The missing link in global sustainability

The CSHS report entitled, Current Practices in Occupational Health and Safety Sustainability Reporting, looked at corporate social responsibility, sustainability and annual reports of organizations considered “sustainable” and found some crucial gaps and inconsistencies in reporting practices among these organizations when it comes to their OHS metrics and performance.

The CSHS report found, among other things, “high variability in terms and definitions used to report OHS, making it difficult to use reports to compare OHS across organizations.”

What I found troubling in this report, however, is the high amount of workplace fatalities — at least 10 — reported by five of these so-called Global 100 sustainable organizations. One organization reported 49 fatalities in a year and another company had 81 fatalities between 2010 and 2012.

In the last decade, corporate social responsibility and global sustainability have become catchphrases in the corporate world signifying an organization’s commitment to the social aspects of its operations. The skeptic in me views this simply as one big PR strategy to project a positive image among customers, industry peers and partners. But I’m sure for many organizations, it’s much more than that. And some are indeed making a difference in the world through their corporate social responsibility investments.

That can’t be the case, however, for companies that continue to devalue and ignore the occupational health and safety aspect of their global sustainability reporting. A company that causes workers to die on the job does not deserve to be on the list of sustainable companies.

In an article published in Forbes, the editor-in-chief at Toronto-based Corporate Knights, Toby Heaps, described sustainability as being achieved “when what is good for a company is also good for the planet, and vice-versa.”

Workers being injured or killed on the job can’t be good for any company nor for the planet. So, why are organizations that have significant fatalities getting on that very narrow list of the 100 most sustainable companies in the world?

The inconsistencies in OHS reporting among organizations that report on corporate social responsibility and global sustainability show a clear gap in sustainability analysis. Those folks who analyze and decide on who’s sustainable and who’s not need to be educated on why it’s important for companies to make sure their workers get to go home to their families safe and sound every single day, and why that should be an important consideration in any sustainability framework.

The CSHS is right in pushing for OHS metrics to not just be included but, more importantly, be promoted as a vital indicator of an organization’s overall sustainability.