Democracy is not enough

Living Economies in Asia - Sunday, June 05, 2005

‘Fortunately or unfortunately the Islamic countries of the Middle East are rich in petroleum. Exploitation as well as colonization conspiracies in its implicit or explicit form are numerous for the region.

Democracy is the pathway to counter exploitation as well as fundamentalist reactions to it. But democracy, majority rule, is not enough as many dictators were elected democratically. Human Rights including respect for the dignity of minority cultures should govern democratic leadership. Genuine democratic leadership will fully recognize Human Rights and they will bring security, peace and prosperity.

This was in brief the message that Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, conveyed to the audience at the main auditorium of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, where she held International Peace Foundation public lecture in April this year. Mrs. Ebadi is a lawyer and Human Rights activist from Iran and she is the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her lecture in Bangkok was presented by the Kasikornbank and sponsored by Thai Airways, BMW, Dusit Thani Hotel and Ogilvy & Mather.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) increasingly becomes a factor at the macro-economic level. Are Shirin Ebadi’s remarks on Human Rights relevant for the business sector?

Analysis says that CSR has evolved over the years into a challenge for corporate policy development with (at least) three dimensions:

  1. CSR provides the principles for improving the company’s internal climate and outreach to society.
  2. CSR is important for building reputation and strengthening brand loyalty of mindful consumers.
  3. Responsible behavior of the business sector as a whole contributes to Human Security and that is increasingly understood as a pre-condition for good business and prosperity. This is the perspective of collective long term risk management.

Much attention has been given to the first two dimensions of Corporate Social Responsibility and some proof has already been gathered that CSR – if practiced honestly and coupled with good governance – results in sustainable profitability of companies and thus investors’ confidence.