But the pressure on U.S. companies to monitor and take ethical responsibility for their overseas supplier connections does not simply end with consumer, NGO, or investor pressures, or with European governments that promise to put great pressure on U.S. multinational corporations, by law and by competition, to also provide audited reports of their supply chain policies. Possibly more important, there are also some significant and ominous lawsuits moving through the U.S. court system that potentially may have a significant effect on how companies interpret their responsibilities with regard to their extended supply chain.
Many states, of course, already require all government purchases to conform to anti-sweatshop requirements, and the federal government has a plethora of social and environmental procurement policies in force for government purchases. Although there has been little discussion of social and environmental reporting in Congress ” certainly nothing on the scale now taking place in Europe and Japan ” in July 2003, a symposium hosted by Senator John Corzine, entitled Environmental and Social Disclosure and the Securities and Exchange Commission: Meeting the Information Needs of Today s Investors, may mark the beginning of a new level of concern and awareness and activity by Congress. Although mostly focused on the potential for environmental liabilities of listed corporations, the symposium did include SEC Commissioner Harvey Goldschmid, and congressional speakers revealed a new level of concern for social and environmental reporting.
Not only can corporate decisions cause substantial and often irreparable-harm to our natural resources and public health, warned Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett, co-sponsor of the symposium, they can expose a company to costly civil and criminal liabilities.
American investors have been denied crucial information about the companies in which they have invested, agreed Representative Barbara Lee, from California. Consumers want to both protect the environment and understand their own [risk] in this process through socially and environmentally responsible investing. For that, we need the SEC to ensure better corporate disclosure of relevant information. Some speakers called for a Blue Ribbon Panel to be formed to study the issue and to recommend how the SEC should promote this type of social and environmental reporting. [28 ]
[28 ] News Release, Friends of the Earth, July 10, 2003 at www.foe.org/new/releases/0703secsymp.html .