Business for Social Responsibility: At Annual Conference, Guest Speakers Feature Anti-Internet Freedom and Obesity Boosting CEOs.

The Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) group has an ad touting its annual conference in today’s New York Times business section [the Times Co. is a BSR “media sponsor”]. Featured as keynote speakers are Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons and Coca Cola’s chair and CEO Neville Isdell. The conference is supposed to help executives “learn about the best practices in corporate social responsibility (CSR) today — and what lies ahead.” The program has panels with titles as “Being Green is Glorious,” “Replicating Better Factories Cambodia,” and “Strategic Decision-Making on Climate Change: Exploring Voluntary and Regulatory Approaches.” H-P, Altria (Philip Morris), GE, McDonalds and many other heavyweights are sponsoring the conference. NGO’s also appear to play a role at BSR, as evidenced by the session entitled “Strategies for Improving Business Impact on Poverty: Unilever and Oxfam Look Ahead.”

But the idea of featuring keynotes from Parsons and Isdell, who are positioned as some kind of global corporate role model, is absurd. Parsons leads a company fighting against Internet Freedom in the U.S. Time Warner, as we know, is opposed to broadband network neutrality. Instead of being honored, Dick Parsons should be scolded. Parsons was also the key executive helping his former boss Gerry Levin and eventual partner Steve Case fool shareholders and investors (including pension funds) when they engineered the AOL-Time Warner deal [Washington Post may require registration]. Parsons was a key leader of the Time Warner effort to further media consolidation in the cable TV business—despite its consequences to freedom of expression and ownership diversity.

Now, Time Warner is working with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other allies to thwart the passage of network neutrality safeguards. Instead of being honored, Parsons should be roundly criticized for his lack of real corporate social responsibility.

As for Mr. Isdell. Well, let’s just say that Coca-Cola is actively promoting a digital media-saturated global youth obesity epidemic. Take a look here.

Among the funders of BSR include the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the (get ready for this!) U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I think we should ask for a taxpayer refund and also urge those charitable foundations to press for some serious change at BSR. [The confence has one breakout session titled “The Internet, Freedom of Expression and Privacy.” It should be made a plenary event with both Parsons and Isdell required to listen to real leaders fighting for social justice, including an open and democratic Internet].

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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