Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli
- MY SAY -
THE EDGE – January 12, 2009
Queen Elizabeth II has decided to omit leading figures associated with the
financial world from her New Year's honours list in view of their alleged
role in the current economic crisis.
The palace says: "When millions of families are struggling to keep their
homes and many people live in fear of losing their jobs, it would be unjust
to dole out honours to rich bankers." The honours system must reflect the
moods of the times as well as public opinion, it adds.
And so, the Queen may not be amused to find out who gets what at one Annual
Corporate Report Awards held here recently. This event might not have been
as prestigious, but millions of Malaysian families are also struggling like
their British counterparts.
What boggles the mind is that a tobacco company gives the impression (in a
special event pullout) that it won the corporate social responsibility (CSR)
award (supported by a picture) at the said event. In a CSR-focused
interview, the company claimed that its CSR Charter is "aligned to the CSR
framework launched by Bursa Malaysia Bhd as a guideline for public listed
The company is allegedly guided by the values of transparency,
accountability, integrity and good corporate governance. And it says it
continues to communicate to a wide range of stakeholders through the social
report! In all, as blazoned across the pullout, it says: "We walk the talk
when it comes to CSR", and ambitiously projects itself as a benchmark
company in CSR.
Unfortunately, just days before the blitz, an international news report
exposed how cigarette companies mischievously employ "covert tactics" in
Asia. Separate studies conducted by researchers in prestigious universities
and research institutes in Thailand, Australia, the UK and the US suggest
that tobacco companies have tried to undermine anti-smoking policies in Asia
in a campaign to shift the focus away from the dangers of smoking.
At times, contrabands are used, clandestinely, and contrary to the company's
complaints, these are meant to build market presence, in competition with
other brands. Details of these reports are presented online in the
authoritative Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal.
As expected, the knee-jerk response of the company is denial, but
confidential documents of the tobacco companies have revealed such
activities and more. They even reveal attempts to subvert efforts by World
Health Organisation (WHO) to reduce smoking. In Asia, given many smokers are
less aware and poorly educated, the situation is grave.
Indeed, an epidemiologist with WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative says: "The WHO
regrets the unethical behaviour of tobacco companies that infiltrate
research organisations to influence the research process and the findings of
We have not even begun to talk about the premature loss of human lives by
the millions annually, which is what "corporate social responsibility" must
ultimately address, let alone the fact that increasingly, younger people are
being induced to smoke, especially in developing countries like Malaysia.
What about the millions of others who are suffering from tobacco-related
diseases? All these are within the realm of corporate social responsibility
that companies must be evaluated on.
This is where one hopes values of transparency, accountability and integrity
are closely adhered to, especially when death attributed to corporate
activities is involved. Stakeholders should be sensitive to how companies
"waste" human lives to boost the bottom line. To do otherwise would be
socially irresponsible, unless values of transparency and integrity are
intended just for show and are glossed over in practice.
Indeed, how and where exactly is the death toll reported in relation to the
profit and loss statement in the award-winning Annual Corporate Report?
Doesn't the "loss" of lives deserve to be highlighted too, more so than the
gain and loss in monetary terms?
Thus, the Queen is exemplary in taking a firm stand to ensure human lives
and sufferings are not brushed aside in justifying awards as part of the
social impact and responsibility. In other words, the company that fails to
protect human lives knowing full well that products such as tobacco kill
must be held fully accountable rather than rewarded!
Otherwise, as it stands, doling out an award to such a company is tantamount
to accepting all those misgivings and remaining oblivious to the highly
publicised tobacco-induced human sufferings.
This further underscores the message that the millions of Malaysian families
who are now struggling, triggered by the demise of their loved ones as a
result of tobacco use, are irrelevant to the context of so-called
"excellence" accorded to the company. This is worse if one desires to be the
CSR benchmark company, unless CSR is reduced to corruptible social
responsibility, in stark contrast to global public opinion and ethics and
clearly out of sync with the moods of the times. This, of course, makes
nonsense out of CSR.
The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of
Universiti Sains Malaysia. He can be