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EQ Management: From Body Shop to Burma Drop
by Bob Burton and Andy Rowell
EQ Management, the consulting firm that helped British American Tobacco develop its first social responsibility report, was formed in 1998 by Malcolm Guy and Deborah Smith, two former employees of the Body Shop, which uses claims of social responsibility to market its line of cosmetic products.
Guy and Smith remain EQ Management's only two full-time employees. On their web site, they claim to have "lived the chaos of ethical challenges" and disavow any association with the public relations industry. "We leave public relations to PR professionals, and focus on delivering real substance," the site boasts. Their home page (www.eqmanagement.co.uk) advises, "You cannot talk your way out of a problem you have behaved your way into."
In addition to BAT, EQ Management's other clients have included Body Shop International, the international development charity Oxfam, the Bank of Ireland, the UK Department for International Development, Marie Stopes International, Waitrose, Traidcraft, and the controversial Premier Oil. Other clients, including a pharmaceutical company, remain beyond public gaze. "Some clients are at an early stage of implementation and have not yet disclosed publicly that they are engaged in a Corporate Responsibility initiative," said Malcolm Guy in an e-mail to PR Watch.
In 2001, Premier Oil turned to EQ Management to undertake a social report as it faced protests from human rights and labor groups mounting over its involvement in Burma. Premier Oil had signed a gas exploration deal for the Yetagun gas project with the Burmese military dictatorship in 1990, shortly after the brutal massacre of pro-democracy campaigners. One of Premier's joint venture partners in the project was the government's own oil and gas company, the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.
EQ Management's work for Premier was condemned by the Burma Campaign, a London-based human rights group. "EQ Management, the consultancy employed to undertake the report, has no experience of reporting on an operation such as Premier's and has attempted to use a methodology which has significant flaws," the Burma Campaign charged in "Destructive Engagement," an analysis of Premier's report.
The Burma Campaign focused particular criticism on Premier's failure to speak directly to "those who have experienced human rights abuse" and fled the militarized pipeline corridor to refugee camps in Thailand. This criticism was accepted by the verifiers of Premier's report and acknowledged by Premier itself. The report also failed to address the impact that revenues from the Permier project played in propping up Burma's repressive regime.
"Inspector Clouseau could have done a better job of investigating the impact of Premier's operations in Burma," commented John Jackson, Director of the Burma Campaign UK.
Premier used its social report to defend its ongoing involvement in Burma, but this strategy only proved to be of short-term benefit. In September 2002, outflanked by effective corporate campaigning from a global network of Burma support groups, Premier finally withdrew from Burma.