Selamat pagi from Bukit Lawang,
Before corporations first gained their legal status as a person, they were much more benign, much less inclined to rape and pillage. They had charters, to build railways or bridges or such like, projects for the common good. When corporations lost their conscience by gaining their new status as legal persons they often began to behave in a very anti-social manner.
Corporate Social Responsibility
When they were inconveniently exposed by the watchdog media, they employed Public Relations teams to mitigate the damage to their image and reputations. More recently, corporations have been peddling a more proactive case: Corporate Social Responsibility, in which they do things which amount to philanthropic acts in the community, and then tell everyone about them, hoping that the well-publicised responsible behaviour will be perceived by the buying public as outweighing the irresponsible behaviour such as pollution, selling dangerous products, animal testing, union busting and more.
Then came the notion of stakeholder orientation, where corporations consider the interests of all stakeholders rather than just its shareholders. Today, there’s a new horizon. It’s called Shared Value. This is where the corporation’s interests are meant to coincide with the interests of their community. Fat chance! say the cynics.
Those same cynics will say that organic producers, ecotourism resorts and purveyors of animal-test-free products have merely identified a new segment of the market: the environmental carers, you might call them. All they’re doing – according to these naysayers – is tapping a new segment for the same old marketing reasons, with the same old profit motive driving the enterprise. There’s no doubt that there’s lots of that going on but this ecotourism joint in Bukit Lawang has a different raison d’être.
They’ve gone for the more difficult option, when palm oil plantations are the easy alternative. There are many palm oil plantations in the neighbourhood but that doesn’t align with their values. They’ve attempted to follow the model of Shared Value, in which the interests of the business don’t just overlap or approximate but actually are exactly the same as the interests of the community.
The enterprise has minimised their carbon footprint to the point of being neutral. They carry everything into and out of the jungle. They rescue orangutans and train them back to self-sufficiency, even though that’s a trying and time-consuming exercise. And they care about the long-term future of the jungle.
The plantation owners here know of the dubious properties of their product but they want to improve their material standard of living, like everybody else. They generally want the rainforest to stand. They have an interest in maintaining the jungle for its own intrinsic value (as opposed to what they can derive from it). It’s their home, after all. They live here because they like it, not the other way round.
The resort here promotes the chance to see orangutans close up and does a great job. (Linda saw three more today from the other side of the river.) After our trek through the jungle we finished the day with a white water rafting trip, hearing the guides singing “Jungle trek, jungle trek, in Bukit Lawang . . .” to the tune of “Jingle Bells” before some beautiful satay chicken for dinner. This afternoon, Linda mused, “I don’t really feel like going back to work yet”.
The sign across the river says that every visitor helps stave off another plantation. Shared Value is a reality for this organisation.
So, you think Shared Value is a sham: another false hope in the line of corporate propaganda emanating from the US? Maybe, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“This place gets 10 out of 10 from me,” said Linda; not an automatic satisfied customer.
Selamat jalan from Bukit Lawang