Hans Carl von Carlowitz coins the term ‘sustainability’ – Nachhaltigkeit – in response to Saxony’s disappearing forests.
Robert Owen takes over New Lanark Mill in Scotland, working to improve employee welfare and instituting an eight-hour day. Owen later travels to America to begin a utopian experiment in the community of New Harmony.
The Luddite movement begins, as British workers protest automation in the textile industry and the loss of skilled jobs.
Great Britain’s Cotton Mills and Factories Act starts to regulate industrial production.
Great Britain abolishes slavery and begins pressuring other nations to do the same.
The US Supreme Court holds that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to corporations, guaranteeing constitutional protections to corporations. The ruling establishes the concept of “corporate personhood” in law, and paves the way for corporate political spending to be protected under freedom of speech.
George Cadbury builds Bourneville and the Lever Brothers found Port Sunlight, to house workers for their respective factories.
Wealthy business owners, such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, embark on expansive philanthropic efforts.
Corporations subscribe more than $18 million to the American Red Cross during a fundraising campaign. F. Emerson Andrews, the early historian of corporate giving, pin-pointed 1917 as the year in which corporate contributions first reached a substantial total in the history of American philanthropy.
Following the horrors of the First World War, the League of Nations is founded at the Paris Peace Conference. The International Labour Organisation adopts the first six International Labour Conventions, including hours of work, , maternity protection, minimum age, unemployment and night work for women and the young.
Five refinery workers die “violently insane” from heavy lead toxicity at a Standard Oil refinery. News surfaces that seven other workers had died previously at GM and DuPont plants. New York and other cities and states ban leaded gasoline.
The US Public Health Service begins checking air pollution in eastern US cities, reporting sunlight cut by 20 to 50 percent in New York City.
The Wall Street Crash marks the beginning of the Great Depression, which leaves millions unemployed and destitute, and ignites debate over corporations’ responsibilities to their shareholders and other stakeholders.
The term “greenhouse effect” is coined by Glen Thomas Trewartha, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin.
The Second World War subsumes business into war production. Consumer goods are scarce.
Johnson & Johnson chairman Robert Wood Johnson writes the J&J Credo, a statement of business principles that outlines the company’s responsibilities to its stakeholders.
The International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (later World Bank) are formed, to help maintain post-war stability.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
The UK Parliament passes the Clean Air Act, in response to London’s Great Smog.
JK Galbraith publishes The Affluent Society, criticising the growth of consumerism and the rising disparity between “private opulence and public squalor”.
Dwight D. Eisenhower warns of the corrupting influence of the “military-industrial complex”, in his farewell address to the American nation.
The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson links agricultural pesticides to the damage of animal species and human health.
The Equal Pay Act is signed into law in the US, prohibiting wage discrimination between men and women.
The Cuyahoga River in Ohio catches fire due to industrial pollution. The event leads to the Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Milton Friedman publishes an article entitled The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits. Friedman and other “Chicago school” economists go on to inspire the economic policies of Pinochet, Thatcher and Reagan.
The first Earth Day is held. An estimated 20 million people participate in peaceful demonstrations across the United States.
The Stockholm Declaration leads to the establishment of many national environmental protection agencies and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). In the same year, the Club of Rome publishes The Limits to Growth, predicting the collapse of civilisation due to growing population and declining natural resources.
Katharine Graham is appointed CEO of the Washington Post company, becoming the first female Fortune 500 CEO.
War on Want publishes The Baby Killer, raising awareness of Nestlé’s sales practices in the developing world.
The Avon Rubber Company agrees to become the subject of an independent social audit by the Public Interest Research Centre – the first report of its kind. The report reveals both positive and negative social impacts – in particular, the use of carcinogenic materials, which employees and unions were not aware of.
The ‘Five Percent Club’ is founded in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Companies including Dayton Corporation (later Target) and General Mills commit a proportion of their profits for philanthropy.
A group of Levi Strauss employees asks senior management if they can distribute leaflets about a mysterious new disease, AIDS, in company headquarters. Management agrees to join them, beginning over 30 years of support for fighting HIV/AIDS.
Johnson & Johnson recalls 31 million bottles of Tylenol painkiller after seven people die from taking cyanide-laced capsules. J&J’s response becomes a model of effective crisis management.
The world’s worst industrial disaster occurs in Bhopal, India. At least 30 tonnes of highly toxic gas released from Union Carbide pesticide plant leaves 10,000 dead and 300,000 injured.
Publication of Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach by R. Edward Freeman, considered the point at which Corporate Social Responsibility became part of mainstream management theory.
The Antarctic ozone hole is discovered by British and American scientists. Two years later, 24 countries agree the Montreal Protocol on phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals.
Barclays Bank withdraws from South Africa, following student-led anti-Apartheid boycotts. Protesters in the USA, Netherlands and Britain also target Royal Dutch Shell.
The UN’s Brundtland Commission reports on critical environmental and development problems around the world, and defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Exxon Valdez oil tanker runs aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sea.
Community Affairs Briefing is launched, a regular publication on corporate responsibility news. It later becomes the Corporate Citizenship Briefing and is the longest running magazine of its kind.
Sweden becomes the first nation to enact a carbon tax.
