Is the Middle East ripe for sustainability? Corporate Knights, “the magazine for clean capitalism” just published The global 100, its take on the world’s most sustainable corporations. Not one of them is based in the Middle East, nor has there been an entry from this region since the list began in 2005.
Unfortunately, Transparency International‘s Global Corruption Report 2009 paints a dire picture for the MENA region: “Corruption is prevalent and widespread in the MENA countries… it is deeply rooted in the political infrastructure of the state (mainly military dictatorships, totalitarian regimes or monarchies); the institutional infrastructure of the public … and develops as a result of the relatively limited opportunities for public participation. Several other factors that contribute to providing opportunities for corruption and encourage limited transparency in the region include regional and/or national insecurities, the prevalence of conflict and heavy dependence on oil revenues.” Yet we’d like to believe there is a chance that this will soon change.
Monumental are the demonstrations in Northern Africa where people are expressing their discontent with the way things are. They are demanding a change of leadership—one that will respect human rights, freedom of speech and improve living conditions for all, not just a few. Beginning in Tunisia, the so-called Tunisia effect has inspired similar demonstrations in Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen and now Egypt where there is real potential for dramatic change.
For the moment, sustainability, let alone corporate responsibility, is not top of mind as fed-up citizens fill Cairo’s Tahir Square in support of a more sustainable social system based on freedom and an end to corruption. Might a more transparent and responsible government allow for more transparent and responsible business too? At a minimum, more attention to this matter? Northern Africa’s hot and dry climate make it particularly vulnerable to climate change.
There is hope. A new survey of the region’s corporations by the Sustainability Advisory Group, suggests that although sustainability reporting has a long way to go (too many of the business leaders they surveyed did not see climate change, water conservation and waste as important to their business) strides are being made. More companies are recognizing the benefits of corporate responsibility. To assist them there are organizations like Carboun an advocacy initiative promoting sustainability and environmental protection in the Middle East and SBA, an international NGO active in the promotion of sustainable and environmental action in the Arab and West African countries. This and the promise of new leadership make this area ripe indeed.