Talisman? A responsible corporation? By: Köhler, Nicholas, Maclean's, 00249262,
6/22/2009, Vol. 122, Issue 23
Academic Search Premier
Talisman? A responsible corporation?
How Talisman, Nike and Gildan went from corporate demons to ethical leaders
Not much was going right for Calgary oil and gas powerhouse Talisman Energy back in 2001,
but an indisputable low point was when it was accused of complicity in genocide.
The charge, contained in a class action suit filed by the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, stemmed
from Talisman's decision three years earlier to acquire a stake in an oil project controlled in part
by Sudan's Khartoum-based Islamic government. The Church and others claimed that Talisman
aided Khartoum in committing genocide by, among other things, allowing helicopter gunships to
mount bombing raids on villages from airstrips controlled by the oil consortium.
Though the charges were later dismissed, Talisman's Sudanese adventure sent its share price into
a dive and prompted former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright to send a harshly worded
letter to then-foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy asking Canada to put pressure on
Talisman to scuttle the project. It's an interesting history for a company that's now being
celebrated, in this very report, for being one of the 50 Most Socially Responsible Corporations
operating in Canada.
Another company we're celebrating is Nike, which in the 1990s faced allegations that its
products were being manufactured by child labourers in Third World sweatshops. Clothing
retailer Gap -- which is also on the list -- faced similar pressures, and Montreal-based T-shirt
maker Gildan Activewear was put on review by the Fair Labor Association in 2004 after the
company fired 100 workers in a Honduran sewing plant for union organizing. Oil sands giant
Suncor Energy made our list too, despite recent concern over Alberta bitumen as "dirty oil."
Why are we touting these companies as some of the best corporate citizens operating in Canada?
Simple: after wandering a public relations wilderness for a decade or more, each is now reaping
the benefits of an aggressive "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) effort, an increasingly
popular framework that puts a focus on how a company treats its workers, the environment and
the communities where it operates. Sure, to be frank, many of these companies first adopted CSR
mainly to put out a public relations fire. But none would now go back. In fact, most say that
although becoming a good corporate citizen was a long, sometimes painful and often costly slog,
they're now much better companies because of it.
In Reg Manhas's case, the fire that then-Talisman president and CEO Jim Buckee sent him to
douse was burning pretty intensely. Manhas, now vice-president of corporate responsibility and