CSR and Disaster Risk Reduction – Part 1

One aspect of social media relates to disaster risk reduction and providing important access to information in the wake of disasters [1]. This was exemplified by the recent Japan earthquake and Tsunami. With Japanese telecommunications affected by the seismic activity, but the internet still working, Twitter and Facebook were the most effective way to get news out. Therefore, disaster risk reduction is one field in which social media enterprise could contribute as part of its corporate social responsibility.

Interestingly, the Japan earthquake also reminds us of how companies, other than social media enterprise, can respond to disasters. Google, for instance, ‘advertised’ this warning on its search engine page in response to the earthquake, thus becoming a global emergency alert system, stating:

“Tsunami Alert for New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and others. Waves expected over the next few hours caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan.” And just hours later, updated it to: “Tsunami Alert Waves expected across the Pacific region, caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan,” and then “Resources related to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.”

The importance of business taking an active role in disaster risk reduction is becoming more and more relevant. As developing countries are most affected by natural disasters and many corporations have transferred their production facilities to these regions, it stands to reason that businesses start to reflect on their societal role in the event of a catastrophe [2]. How business is addressing disaster risk reduction overall is thus another part of corporate responsibility that companies need to consider.

The key to successful disaster reduction is to reduce the vulnerability of communities exposed to natural hazards and to be able to cope during, and recover after, the event. More recently, this has been addressed through business continuity management plans. Business continuity is the activity performed by an organisation to ensure that critical business functions will be available when there are disruptions [3].

But because disaster risk reduction aims to strengthen community responses in the event of disaster, it requires companies to think about how their business continuity plans impact society. For instance, if business expediency is the priority, a business continuity plan could entail dropping a supplier if supplies are temporarily disrupted, effectively depriving the supplier of much needed resources to be functional again. Such a plan would be contrary to sustainable development. If business is going to play its role in decreasing the vulnerability of communities that are exposed to natural hazards, particularly in developing countries, disaster preparedness needs to be understood within the context of sustainable development, which will be explored in part two of this reflection.

Ian Doyle

Lifeworth Consulting associate
Greenleaf Contributor

Note: This blog is based on Lifeworth’s pro-bono work with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and the forthcoming edition (issue 41) of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship.

References:

[1] Imogen Wall, ‘After disaster: information for life’, Open Democracy Online. 26 October 2008.

[2] Alyson Warhurst. ‘Disaster Prevention: A Role for Business’. Provention Consortium Online. August 2006.

[3] ICOR : Business Continuity Management. See also, David Honour. ‘Defining Business Continuity’, Continuity Central Online. 29 September 2006.

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