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Corporate Social Responsibility: Morrisons

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Morrisons recently published last April its "Corporate social responsibility report" (CSR report, 2006) for the previous financial year. The report puts high regard on Morrisons' effort to minimise the impact of its business operations on the environment. Moreover, the report stresses the catering of the interests of its "key" stakeholders, namely its customers, suppliers, colleagues and shareholders. Recalling way back before it completely took over the ownership of Safeway in 8 March 2004, Morrisons expressed its endeavour to recognise its social and environmental responsibilities under the operation of a business ethics working group (Telegraph & Argus, 2003). In this paper, I shall assess the company's CSR programme in the most comprehensive and balanced way possible against news accounts dating since the Safeway takeover by highlighting the actual business practices of Morrisons with regards to claims contained in its CSR report.

One of the sustainability issues that Morrisons accentuated in its CSR report is its fish procurement policy. Morrisons ensures that it is "buying from the most sustainable sources and finding the least depleted stocks." Greenpeace UK comments about the sustainability of the company's fish policy, considering Morrisons as the "worst fish retailer" in Britain. The company allegedly has been catching "seafood species in highly destructive ways," a practice that is exemplified by lobbing back to sea fishes and other marine life caught up in nets either as dead, dying or waste. This sparked activists to stretch out a banner on the flagship store's roof outcrying "More reasons not to shop at Morrisons. No. 1: Worst fish retailer," alongside an image of a heap of by-catch. In response to this protest, Morrisons agreed to further consider its fish policy--not only about the source from which it procures its fish, but certainly also the procedures it implements for doing so.

The second of the sustainability issues stated in the report is concerned with the "supply of palm oil as a commodity ingredient" in its products. One in every ten products on display at the UK supermarket contains palm oil such as bread, detergents, crisps and lipstick. Plantations of palm oil are devastating the rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra, home to the endangered orang-utan. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded as a joint initiative between companies and non-government organisations to support the harvesting of palm oil from sustainable sources. Most UK supermarkets, including Asda, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, and the Co-op, have joined the RSPO. Morrisons have yet to join.

Morrisons claims in its CSR report of an on-going salt reduction programme for several food products including cereals, bread, snacks and ready meals. Excess salt in the diet causes high blood pressure that results to a heightened risk of developing stroke and heart diseases. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and National Consumer Council (NCC) thus recommends no more than 6g of salt in adult diets and even smaller amounts for babies and children. A research study reported by ThisIsBradford.co.uk website reveals that two of Morrisons' own label cereals, Right Balance and Kellog's All-Bran, have the highest salt amount per suggested dietary allowance. Moreover, the supermarket's Golden Puffs has been categorised as poor for containing the highest sugar content at 55g per 100g serving. Thus, Morrisons' effort to make progressive reductions based on recommendation by the FSA as well as by NCC's Health Responsibility Index league table has a long way to go.

The issue on food labelling has also made clamours to the consumer community when in 25 May 2006, as Tony Howard reports on the Salford Advertiser, Morrisons sold out-of-date food products at its Eccles branch. Expiry or "sell by" date generally applies to perishable food products that could be unsafe when eaten pass this date. Although Morrisons declare it as an isolated incident, still it represents a lapse of the company's commitment to obey the Consumer Protection Act. Other past isolated incidents of this nature were uncovered in the news article, posing the question regarding how far Morrisons has attained in fulfilling its aims for healthy eating and sustainability to its customers. In the words of NCC head Deirdre Hutton:

The big four supermarkets...could really make a difference by cutting salt, sugar and fat, improving labelling and information, doing more to promote healthier foods and taking sweets off the checkout (Jones, 2004).

The most accentuated aspect in the CSR report was Morrisons' pledge to contribute in the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which is the most significant threat to the environment (global warming) that is associated with energy use. In March of 2006, Morrisons opened UK's first ever bioethanol pump in Norwich (Food & Drink Europe, 20 March 2006; Morrisons News Release, 15 March 2006). Harvest BioEthanol E85 when mixed with a relatively lower concentration of petrol is a potent yet environmentally friendly vehicle fuel. Its consumption has been scientifically proven to yield lower atmospheric levels of CO2--at least 60% less than standard car fuels. The biofuel costs less per litre than traditional unleaded petrol and can be produced from beets grown in Somerset, East of England. This move by Morrisons, being Britain's fourth largest supermarket, therefore creates demand for the biofuel which not only helps promote a cleaner environment but also creates and secures up to 10,000 jobs for UK farmers who supply their excess cereal capacity to the bioethanol manufacturers--a long-term opportunity for British agriculture to position itself at the vanguard of a worldwide shift towards renewable fuels.

Furthermore, Morrisons' policies to reduce CO2 emissions are also applied to improve energy efficiency in its stores through "responsible energy sourcing." The company has been monitoring energy used in its food preparation process through a newly established energy management system, Optima, which enables it to identify energy consumption trends. The crucial information it derives from such trends are being used to carry out energy saving initiatives such as the deployment of wind energy turbines that provide automatic lighting control in 245 petrol filling stations, including former Safeway stores. Morrisons also undertook the replacement of CFC-based refrigerants in new refrigeration systems not only to minimise global warming impact but also to impart increased savings since refrigeration accounts for about half a store's total energy consumption.

However, it seems that the acquisition of Safeway was a much heavier task than what

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