Last week's column on getting peace right in 2003 generated some great
responses. One in particular deserves special attention.
Jeff Perkins, a consultant to the chemical industry and longtime coffee
DEAR WARREN, in your column of Dec 31, 2002 about RCMP Sgt. Mike O'Rielly
and his approach to conflict resolution I was excited about the quote:
"If an appropriate system of relationship building can overcome mistrust
between conflicting parties prior to an actual crisis, then those prenegotiation
efforts are more likely to lead to successful interactions prior to,
during and following a conflict, and could in fact prevent a conflict."
For 16 years I have been involved in an initiative by the Canadian
Chemical Producers Association called Responsible Care. It is an approach
to doing business which aims to establish good relationships with all
people involved in the chemical industry. Indeed, the strength of Responsible
Care is the development of relationships with suppliers, customers and
end users, distributors, transporters and, most importantly, people
who might be affected by these chemicals being in their communities.
My first involvement in the ethic of Responsible Care was as a member
of a national advisory panel which helped establish codes of practice.
I have since been a member of verification teams which, every three
years, examine just how well a company is meeting its obligations.
Those companies which have a board of directors committed to Responsible
Care have found, as suggested by Sgt. Mike O'Rielly, that by working
hard at dealing with potential issues in an open and respectful way,
mistrust can be overcome and potential conflicts worked out to everyone's
Different companies have had different levels of success. Let's face
it, the relationship building can only be achieved by individual people.
Those who have a problem in respecting the opinions and experiences
of others will be less than successful. Fortunately, the members of
the Canadian Chemical Producers Association, for the most part, employ
individuals who build relationships based on respect.
I have been amazed at how community members stand up for and defend
large chemical plants which they know could create life-threatening
hazards. I have not only spoken with plant neighbours in Ontario, Quebec
and all Western Provinces but also in New Zealand and Chile. Everywhere,
neighbours know that there is risk but are convinced of the professionalism
and capabilities of the companies to deal with a serious incident. Such
trust is based on the ongoing commitment of relationship building.
Gone are the days when "Trust us, we are engineers and we know what
we are doing!" was the relationship building technique!
Canada led the way in Responsible Care and now almost fifty countries
have embraced it. That's something we should be proud of. For chemical
companies the commitment to Responsible Care is not the answer to all
problems which face them. As they have found, however, good and respectful
relationships have helped avoid misunderstandings and ultimately, crises.
One major problem outstanding is that for all of these efforts, the
chemical industry is still held in low esteem. Indeed, one so-called
environmentalist told me that the whole chemical industry should be
closed down! As I pointed out, that would mean no more food, clothing,
housing, medicines, transportation, diapers or beer!
I think Sgt. O'Rielly's approach is the answer: rational thought,
not emotional silliness!
Jeff Perkins, Calgary
THANKS, JEFF, for affirming the importance of cool-headed approaches
in building ethically responsible relationships between community and
industry. What you are saying has implications for many other areas of
life, including an area I work in: the media.
And since I've raised the issue of the media, have you noticed the amount
of fear mongering going on lately in newspapers and magazines, and on
TV, radio and the Internet? It's anything but relationship building! But
more on that next week.