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Oil spill, racism inspired earlier principles.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Like the Sullivan Principles and the CERES (formerly Valdez) Principles before them, the Minnesota Principles belong to a genre of nongovernmental, extralegal guidelines designed to elicit ethical behavior. The Minnesota Principles differ from their predecessors in several respects, however.

The Sullivan Principles and the CERES Principles respond to specific problems -- Sullivan to racism in South Africa, CERES to environmental concerns that arose after the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled oil four years ago in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

The Minnesota Principles did not arise in reaction to a specific situation, explained Kenneth Goodpaster, holder of the Koch Chair in Business Ethics at the University of St. Thomas. Rather, they are much more "forward-looking in their outlook," and they 'articulate shared values for the future." The Minnesota Principles resemble the Sullivan Principles and CERES Principles, however, in being efforts at "collective, corporate self-regulation," he said.

The Sullivan Principles were instituted May 1, 1977, and later expanded. The Rev. Leon Sullivan from Philadelphia, a board member of General Motors, invented them amid an environment in which some people claimed withdrawal of American businesses from South Africa was ethically necessary because of ethical injustices there. Goodpaster explained that Sullivan's principles attempted "to provide a middle ground" between business as usual, supporting the white minority, and total withdrawal, which Sullivan saw as "abandoning the black majority."

Initially 12 major U.S. corporations, and eventually 200 or so, signed onto the principles, which Goodpaster said involved compliance monitoring by the Arthur D. little Co. The principles require such conduct as integrating employee facilities and offering equal opportunity in management development. A company that followed them to the letter would likely have been civilly disobedient vis-a-vis apartheid laws, Goodpaster said, but he knows of no instance in which the government tried to go after violators.

Many people assessed the Sullivan Principles as effective during the decade they existed, said Goodpaster. However, Sullivan "finally decided that the situation in South Africa was so severe that even the signatories to his own principles were compromised by staying," Goodpaster said.

The CERES Principles, known until last year as the Valdez Principles, relate to the environment and emerged in 1988. Although a response to a specific occurrence, they are not geographically limited to Alaska but call for collective, corporate conscientiousness concerning the environment. The principles were formulated by the nonprofit CERES coalition of environmentalists, social investors, public pensions, religious organizations, public interest and labor organizations.

Member organizations represent about 10 million people and $150 billion in invested assets, said Judy Kuszewski, CERES signatory relations director. The CERES principles relate to hazardous waste "and a company's willingness to self-scrutinize on matters of effluent and the effects of its goods and services on the environment," Goodpaster said.

Signing onto the CERES Principles requires commitment to a compliance audit. Although 54 companies have endorsed them, they "have had a rough go," said Goodpaster, and had no Fortune 500 signatory until February 1993, when the Sun Co. signed on.

Goodpaster said companies are hesitant most likely because the CERES Principles require not only environmental responsibility in the future but also require that they take full responsibility for past damage to the environment, including environmental restoration. That could prove costly and thus makes corporation lawyers nervous, he said.
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Title Annotation:Minnesota Principles; business ethics compacts
Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:May 14, 1993
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