Glencore’s First Sustainability Report Merely a Declaration of Intent

Zurich/Berne, 09.09.2011 - Less than three months after its IPO, Zug-based commodities giant Glencore already published its first sustainability report. Instead of concrete goals and measures, this hastily-prepared document primarily contains grandiose declarations of intent. This demonstrates the enormous catching up that is necessary in the area of ecological and social responsibility by the firm formerly known as Marc Rich + Co AG. Glencore is still miles away from its intended international best practice.

The "Glencore Sustainability Report 2010" has not earned its name, because today a relevant sustainability report needs to contain at least the following elements: credible problem analysis, concrete metrics and indicators, and above all concrete measures to reach clear objectives. In Glencore’s glossy brochure one searches for all of these things in vain. Instead, individual unverifiable numbers without context and a few assorted charity stories from the PR department are peddled.

The report comes from that early phase of a discussion about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that Glencore has readily mistaken for charitable commitment. This applies to almost all concrete examples, which shows that although Glencore has been in the commodities business for 38 years, the ecological and social consequences of its activities in the Global South have not been an issue thus far at its headquarters in Zug. Nor is it noteworthy that the report satisfies the purely formal standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

Meaningful numbers are few and far between in the report. Instead of striving for more transparency in its own business, Glencore prefers to support international initiatives that scrutinize governments rather than corporations. Thus, in its sustainability report Glencore supports the EITI, a global transparency initiative for the commodities sector. In the current 35 EITI member countries, all payments from commodities firms to government agencies and their respective revenues are compared – a promising means to fight corruption. But for Glencore, support for the EITI implies no additional obligation for transparency. And misconduct by companies – for example Glencore’s aggressive tax avoidance in Zambia – is neither uncovered nor censured by the EITI. Such tax practices flagrantly violate the purpose and spirit of the EITI, where primarily the local population should benefit from “their” mineral resources.