Friday, January 28, 2011

A socio-environmental responsibility law?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

There is already the law of fiscal responsibility. A ruler can't spend more than the amount of taxes collected allows. This has significantly improved governance.

The accumulation of social and environmental disasters that have occurred recently, with the landslides, devastating floods and hundreds of fatalities, coupled with the destruction of entire landscapes, forces us to consider the establishment of a national law on socio-environmental responsibility, with severe penalties for those who don't respect it.

We have already taken a step with corporate awareness of social responsibility. They can't think only of themselves and their shareholders' benefits. They must assume a clear social responsibility because they don't live in a world apart -- they are in a given society, with a government that makes laws, they are in a given ecosystem and are being pressured by a civic conscience that increasingly demands the right to a good quality of life.

Let it be clear that social responsibility is not the same as social obligation prescribed by law with respect to the payment of taxes, commissions and salaries, nor can it be confused with social response, which is the ability of firms to adapt to changes in the social, economic and technical fields. Social responsibility is the obligation assumed by companies to seek goals that, in the medium and long term, are good for them and also for the whole of the society in which they are located.

It's not about doing for society, which would be philanthropy, but with society, engaging in projects developed together with municipalities, NGOs and other entities.

But let's be realistic: in a neoliberal regime such as ours, whenever businesses aren't profitable, social responsibility decreases and even disappears. The greatest enemy of social responsibility is speculative capital. Its objective is to maximize the benefits of the purses and portfolios that it controls. It sees no other responsibility but to ensure profits.

But social responsibility is not enough, since it doesn't include the environmental factor. Few people have realized the relationship between the social and the environmental. It's an intrinsic relationship. All companies and each of us live on earth, not in the clouds -- we breathe, eat, drink, walk on the soil, we are exposed to changes in climate, immersed in nature with its biodiversity, inhabited by billions of bacteria and other microorganisms. That is, we are within nature and are part of it. Nature can live without us as it has done for billions of years, but we can not live without it. Therefore,the social without the environmental is unreal. Both always come together.

That which seems obvious, isn't for most people. Why do we exclude nature? Because we are all anthropocentric, that is, we think only of ourselves. Nature is something external, for our enjoyment.

We are irresponsible with nature when we cut down trees, when we pour billions of liters of pesticides onto the soil, when we launch about 21 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, pollute water, destroy waterfront vegetation, do not respect the decline of the mountains that can collapse and kill people, or see the flow of the rivers that, if they grow, can take everything before them.

We don't internalize the information biologists and astrophysicists provide us: We all have the same basic genetic alphabet, so we're all cousins and brothers and sisters, and thus we form the community of life. Every being has intrinsic value and therefore has rights. Our democracy can not only include human beings. Without the other members of the community of life, we are nothing. They count as new citizens who should be included in our concept of democracy, which then becomes a socio-environmental democracy. Nature and things give us signals. They draw our attention to the possible risks that we can avoid.

Social responsibility is not enough, it must be socio-environmental. It is urgent that the parliament pass a socio-environmental responsibility law to be imposed on all managers of public matters. Only then will we avoid tragedies and deaths.

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