But if an invoice is issued “early in the month”, according the FPB, a small business lobby group, suppliers could wait 120 days to get paid, double that of Tesco’s suppliers.

Carlsberg announced pre-tax profits of £344m for the second quarter of 2009.

The Forum of Private Business has a late payment Hall of Shame on its website. You’d be surprised at the list of companies. Others include Argos, InBev and Diageo. All firms with stated responsible business policies and practices.

The UK government, known more for squeezing small business over larger, more mobile firms, has even developed a prompt payment code. A lot of the banks have signed up for it.

Now what about the retailers and brewers? Time for them to step up, if they want to be taken seriously on corporate responsibility.

Wood that it were bamboo

Greenwash has become so prevalent in the bamboo fabric sector, the US Federal Trade Commission has censured several firms recently and issued a statement on the topic, entitled: “Have you been bamboozled by bamboo fabrics?”.

Apparently several large textiles firms claim their product is bamboo – which sounds ethical, kind of – but in fact it is rayon, a cheap artificial fibre.

Easy mistake to make, clearly. Greenwasher often accidentally almost adds rayon to his sustainably farmed stir fries at home.

Helpfully, consultants BSR and Futerra have produced a new guide for companies concerned about Greenwash. It’s online at futerra.co.uk. Whilst a bit simplistic (hey it’s marketing people we’re aiming at, right?), it’s a useful document.

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