On 24 April 2013 the Rana Plaza, a commercial building and garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, claiming some 1,130 lives and injuring thousands more. The shock was felt globally. How could this happen? Who was to blame? If the building was not fit for purpose, why was it being used? How could such a disaster be prevented from happening again?
The collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, killing over a thousand workers, was not just a human tragedy. The ready-made garmants sector is hugely important in Bangladesh, both economically and socially. This gives dealing with the Rana Plaza aftermath even greater importance.
Are global companies improving their environmental, social and governance performance? There is good reason to be optimistic, though there is much work to be done.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer just a marketing buzzword but has become a mainstream part of business operations in companies the world over. From so-called triple bottom line accounting through legal frameworks to stock market indices that reward responsible business conduct on social and environmental fronts, company values increasingly reflect CSR values too. But what of their global supply chains, do they hold the same high values? How can multinational companies in particular be sure that the myriad firms they source from in poorer countries do not cut corners with people’s lives or the environment? The death toll from the collapse of the brand-driven Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013 was another tragic reminder that for CSR to have real value, much more needs to be done.
In this OECD Observer roundtable, we asked a range of stakeholders, from government, business, labour and civil society, for their views:
“What actions are you taking to encourage responsible business conduct and what new steps do you think are needed to strengthen corporate social responsibility worldwide?”
Japan may be on the cusp of a fresh wave of “cool entrepreneurship” that could turn the country’s creative industries into a new source of growth.
After two decades of sluggishness, a recovery could be under way. This time, it could be sustained.
While today Japan is one of the world’s largest and most advanced economies, a member of the G7 and the most developed country in Asia, in 1964 the picture was quite different.
Promoting inclusive growth; rebuilding trust; fostering sustainability: these were the three themes that drove discussions at the annual OECD Forum in May 2013. Since 2000 the OECD Forum has become a major stakeholder summit and is the traditional curtain raiser of OECD Week, being held in conjunction with the Ministerial Council Meeting. The public event provides an opportunity for people from all countries and backgrounds–business, labour, civil society, students and academics, as well as ministers–to debate and understand global challenges and to feed their views into the ministerial discussions. This year some 1,520 participants from 63 countries engaged with 176 speakers to discuss a range of pressing global issues, while millions more were able to participate online.
The River Seine overflowing its banks is not an uncommon sight in Paris, as the winter catchment swells, causing water levels to rise and cover the lower banks, jetties and walkways. Apart from traffic caused by the occasional closure of a few expressways, there are few if any interruptions to daily life. The Seine has threatened worse once or twice in the past century, though the last catastrophic flood in 1910 is now the stuff of old black-and-white postcards and photo albums. Still, the risk remains, and if a flood were to occur, the damage to the city and its infrastructure would be considerable, a recent report warns. Over 5 million people would be affected, while the damage could be as much as €30 billion, affecting some 400,000 jobs in a worse-case scenario. Lives would also be at risk, as New York’s Hurricane Sandy sadly proved in 2012. Projects are under way in the Greater Paris area to improve flood defences, management and planning, and the report lists recommendations that could be taken on board. These include making sure insurance financing is up to the task, since a flood that knocked out Paris and its suburbs would deal a major blow to the French economy, the report says.
OECD (forthcoming, 2014), Seine Basin, Île-de-France, 2014: Resilience to Major Floods, Paris (available online in French: Étude de l’OCDE sur la gestion des risques d’inondation : la Seine en Île-de-France 2014).
One of the earliest citations of the phrase “print is dead” comes from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, but almost 30 years later, print is certainly not dead. Print publishing still drives on average 80% of revenues and close to 100% of the profits for general trade publishers. But among reference and science, technical and medical (STM) publishers, digital publishing was embraced quickly and openly at the expense of print.
Since 1997 the Netherlands has had a tax allowance scheme aimed at promoting investments in energy-saving technologies and sustainable energy production. This so-called Energy Investment Tax Allowance, or EIA to the Dutch, reduces up-front investment costs for firms investing in the newest energy-saving and sustainable energy technologies. The basic design of the EIA has remained the same over the past 15 years: firms investing in technologies listed in an annually updated “energy list” may deduct some of the investment costs from their taxable profits.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a long-lived gas. Almost half of the CO2 emitted in 2013 will still be in the atmosphere a century from now. This means that its concentration, and warming potential, increases over time, unless the rate of accumulation can be cut to zero. This is the goal that the OECD is urging all countries to achieve: zero net emissions by mid-century. To accomplish this, the explicit price of carbon dioxide emissions should be aligned more closely with their true cost, while avoiding expensive policy options that could be replaced by more cost-effective ones.
Climate change is, to a large extent, water change. Water is the predominant channel through which the impact of climate change will be felt. More torrential rains, floods and droughts can be expected in many parts of the world. Not only that–climate change is reshaping the future for freshwater on the planet.
Development aid rose by 6.1% in real terms in 2013 to reach the highest level ever recorded, despite continued pressure on budgets in OECD countries since the global economic crisis. Donors provided a total of US$134.8 billion in net official development assistance (ODA), marking a rebound after two years of falling volumes. Aid to developing countries had grown steadily in the decade to 2010, but fell in 2011-12 as austerity hit several government aid budgets.
Will this be Asia’s century? When it comes to growth and social progress, there have been heady leaps forward, with every prospect of continued dynamism over the next five years. But according to the Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013, if there is a blot on the map, it is in tackling poverty and the wide development gaps that bedevil the continent.
When G20 regulators met in Pittsburgh in September 2009–it had taken them a full year to react to the collapse of Lehman Brothers–they set out an ambitious financial reform agenda. No stone would be left unturned, no shadow in the banking system unexposed. Action would cover all financial market segments and players, and lessons would be learned from the crisis to ensure that the 2008 debacle never happened again.
Major events, like the Great East Japan earthquake or indeed the euro crisis, can have important ripple effects that spread well beyond the areas immediately concerned. More recently, the budget crisis that resulted in the shutdown of large parts of the US government and public services has raised the spectre of a default, the first in the country’s history.
Case studies of specific products, particularly in the electronics industry, show that value creation along a global value chain tends to be unevenly distributed among activities. The highest value creation is found in upstream activities, such as the development of a new concept, research and development (R&D) and the manufacturing of key components. But it is also found in downstream activities, such as marketing, branding and customer service.
Tourism has shown remarkable staying power in recent years. Despite political instability, wars, natural disasters and a global financial crisis, the industry keeps getting up for another round. Japan is good example. After the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident, the number of visitors to the country plunged. But in 2013 more than 9 million tourists visited the country, a record high.