Brief history of CSR


Increasingly, local communities, the media, NGOs, consumers, and civil society in general are demanding that business be carried out in an ethical and socially responsible manner.

Though great progress has been made by many companies operating responsibly in highly regulated countries, there remains challenges in less developed regions.

A number of guidelines have emerged to help companies shape their CSR practices, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is looking to build standards around CSR.

By and large, many companies are recognizing the need to balance environmental, social, and governmental issues (ESG). Most have willingly begun to implement practices in their day to day operations, demonstrating how CSR should be a core value. And a wealth of civil society organizations (CSOs) and other bodies are available, both to ensure companies work towards CSR objectives, and to help them meet those goals.

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The '60s & '70s

Examples of corporate social responsibility began to emerge, and the civil rights movement, consumerism, and environmentalism greatly changed the way society expected the business world to behave.

In 1960, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) convention was created to promote policies aimed at achieving "highly sustainable economic growth and employment, and a high standard of living in Member countries, all while maintaining financial stability." (CSRQuest)

The convention also sought to "contribute to sound economic expansion in Member as well as non-member countries in the process of economic development; and to contribute to the expansion of world trade on a multilateral, non-discriminatory basis in accordance with international obligations." (CSRQuest)

With the '70s came the common use of the term CSR, along with many attempts to officially define the phrase.

The UN conference of 1972 in Stockholm considered the ever-growing need to find a common ground between both communities and businesses across the globe to preserve the human environment.

This conference led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), amongst many other national environmental protection agencies.

The mid 1970s gave birth to "Impact and Benefit Agreements" (IBAs) between Canadian Aboriginal groups and extractive sector companies. These agreements outlined commitments by the company for re-location, employment, and training on projects constructed near Aboriginal communities.

In 1976, Canada played a major role in the development of the OECD's guidelines, which were set in place to promote “national treatment and complement the Foreign Investment Review Act.”

To this day the Guidelines continue to remain a pillar in upholding Canadian CSR policy.

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The '80s & '90s

In 1980, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released The World Conservation Strategy. It identified the main culprits of habitat destruction as "poverty, population pressure, social inequity, and the terms of trade." (CSRQuest)

The new International Development Strategy focused on achieving a more stable world economy, stimulating economic growth, evening out social inequities and countering the worst impacts of poverty.

In '87 the concept of sustainable development was introduced and finally defined in the groundbreaking report Our Common Future. The World Commission on the Environment and Development, under Chair Gro Harlem Brundtland, delivered the report to the United Nations.

Former Canadian Ambassador Jim MacNeil served as Secretary General to the commission. In response to the Brundtland Report, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced Canada’s intention to establish an international institute devoted to sustainable development to the UN in 1988. Thus the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy were created in the '89-'90 time period.

In 1992, the UN Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro. The summit introduced the "triple bottom line" business model, as well as the idea of using sustainable development to a company's competitive advantage.

Canada pledged over $90 million to key Summit Conventions, and was one of the first countries to involve external stakeholder groups in these political events.

In '93, the launch of the Whitehorse Mining Initiative (WMI) led to the signing of the WMI Leadership Council Accord  in '94. The Accord sought, in a nutshell, to “achieve a sustainable mining industry within the framework of an evolving and sustainable Canadian society.”

In 1998, Canada, along with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), IDRC, and the leadership of IISD, organized a major workshop in Lima, Peru. The multi-stakeholder event brought together 11 Latin-American countries and Canada in order to cohesively work towards a sustainable future in the region. Five working groups were then formed to act on this goal.

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The New Millennium

The year 2000 saw more mergers and acquisitions than any other year in history. In November, the international "Partners for Progress" conference was held in Paris. It stressed the importance for businesses to adopt socially responsible behaviour, in an effort to move forward towards sustainable local development.

The results of the conference were published in Corporate Social Responsibility: Partners for Progress, OECD, in 2001.

In 2003, Canada played a major role in the enforcement of the Kimberly Process; a diamond certification process (launched in 2000) that was initiated in order to prevent the trade of conflict diamonds and address the peace and security concerns in Africa.

As a signatory to the Kimberly Process, Canada does not trade diamonds with non-signatories, and all Canadian diamonds are required to be accompanied by a Canadian Certificate.

Over a period of several years, presentations were made to the SCFAIT on the conduct of petroleum and mining companies in foreign countries such as Colombia, Sudan, the Philippines, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This resulted in the report Mining in Developing Countries - Corporate Social Responsibility, which was submitted to the Government of Canada in June 2005. The report called on the government to take action in ensuring that Canadian mining companies operating abroad do so "in a socially and environmentally responsible manner and in conformity with international human rights standards." (PDAC)

The GOC's response came in October, at which point they agreed that the CSR system had its weak points, and that this could best be examined by a series of 4 national roundtables. "Specifically, the roundtables would examine measures that could be taken during the next one to three years to enable Canadian extractive sector companies operating in developing countries to meet or exceed leading CSR best practices."

On March 29, 2007 the roundtables’ report was finally released.(PDAC)

In March 2009, the Government of Canada announced its action plan on CSR, Building the Canadian Advantage, which featured 4 points, including supporting the creation of the Centre for Excellence in CSR, and setting up the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor.

In October 2009, the Government of Canada appointed its first ever corporate social responsibility counsellor, Marketa Evans. Some saw this decision as a giant step forward towards social and environmental improvement, while others were disappointed, feeling the counsellor's role would not extend far enough to enact notable change.

Meanwhile, in its early stages, the work towards the government's action plan has continued throughout the year.

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