Some thoughts on corporate responsibility and sustainability in Mexico

How realistic this is, I am not sure...
I've just spent five intensive days in Guadalajara, Mexico with a variety of fascinating academics from Technologico de Monterrey. (the Mexican equivalent of MIT or Cambridge)

I spoke to a large student audience and spent several days with a variety of professors, who were fascinating company and extremely hospitable. 

Here's a few thoughts on the development of CSR in the country. 

1) There's a major opportunity for national and regional leadership

Mexico is clearly in the upper tier of countries in Latin America on corporate responsibility, alongside Chile and Brazil. However, aside from a handful of leadership companies, most CSR work is fairly low level (see next point). This means, as the big beast economy in the North of Latin America there is a significant leadership opportunity for Mexico to driver progress in the region, as Brazil has done further south for a decade or more. 

2) Philanthropy rules but some Mexican companies are already doing great work

Here's a few of the companies doing better work on corporate responsibility issues which turned up in my conversations and research. There are others:

Grupo Bimbo
Grupo Modelo
Compartamentos Banco
Cemex
Cerveceria Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma
Met-Mex Peñoles
Sabritas
Femsa

These companies are not, as you would expect, at the holistic sustainability strategy level, with the possible exception of Cemex, but are going beyond, quite a long way beyond in some cases, the average philanthropic and basic environment work of other companies. 

As elsewhere, the SME sector represents a huge proportion of both GDP and employment, and a number of academics I met are studying how smaller and medium sized companies can be engaged on sustainability and responsibility. Larger companies and their ability to spread the word will be key to change. 

3) Lots of companies want certificates of goodness

This is common all over the world. Lots of businesses who are not yet exposed to CSR/sustainability beyond compliance believe there's a box to tick, someone to pay and a certificate to proudly display. 

The success of ISO 14000 and other such certifiable standards, whilst no doubt doing some good, has not helped here. There's a genuine lack of understanding in outside the leadership companies as to what corporate sustainability/responsibility means beyond philanthropy and certification/compliance.

No surprises there. Clearly awareness raising is needed and Mexico's vibrant media sector where opinions are not held back in other areas, could play a key role here in the future. If a credible outfit were to provide them with research, stories in the media could help drive change. 

4) Mexicans look to the US for business leadership, but may have more in common with European companies

Mexico has a complex relationship with Spain. Spanish companies are big investors in the country, more so now than perhaps ever before. That comes with some historical baggage but there's an upside. Spanish companies have experience of social engagement all over Latin America, and so Mexican business could learn as much, perhaps a lot more, from companies based in Spain, than they may from firms based in the US.

5) Security worries everyone. Can the Colombian conflict management and post conflict reconstruction lessons be useful?

Colombia has had some success in rebuilding institutions, social capital, urban environments and the state itself in the last 10 years or so. Mexico is clearly very different, but business and NGOs, multi-lateral organisations etc, have lessons from Colombia that could be useful when Mexico vanquishes some or all of the cartels which have created war zones in certain areas. Post-conflict reconstruction is probably not too strong a word for what may be needed in cities such as Ciudad Juarez.

6) Climate change IS a concern, but some initiatives have stalled in the economic and security crises of recent times

Back in the good old days of 2006, Mexico was not alone in having political leaders make big promises on the environment, particularly on climate change. Many of these, as elsewhere, have been stymied by global political realpolitik and particularly economic problems, which hit Mexico hard. However, as the country recovers and the violence peak of 2010/11 may be over, the Government is edging towards further green initiatives. The fact that the unreformed state oil behemoth Pemex is running out of oil may also push the government, at some point, to deliver more of the renewable energy that's been discussed in the past. 

7 ) Coalition based initiatives are growing

In recent years Cemex, a true multi-national firm with clear Mexican roots, has created an alliance of companies tackling disability discrimination. More than 60 companies are now involved, trying to create sustainable jobs for the 4.5% of disabled Mexicans who are largely excluded from the workforce. Other alliances no doubt exist. The Cemex collaboration has come a long way very quickly and shows potential as a model for other areas where companies could work together, provided they have a catalyst.

8) Civil society groups are weaker, but growing

One professor I spent some time with focuses on civil society groups and their work with communities, amongst other areas. I had the strong impression that local groups, with names such as 'reclaim the streets' were making inroads in bringing together communities, artists and the creative energy of Mexicans to make their voices heard and celebrate their heritage. As immigration increases and migrants become an increasing part of society, civil society movements look set to increase in number and influence. 

9) Political capacity, as elsewhere, is lacking

This is true everywhere. The UK has the same problem. Recent political leaders are not held in high regard. Political vacillations over reforming leaky state petrol giant Pemex, security mistakes and underfunded green/climate initiatives have created cynicism. The greater challenge is to know what is to be done. As elsewhere, corporate responsibility can play a role, if companies can co-ordinate and collaborate with others to help create policy and practical solutions. This is a slow burn issue, but clearly one for the future. 

10) The rich(er)/poor divide is a serious emerging business concern

The two tier society that is so obvious in Mexico is by no means unique, but as equally worrying as anywhere else. Corporate responsibility particularly through coalitions and SME capacity building, will have to play an ever growing role in Mexican society and the economy.

Overall, the outlook for Mexico looks much more positive than a few years ago. The key question is whether a respected national organisation can go further than current certification outfits and really catalyse a leadership group of companies to work on the issues in a more strategic way. 

Here's some further reading:




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