Thursday, March 31, 2011

Corporate sponsorship - a slippery slope?

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the information for the Canadian Responsible Investment Conference 2011 and saw that our hosting sponsors, in addition to sustaining members Acuity, Ethical and Meritas, included the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

It turns out that the SIO has a brand new Corporate Sponsorship Policy in place. It states ‘On the question of sponsorship, we will welcome corporate sponsors to our conferences, meetings and events, but there are limits to corporate participation.’ The policy attempts to address the difficult balance between accepting corporate sponsorship and jeopardizing the independence of the SIO.

“We thought long and hard about this decision, both at the conference committee and at the executive committee of the SIO. There were people who did express reservations. At the end of the day, we felt it is important to invite corporations to become sponsors in order to provide them with an opportunity to engage with the SRI industry. This does establish them as more equal partners in the conference, but we feel that this is the essence of true engagement – a conversation among equals.

“The corporate sponsorship policy – which has been reviewed by both the conference committee and the executive committee – sets limits on the involvement of companies in our conference. We recognize that there should be boundaries between corporations and the financial sector to avoid conflicts of interest. That’s why we don’t permit companies to become associate or sustaining members of the organization. But we believe that opening the conference to companies is a step toward constructive engagement with the corporate sector.” explains Eugene Ellmen, Executive Director, SIO.

Laudable as that goal is, I have significant reservations about allowing CAPP to be a hosting sponsor. Firstly, I believe that it gives CAPP considerable credibility to be a hosting sponsor of the Responsible Investment Conference, along with 3 entities that have an admirable and enduring relationship with the SRI community. It raises questions about the SIO’s impartiality, whether justified or not.

Secondly, CAPP is a lobby group, and one whose primary purpose of late is to showcase the tar sands as environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Many groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, consider this greenwashing. And if you have seen the ads, you may agree. Here’s CAPP’s response to the recent Nature of Things episode on the tar sands. Allowing them to be front and centre on our conference material helps their cause, and diminishes the SIO’s brand.

While I completely agree that open dialogue and representation from all sides of an issue make for a better conference, the honour of being a hosting sponsor should be reserved for entities that have a demonstrated commitment to SRI. And that’s not CAPP.

Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. I'm excited to hear the President of CAPP go up against Tom Rand! Should make for an entertaining session :)