• Crises present opportunities for improvement,” says director about Odebrecht

    DATE: 03/29/2018

    Published by: Novonor

    The expert from New York University and director at Odebrecht talks about the arduous task of recovering companies post-scandal

    Tensie Whelan: “Governments must deal with their own incompetence” (Distribution/EXAME)

    By Renata Vieira

    Published Mar. 29, 2018, 9:02 a.m.


    A former director at the NGO Rainforest Alliance and director of the sustainability research center at New York University, Tensie Whelan has a new role since October. She is one of four foreign experts invited to participate on the Global Advisory Council of the contractor Odebrecht, which is a key target in the federal police investigation known as Operation Car Wash. The group is responsible for formulating anti-corruption strategies and giving opinions on social and environmental issues. The council is expected to meet twice annually. From New York, Tensie spoke with EXAME.


    What has Odebrecht been doing to revamp their practices?


    The company has put on the table a robust internal policy and administered training programs to its employees, which are being reviewed by Transparency International and by the government. The company’s purpose is being analyzed with a critical eye. But there is still much to be done.


    Why are you going beyond lending your name to devote attention to a company under investigation?


    This is not about lending your name, but rather about participating on a committee advising the company. Where there is crisis, there is opportunity for improvement.


    How does the council plan to monitor and measure the impact of the transformational projects being carried out at the company?


    The process has only just begun, we had our first meeting a few months ago. But we have been monitoring Odebrecht’s compliance in accordance with the policies and metrics the company developed jointly with the government.


    Can you give examples of companies that have recovered from similar crises?


    Food producer Nestle underwent an intense confidence crisis after being accused of discouraging breastfeeding and promoting a formula that led to diseases in infants in Africa. The episode demanded a lot of their time and effort. Automaker Volkswagen is still dealing with the aftermath of the scandal involving fraud in the reporting of pollutant emissions from vehicles and seems to be investing in a strategy of thinking ahead, which has led their stock to gain in value since the depths of the crisis.


    How do you formulate genuine strategies for recovery, rather than simple a change in the company’s image?


    Sustainability is a journey, not an episode. It depends on people learning how to do certain things. You need to know where you are and where you want to go, highlighting not only what goes well, but also what still goes wrong. Transparent communication is key. People quickly perceive when change isn’t genuine.


    Have companies forged stronger relations with other institutions to improve the sustainability of their business?


    This is necessary to address challenges in which companies have far less expertise, but that still have a significant impact. For example, Rainforest Alliance and the Forestry and Agriculture Management and Certification Institute (Imaflora) are working together with Brazil’s pulp and paper industry to improve the practices of companies such as Fibria, Veracel and Klabin.


    What role does the government play in corporate sustainability journeys?


    Governments have not been very useful in this sense. Before they can help, they first must deal with their own incompetence, corruption and lack of focus. On one hand, there is a lack of incentives for positive behaviors; on the other, there is an abundance of incentives for negative behaviors from public leaders.


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