172 governments participate in the Rio Earth Summit, resulting in an agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Interface founder and Chairman, Ray Anderson, has an “epiphany” moment, setting his carpet company on its sustainability journey.
LBG, the global standard for measuring corporate community investment, is founded by a group of London-based companies. LBG is managed today by Corporate Citizenship Ltd
Royal Dutch Shell faces controversies over the execution of the “Ogoni Nine” by the Nigerian military, and the decommissioning of the Brent Spar storage buoy in the North Sea. The company publishes its first sustainability report, "Profit and Principles – does there have to be a choice?", three years later.
Unilever launches its first Environment Report and establishes an external Environmental Advisory Group.
David Logan and Mike Tuffrey found The Corporate Citizenship Company Ltd. in London.
Kyoto Protocol adopted by the US and 121 other nations, but not ratified by US Congress. American industry predicts “disaster” if CO2 reductions are enforced, but environmentalists are dissatisfied with the weak goals of the treaty.
46 US states settle lawsuits against the tobacco industry, agreeing the four largest US tobacco companies would be exempt from private liability over harm caused by tobacco if they agreed to amend their marketing practices and pay compensation to the states for medical costs.
Nike’s chairman and CEO, Philip H. Knight, admits “the Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse”. Nike takes an active role in the foundation of the Fair Labor Association, and publishes its first corporate responsibility report in 2001.
The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) are launched, becoming the first mainstream sustainable investment indices.
The United Nations Global Compact is launched by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in front of 44 business CEOs and 20 heads of civil society organisations.
The Millennium Development Goals are launched by the UN, set to be achieved by 2015.
The first full version of the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines is released.
The SMART Company is founded in London by Amanda Jordan, and acquired by Chime Communications Plc. the following year.
American energy firm Enron is revealed to have lied about profits and concealed its debts, leading to investor withdrawal and the company’s consequent bankruptcy, as well as the dissolution of accounting firm Arthur Andersen.
The Johannesburg Stock Exchange becomes the world’s first exchange to require listed companies to report on sustainability.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is launched. Its aim is to increase transparency over payments and revenues in the extractive sector.
Companies respond to the first Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) survey, which mobilises investors to demand the disclosure of data on corporate carbon emissions.
The Corporate Citizenship Company Ltd. begins its global expansion with its first US office in New York.
California imposes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, the first state in the US to do so. The following year, the EU agrees to cut CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.
“Creating Shared Value” is introduced as a business concept by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer, in an article in Harvard Business Review.
The Corporate Citizenship Company becomes part of the Chime family, merging with the SMART Company to become Corporate Citizenship Ltd.
Lehman Brothers becomes the first major bank to collapse since the beginning of the credit crisis, bringing excessive risk-taking by banks into the limelight.
An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico kills 11 and badly injures 17. About 206 million gallons of oil spill, devastating fragile coastal environments from Louisiana to Florida. BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, is replaced following sustained criticism of his conduct by Congress and President Barack Obama.
The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are established by UN Special Representative John Ruggie, setting a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of human rights abuse linked to business activity.
Research by Corporate Citizenship Ltd. identifies tax as an emerging corporate responsibility issue.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement converges on New York’s financial district to protest economic inequality. “We are the 99%” becomes a rallying cry.
Greenpeace suspends its campaign against Singaporean palm oil producer Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), commending the company for its new sustainability commitments. Several of GAR’s multinational clients resume their purchases.
An investigation reveals that Starbucks paid just £8.6 million in corporation tax in the UK over 14 years, reporting losses to avoid such tax, while telling investors it was profitable.
Corporate Citizenship Ltd. opens its third office, in Singapore.
The Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapses, killing over 1,100 people and leading to widespread criticism of international firms for the perceived lack of action to improve working conditions.
The EU issues a Directive on non-financial reporting, requiring disclosure on environmental, social and governance matters. EU member states must transpose the Directive into law by the end of 2016.
UK mining company Glencore becomes the final FTSE 100 Company to appoint a woman director to its board.
Singapore enacts the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, permitting the government to criminalise companies for environmental pollution.
India’s “CSR law” requires companies to give 2% of their profits to social causes.
Corporate Citizenship Ltd. expands to the US west coast, opening an office in San Francisco.
The UK Modern Slavery Act is passed. It includes a clause requiring all large companies to publish an annual statement on the measures they are taking to address the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains.
Corporate Citizenship Ltd. reaches its fourth continent, with the opening of an office in Santiago, Chile.
The Paris Climate Agreement sets a global goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are launched, emphasising for the first time the role of business in achieving the global development agenda.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s fight over an oil pipeline in North Dakota becomes a US national movement.
Corporate Citizenship Ltd. opens an office in Melbourne, Australia - its sixth globally.
Larry Fink, the CEO of asset management firm BlackRock, writes to company CEOs, stressing the real and quantifiable impacts of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. He calls on them to lay out to shareholders a strategic framework for long-term value creation. Meanwhile, a survey of global managed assets finds that 26% now integrate ESG aspects.
President Trump announces the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The nineteen other members of the G20 re-affirm their commitment.
The UK introduces mandatory reporting on the gender pay gap, applying to all companies with more than 250 employees in the UK.