Learning To Operate In A Climate Of Global Scrutiny

The questioning of corporate power and the role of business in society is not just a U.S. phenomenon ("Too much corporate power?" Cover Story, Sept. 11).

Corporations of many nationalities operating in many different markets are at the sharp end of changing expectations from consumers, employees, and government.

Campaigns have been aimed at Petrobras of Brazil for allegedly causing pollution, at De Beers of South Africa for supposed dealing in "conflict diamonds," at Broken Hill Mining of Australia for causing environmental degradation in Papua New Guinea, and at the Royal Bank of Scotland for allegedly supporting the homophobic religious right.

Here is not the place to enter into a debate about the rights and wrongs of each case. But the truth is that companies are having to learn how to operate in a climate of scrutiny, with activists using a combination of communications and media skills that up to now have been the preserve of corporations.

How are companies responding? First, they're soul-searching. Second, they're in dialogue with stakeholders to understand their concerns and explore ways to maximize the positive contribution and minimize the negative impact of business operations. Third, they're implementing new business techniques that provide transparent continual assessment of their impact on communities, often with independent verification. Fourth, they're entering into a myriad of partnerships and strategic alliances with nongovernmental organizations to work for common goals.

Adrian Hodges

Director, The Americas

Prince of Wales

Business Leaders Forum