Global Reporting Initiative

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Background

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is one of the more prominent organisations that helps judge a company's corporate social responsibility programme. Set up in 1997 by the sustainability NGO Ceres it split off in 2001 and now runs independently.

It produces a comprehensive sustainability reporting framework that is widely used around the world. The framework encourages disclosure on environmental, social and governance performance. GRI participants who draw up the framework come from business, civil society, trade union, academic and professional institutions.[1]

Its cornerstone is the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. The third version – known as the G3 Guidelines - was published in 2006.[2]

Involvement with Tobacco Companies

Using PR companies

At the end of the nineties, under pressure to act, tobacco companies began to consider engaging with the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. If the industry could meeting GRI's Reporting Criteria, this would function as a so-called stamp of approval for a its "ethical" behaviour.

The tobacco companies used leading PR companies to advise them. In 2000, Philip Morris had a document prepared by Burson-Marsteller on how it might work with a GRI representative to improve its social reporting.[3]

This led to a conference in 2001 on corporate social responsibility involving GRI and other organisations. This initial CSR effort was delegated to Burson-Marsteller and then report back to Philip Morris. British American Tobacco meanwhile were using Shandwick International and were receiving positive recommendations about GRI.[4]

Internal tobacco documents show that GRI was mentioned as an example of the kind of organisation that could provide independent expertise on constructing CSR charters. For instance Price Waterhouse Cooper's Head of Worldwide Reputation Assurance Practice, in a report to Philip Morris, identified the GRI reporting framework as one of the best.[5] That same year Business for Social Responsibility produced Social Reporting Primer, which described the GRI as:

by far the most prominent CSR reporting standard. To date, more than 60 companies worldwide have formally referred to or followed the GRI guidelines in writing their reports.[6]

BAT Faired Badly

One reason for the tobacco companies' interest in CSR can be gleaned from the note of a meeting in 2000 between BAT and the Pensions & Investments Research Consultants (PIRC). PIRC provides ethical advice to investment fund managers. The meeting had been called because, according to the minutes:

P.I.R.C. has produced a survey of corporate environmental reporting for 3 years (in January of each year). Their 2000 survey was highlighted in a recent letter to FTSE companies from the UK Minister for the Environment, Michael Meacher, encouraging Corporate Environmental Performance and Reporting. BAT fared quite badly in this survey, as the Company had not published a detailed environmental report at the time.[7]

Recovering "Brand Integrity"

From around 2001 onwards companies such as BAT and Philip Morris began to roll out CSR initiatives. That year Philip Morris was quoting GRI in a three-day in-house conference on improving its environmental reporting.[8]

The same year an internal report for BAT also recommended used GRI as a quality benchmark in its efforts to "recover global corporate brand integrity" and to "enhance its licence to operate" as a responsible company in a controversial industry. [9]

In 2005, RJ Reynolds quoted the GRI in its draft CSR report as an organisation it had used for its expertise.[10]

Still Used Today

GRI's guidelines are still being used today. The current Imperial Tobacco website highlights how it uses the latest GRI guidelines for its sustainability reporting.[11]

GRI remains a field leader in analysing and affirming a company's CSR approach, and is currently developing a new set of reporting guidelines.

Notes

  1. Global Reporting Initiative, Network structure, GRI website, Accessed December 2011
  2. Global Reporting Initiative, Latest guidelines, GRI website, Accessed December 2011
  3. Philip Morris, Burson-Marsteller briefing, 18 January 2000
  4. BAT, Global compact, 1 December 2000
  5. Philip Morris, Corporate Responsibility Reporting, 3 January 2001
  6. Philip Morris, Social Reporting Primer, August 2001
  7. BAT, Meeting with Pensions & Investments Research Consultants, 2 August 2000
  8. Philip Morris, Environmental Management Council, November 2001
  9. BAT, Social reporting, November 2001
  10. RJ Reynolds, Most copy for CSR report, 30 December 2005
  11. Imperial Tobacco, Responsibility - performance - GRI, Imperial Tobacco website, Accessed January 2012