Opening of the Institute of Corporate Law, Governance and Innovation Policies
What are most businesses about? Exactly, making as much money as possible. But they could also try to produce in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Businesses that are socially responsible do much better in financial terms, according to Sybren de Hoo, extraordinary professor of Corporate Social Responsibility at the Faculty of Law. Today he and his colleague Jan Eijsbouts will give their inaugural speeches.
The Maastricht Faculty of Law appointed no less than two professors of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) last year: jurist Jan Eijsbouts and civil engineer and sociologist Sybren de Hoo. The latter has been involved in the introduction of CSR in various organisations (e.g. the Rabobank) since the nineteen-eighties. According to him, it is not just a question of changing the production process, through energy conservation and more environment-friendly production processes, but also a change of mentality in management and better social circumstances. The latter plays a role in particular in developing countries, in the form of safety and human rights.
De Hoo: “A great deal has been done in the field of environmental legislation, but there are many issues that go beyond the law. It is up to the entrepreneur to decide whether or not to do something about those things or not. How far can businesses go when it comes to the use of fossil fuels, for example? There is only a limited supply on earth. One might wonder how to go on, in particular with a view to the future.”
A clear example is the extraction of palm oil in Indonesia. It is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world and a raw material for the production of biscuits, crisps, deep-frying oil, but also for soap and cosmetics, et cetera. Malaysia and Indonesia set up many oil palm tree plantations, destroying tropical rain forests. Environmental organisations keep hammering away at the importance of the environment and human rights.
A switch to corporate social responsibility, however, is not an overnight change. Van Hoo: “Businesses need ten to fifteen years to implement this properly. That is why we should abolish its voluntary character. Government could play a much more prominent role. My colleague Jan Eijsbouts will focus in particular on the legal background, whereas I will concentrate more on actual practice.”
A good many businesses have embraced CSR, De Hoo continues, “but it is still a thin top layer if you consider that there are millions of businesses where nothing happens. In the Netherlands, Akzo, DSM and the Rabobank are leaders. On a global scale, there is, Interface, a multinational in the field of floor covering. They want to reduce their impact on the environment to zero.”
De Hoo thinks it is nonsense to say that sustainability only costs money. “If you take the top 20 per cent on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index you will see that their financial performance is much better than the bottom 20 per cent.”
Businesses and their environment
The Maastricht Institute of Corporate Law, Governance and Innovation Policies (ICGI) is officially opened today with a symposium in English, one of the speakers being former minister, professor Jacqueline Cramer – currently director of the Utrecht Sustainability Institute.
The ICGI, an idea by Kid Schwarz, professor of Corporate Law and Bas Steins Bisschop, extraordinary professor of Corporate Law and Corporate Governance at the Faculty of Law, will focus primarily on legislation pertaining to the interaction between businesses and their environment.
Jan Eijsbouts and Sybren de Hoo have also been appointed to help shape the institute. In addition, they are going to teach in the master’s programme of Globalisation and Law and supervise a number of PhD students.