As the Arctic becomes an interesting place for business actors to conduct operations, the strains on this sensitive region are increasing. The Swedish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council is organizing a workshop in Stockholm on 26–27 January to determine whether the OECD guidelines on corporate social responsibility (CSR) are adequate for the Arctic region.

“The development we are now seeing must proceed in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable,” says Mikael Anzén, who chairs the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).

There is growing interest in economic activity in the Arctic, in areas such as tourism, fishing, transport and energy. Climate change has led to considerably less ice in the summer, which makes the region more accessible. For example, ships can now use the Northeast Passage. This is increasing the amount of freight transport and opening the way for tourism. In addition, there are opportunities for oil and gas extraction north of Norway and Russia and for mining in the northern parts of Russia, Canada and the United States.

“It is not just the Member States of the Arctic Council that are increasing their presence in these areas, companies from other countries are also doing so,” says Mr Anzén.

The increasing activity in the Arctic is bringing growing demands that all companies take responsibility for protecting the sensitive environment and respecting the people who live in the region. To ensure that they do so, it may be necessary to look over the existing guidelines on corporate social responsibility and perhaps adapt them to circumstances in the Arctic. Sweden, which holds the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, is therefore organizing a two-day workshop in Stockholm to discuss the form such an adaptation might take.

“The development we are now seeing must proceed in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable,” says Mr Anzén.

Discussions during the conference will start out from the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The participants will be divided into four groups (human rights, labour legislation, the environment and anti-corruption) for free discussion on possible changes in the Guidelines. To provide a solid foundation for discussion and a deeper understanding of the Arctic environment, people with different perspectives will share their experiences. The delegates represent various companies, the OECD, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the governments of Sweden and Norway, and indigenous people’s organisations.   

The proposals that come out of the workshop will ultimately, after further development, be presented to the Arctic Council. 

“Our ultimate goal is to produce ‘CSR Guidelines’ for the Arctic, but above all I want to see a general awareness that we must think about nature and the inhabitants in connection with economic activity in the Arctic. This workshop is an attempt to seek broader support and understanding for this work.”

Preview photo: by The Arctic Council Secretariat/Marc-André Dubois
Main article photo: by Linn Duvhammar