Moves from the Green Scorpions,Samsung and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month

Lidl’s fiddle

German cut-price retail giant Lidl has been censured by consumer groups over its claims that it only bought clothing from suppliers that “can demonstrate their social responsibility”. In fact, say the Clean Clothes Campaign and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, there is evidence that Lidl clothing has been produced in Bangladeshi factories violating standards on fair pay, working conditions and non-discrimination.

Lidl was threatened with court action over its claims, but has agreed out of court no longer to state that it ensures labour standards in overseas production facilities. The case has also brought into question Lidl’s membership of industry group the Business Social Compliance Initiative.

Thumbs down for palm oil

Spanish multinational Abengoa is the latest firm to distance itself from Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s biggest palm oil producer. Abengoa, a €4bn utilities company, buys palm oil for its biofuels unit, but has joined Nestlé and Unilever in refusing to source from the Indonesian producer. Sinar Mas’s role in rainforest destruction was put in the spotlight by a Greenpeace report published in March last year. Belatedly, Sinar Mas has now appointed independent consultants to look at the Greenpeace claims, with findings due in July.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has received an Ethical Corporation effective campaigner award for its work including the Sinar Mas exposé. And Sinar Mas is Ethical Corporation’s greenwasher of the year (see p22).

Toothless CSR czar

The commitment of Canada’s centre-right government to corporate social responsibility has been questioned after it was revealed that Marketa Evans, the country’s CSR czar, has yet to investigate a complaint, to appoint staff, or even to obtain a fax machine.

Evans was appointed by the federal government in October 2009, in particular to help Canadian mining firms improve their overseas corporate responsibility performance. Opposition MPs have called Evans “toothless”, blaming the limited powers given to her by the government of Stephen Harper. Evans says she has been involved in a “tremendous amount of outreach” to companies.

Green Scorpions strike

The long arm of South African law enforcement has reached into the offices of the country’s second largest waste management company, over a medical-waste dumping scandal. Olivier Meyer, chief executive of Wasteman Group, was collared by South Africa’s environmental enforcers, who operate under the name of the Green Scorpions.

Meyer, a French national, is accused of bribing a brick factory owner to turn a blind eye to the dumping of hundreds of tonnes of medical waste. The case has highlighted South Africa’s lack of capacity for dealing with hazardous waste, with current facilities only able to treat about half of the medical waste produced.

Carrot and stick

An incentive programme in France to push car-buyers to models producing less carbon dioxide has proved a great success in changing the behaviour of manufacturers, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency has reported. Since the programme was introduced two years ago, the number of low-emission car models on the market has increased fivefold, in response to consumer demand. About three-quarters of cars bought in France are now considered to have low or medium-low emissions.

France’s “bonus malus” (bonus penalty) scheme imposes a tax when more polluting models are bought, but gives a cash hand-out to buyers of greener cars. The bonus can be as high as €5,000 for vehicles rated as having super-low emissions.

Samsung goes green

The big business green technology bandwagon continues to gather steam with Samsung, South Korea’s largest corporation, announcing plans to invest $20.6bn in more energy-efficient electronics and renewable power.

The money, which will be spent over the next decade, will go towards products such as rechargeable batteries for electric cars, solar cells and energy-saving displays, as well as on medical devices and biopharmaceuticals. Samsung, the world leader for flat-screen televisions, expects the investment to generate $44bn in annual sales by 2020.

Antipodean emissions

New Zealand has pledged to keep developing its emissions trading system, despite big neighbour Australia shelving its cap-and-trade plans in April. New Zealand’s scheme started in 2008, and from mid-2010 will be expanded to cover transport fuels, electricity generation, and large-scale manufacturing, much like the world’s largest emissions trading system in the European Union.

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, meanwhile, has accepted that opposition in the Australian senate means there is no current prospect of draft emissions trading legislation progressing to the statute book. However, Australia is to look again at cap-and-trade in 2012.

Dolphins get the last laugh

The dolphins may be getting their revenge on the Japanese town of Taiji, where thousands of the marine mammals are slaughtered in an annual hunt. Tests have shown that Taiji residents have about five times more mercury in their bodies than the average person in Japan. This is thought to be the consequence of high levels of consumption of dolphin and whale meat, in which mercury has accumulated because these animals are at the top of the ocean food chain. High mercury levels are a health risk, but no ill-effects have been seen so far among the people of Taiji, officials say.

Poisoned waters

The most common process for processing gold and silver ore should be banned, because it uses hazardous cyanide, the European parliament said in May. MEPs were concerned in particular about plans for new gold mines in Romania, where memories of the Baia Mare incident loom large. At Baia Mare in 2000 a lake of cyanide-impregnated wastewater overflowed, causing an ecological devastation in the Danube and Tisza rivers. However, the mining industry disputed MEPs’ claims that alternatives to gold cyanidation were available.

British fair play

A survey commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation to mark World Fair Trade Day in May found that nearly nine in 10 British consumers “feel a personal responsibility” for the welfare of workers in developing countries. Firms can demonstrate their fair treatment of workers through independent certification shown on their products, and the Fairtrade mark is recognised by more than 90% of British shoppers, the survey concluded.

However, when it comes to changing behaviour, consumers are slower to react. Just one in five said that they would punish a socially irresponsible company by switching to another brand.

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