The “True Costs” Lens

True Costs Initiative views the corporate accountability landscape through the lens of people and the environment. Though the various stakeholders, the economic landscape, and the rights landscape weave a complex web, using the true costs lens allows us to 1) recognize true economic and social costs and who bears them 2) identify imbalances in power, resources and access 3) insist on business practices that prioritize a sustainable ecological footprint. The three core issues of our work are: Corporate Accountability, Strengthening Legal Systems and Business & Human Rights.

Corporate Accountability

san sebastian pollution

River pollution in San Sebastian, El Salvador.
Economic growth and corporate profit should not come at the expense of people’s health, livelihood and their immediate environment, so we must listen to communities and collaborate to change systems and structures which propagate this inequality of outcomes.

Corporate Accountability has become conflated with corporate-driven corporate social responsibility metrics and ubiquitous sustainability campaigns. While organizational awareness of corporate social responsibility is a start, it cannot achieve the goal of robust and meaningful corporate accountability. To be truly effective, corporate accountability needs to be driven by the interests of the powerless and the disadvantaged.

For “true” corporate accountability, there must be:

  • Transparency: There must be meaningful early stage public participation regarding corporate projects and their social and environmental impacts and there must be transparency about the sources of project funding.
  • Remedy: There must be easy access to meaningful remedy for social and environmental harms stemming from business operations in local communities.
  • Consequences: Corporations, intergovernmental organization financiers, and national governments that support and/ or finance corporate megaprojects must face consequences for any bad actions which degrade the environment, lead to physical harm or disenfranchise people in the Global South.
  • Prioritizing of People & Environment: The interest of local communities and the environment affected by megaprojects must be paramount. People and the environment come first.
  • Engagement With Multiple Stakeholders: We believe that the most effective way to improve corporate behavior and to advance corporate accountability is to engage multiple stakeholders, including corporations themselves in some cases, so long as that engagement is driven primarily by an interest in protecting the most vulnerable.

Strengthening Legal Systems

Without well-defined and established laws in the Global South, there can be no true corporate accountability. Corruption and kleptocracy easily take hold and violation of basic environmental and human rights become the norm when there a few or no mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable. We must strengthen legal systems in the Global South since a robust legal system is an essential building block for true corporate accountability.

Business & Human Rights

Corporate investment and megaprojects are proliferating at a rapid rate in the Global South. With this increased corporate footprint often comes direct human rights and environmental abuses which go unnoticed or are accepted as a mere cost of doing business. Given the inextricable connection between people and the resources from which corporations derive tremendous profit, it is imperative that we address corporate accountability at the intersection of business and human rights.