Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Corporate (Mis)Behavior

I have found, already, a number of instances of corporate behavior in Liberia that I would love to research further – some that align with traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns and others that are more unique.

For instance, use of the Determine test began under the guise of a CSR platform. Abbott Technologies, the producer, set out to avail a cheaper, sensitive, specific HIV/AIDS test to developing regions, and in fact donated a large quantity. Consequently, a number of developing nations became accustomed to the test and now rely almost exclusively on Determine for first round testing. In this way, Abbott created a market in which it had an almost monopolistic presence. Axios International is the implementation arm of Abbott’s Access to HIV Care Program, and is responsible for donating Determine, Kaletra, and Novir.

Another example is the activity of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, which sources a great portion of its rubber from Liberian plantations. Driving through Bong and Nimba counties, in particular, offers occasion to see some of the 2,000 square acres of rubber tree plantations Firestone has throughout the country. The process requires slashing the trees to drain sap for processing rubber into portable buckets. (here’s a link to see the process if you’re interested). Firestone has found itself in trouble in the past with the International Labor Rights Fund for violating child labor laws and international environmental protection agencies. The company responded that it strictly follows international conventions and works to uphold living standards and employment services for those working the rubber plantations (see the Wiki article for more ). Firestone has since launched several initiatives to combat the negative press. One example is Firestone Health Services in Margibi County, where employees and local residents can access counseling, testing, and medical services. As of 2006, however, UNMIL reports that Firestone is not fully upholding its corporate policies. Learning about the relationship between Firestone (well, Bridgestone now, I suppose), its workers, and the Liberian government may be an interesting project for the year.

On a cross-industry note, Liberia plays a central role in marine transport by serving as the second largest registry of ships in the world (behind Panama, and leading number three rank, The Bahamas). Established by US shippers after WWII, Liberia’s registry process is reported to be fast, efficient, relatively cheap, and simple. For info on the process check The Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry. Apparently it costs only $713.50 for registration and first year dues. Who knew?

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