By Kelly Roesler, The Ottawa Citizen November 11, 2011
OTTAWA — As the global Occupy movement continues to rail against the actions of big corporations, many Canadians are quietly sending an equally strong message to all businesses: ethics matter, and social responsibility is influencing key decisions such as where to work, where to invest and which products to buy.
A six-part public opinion survey, conducted from October 2010 to October 2011, revealed a substantive share of Canadians are thinking about social responsibility in various aspects of their lives. Many say they are willing to spend a little more, or earn a little less, to interact with what they deem to be “ethical” companies.
According to researcher David Coletto, chief executive of Ottawa-based Abacus Data, comments expressed about the Occupy Wall Street protests demonstrate that people are frustrated.
“They see that corporations aren’t necessarily being as socially responsible as they should be,” says Coletto. “Canadians are thinking about it. People are talking about it.”
The survey findings promise to be a hot topic at the fourth annual Corporate and Community Social Responsibility Conference, taking place Tuesday at Algonquin College.
The conference is organized by Eli Fathi, a major figure in Ottawa’s technology sector, as a place where businesses and community groups can discuss social, economic and environmental sustainability. About 1,000 attendees are expected.
“We’re giving a forum to people to speak and learn from other organizations across Canada and share best practices in these areas,” says Fathi. “We give equal weight to the corporate and the community.”
This year’s conference couldn’t have been better timed, given the momentum of the Occupy protest that began Sept. 17 in New York City’s financial district and has spread to many other cities, including Ottawa. Its participants are mainly protesting social and economic inequality and corporate greed, corruption and influence over government.
Fathi says he’s “not surprised at all” by their sentiments.
“Clearly, this is one of the things I’ve been promoting: if we don’t help the people who need help, we will end up with people barricading themselves and so on,” he says.
Fathi makes clear that he doesn’t espouse the movement, but he doesn’t entirely reject it. “There are different aspirations and requests, and some of them are valid.”
The protests, he adds, underscore the importance of building bridges between community and corporations.
“We need to make sure both sides are singing to the same tune,” he says. “We need understanding. We need to determine what supports are required. We have to help those who cannot help themselves.
“And we can do this, one person, one small cause at a time.”
Coletto calls the timing fortuitous.
“(The protests) are a manifestation of what happens when corporations and community groups don’t work together,” he says. “The conference is all about fixing that and increasing dialogue.”