Moves from Puma, Wal-Mart and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month.
Retail mammoth Wal-Mart breathed a sigh of relief in June when the United States Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 vote, dismissed a class action against it brought by 1.5 million female former employees. The workers had accused Wal-Mart of gender discrimination in setting pay levels and granting promotion, arguing that female employees are paid on average 37 cents less per hour than their male counterparts.
The justices decided there was no systematic discrimination, and the women should bring cases individually if they felt they had been wronged. However, a study for the New York Times seemed to show a bias in Supreme Court decisions in favour of big business, with the current justices finding for companies in 61% of cases, compared with an average of 42% over the period dating back to 1953.
A Chilean court has put on hold a controversial project to dam two rivers in the southern region of Patagonia. The project, a joint venture between Chile’s Colbun power firm and Italy’s Enel, would construct five hydroelectric stations on the Baker and Pascua rivers, which are considered pristine ecosystems. The proposals to dam the rivers have provoked massive protest in Chile. The court ordered the suspension of the project while it considers appeals against the Colbun/Enel plans from environmental groups and some members of Chile’s senate.
A number of major Indonesian sportswear factories and the brands that they supply, including Adidas, Nike and Puma, signed up to an agreement in June to guarantee freedom of association rights for workers. The deal was brokered by Indonesian trade unions, backed by the Play Fair campaign. It will implement the Clean Clothes Campaign’s protocol on freedom of association, which states that factory workers should be able to form unions, and be given time and facilities to organise their activities. The agreement would fill a gap because Indonesian law “does not cover technical implementation of freedom of association”, an Indonesian trade union representative says.
UK looks really offshore for wind power
All parts of the British Isles came together in mid-June to work on wind and wave power. Under a deal signed in the British-Irish Council, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands will aim to get more interconnected so that windy days are not wasted and renewable power can be shared. UK energy minister Charles Hendry says the agreement will help Ireland in particular to become a renewable energy exporter. “Ireland’s energy demand is only slightly larger than that of Yorkshire and Humberside [and] there has been little incentive to exploit the resource,” he says.
Separately, Hendry has announced that more power companies will be exempted from two UK government schemes, the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target and the Community Energy Saving Programme, both of which require firms to help their customers achieve energy-efficiency savings. Companies with 250,000 customers or fewer – up from 50,000 – will not have to participate. The extended exemption will help smaller suppliers “grow and encourage new players into the market”, Hendry says.
No Silvio lining
Italians have given prime minister Silvio Berlusconi another knock by rejecting a nuclear restart and water privatisation proposal. In referendums held side by side in June, a huge majority of 96% voted down plans to allow more private sector participation in water management, and for water prices to be set in order to allow a guaranteed return on investment. Meanwhile, 94% of voters said no to proposals that would have seen Italian nuclear power stations reopened. Nuclear plants in Italy have been mothballed since the Chernobyl catastrophe in the 1980s. Completing a disastrous day for Berlusconi, Italians also rejected legal immunity for government ministers.
Brazilian soy producer Gruppo Maggi has become the first company to be given Round Table on Responsible Soy certification. The round table was launched in 2006, but only approved the principles and criteria for responsible soy in June 2010. Gruppo Maggi operates in Brazil’s Mato Grosso region and produces 400,000 tonnes of soybean annually, a relatively small proportion of the world total. The round table says its certification standard “meets the global goals of sustainability”, but Greenpeace has criticised it for promoting deforestation, and not distinguishing between genetically modified and conventional soybeans.
US banana giant the Dole Food Company has agreed to settle the claims of about 5,000 Central and South American agricultural workers, according to lawyers representing the plaintiffs. The workers alleged their health was damaged by the use in the 1970s and 1980s of the pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) on Costa Rican, Honduran and Nicaraguan banana farms. If finalised, the agreement would bring to an end a long-running legal battle, which has been through various stages of appeal, dismissal and allegations of malpractice. The law firm representing the workers, Provost Umphrey, says the details of the settlement are being negotiated. Other lawsuits against Dole and Dow Chemical, which has also been sued over DBCP, are ongoing.
More than 500 capital management companies and investment funds that are signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) will be required to disclose information about their investment decisions, under a revision of the PRI rules. The PRI says it will consult on changes to the way it collects information from signatories, and will impose mandatory disclosure of responses from 2013. At present, about 44% of investors answering the survey agree to publication online of their responses. The PRI is backed by the UN Environment Programme and the Global Compact, and has signatories from 45 countries with more than $25tn of assets under management.
Power companies should be obliged to reduce their sales by 1.5% per year through energy efficiency measures that will cut demand, the European commission says. The measure, part of the European Union’s climate change strategy, is designed to ensure that the 27-country bloc achieves a 20% efficiency saving by 2020. Governments will be required to do their bit by renovating 3% of their public building floorspace annually, and making other efficiency improvements. The proposal will be debated by the European parliament and EU governments before becoming law.