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Why more companies need to be like Cirque du Soleil

Teghan Barton
Congress 2012 Correspondent

The Canadian Association for Social Work Education held their opening ceremonies Monday night with a keynote address from Cirque du Soleil’s Emmanuel Bochud. Bochud spoke about Social Circus, an outreach program he has been running for almost a decade that works with at-risk youth around the world, teaching them circus skills as well as life skills such as co-operation, responsibility, and self-esteem.

In a larger context, he spoke about Cirque du Soleil’s approach to business and how as a corporation it strives to be a positive global citizen.

I knew that Cirque had a social justice element to their organization, but I hadn’t realized how extensive their dedication was. Their initial conception as a circus without animals is what they are most known for, but their conscious efforts to be a positive force in the world is inspiring.

Their corporate policy is ‘Citizenship’, for their company to behave as if it was a person with morals, ethics and a sense of responsibility. This policy is seen throughout every element of their company, and some of the socially conscious mandates they have include:

- ensuring all costumes are made from ethically-produced sources
- rooftop gardens and a rainwater reservoir at their Montreal headquarters
- no disposable plastic water bottles
- recycle as much as physically possible
- on site composter at their Montreal headquarters for organics

These are just some of the things Cirque is doing, all of which are truly remarkable endeavors. But the thing that caught my attention the most was that since 2007 every contract Cirque enters into (whether that be with manufactures, venues, or governments) there is a Social Responsibility clause which ensures that their partners follow the same ethical codes that Cirque does, covering everything from sourcing to working conditions.

This unique and truly remarkable policy ensures that not only are venues responsible for certain ethical standards if they want Cirque to visit, but this clause opens up a dialogue about sustainability and human rights. Whether or not these communities and facilities maintain these standards once Cirque has left is unknown, but the knowledge and conditions for it to continue are established in places where they were not before.

Cirque founder, Guy Laliberte said that the larger any company grows, the easier it is for them to ignore their social responsibility, yet clearly this is not the case for Cirque du Soleil and I wish that more companies (especially larger ones) would also adopt an ethical code of social responsibility.

In recent months there has been a growing voice of dissent against transnational companies that abuse life and the planet without any sense of guilt or legal consequence. The Occupy movements that have been occurring all across the planet have been (in part) channeling this voice.

The recent Economic Meltdown, BP oil spill, massive deforestation, exploited workers in Asia and South America, trillions of tonnes of toxins being poured into our drinking water, and even creating a garbage pile in the middle of the ocean twice the size of Texas are all events that have been blamed on transnational companies and their complete disregard for life and sustainability.

We cannot afford apathy and greed to continue to take hold of us as a species and we have to hold companies responsible for their human and environmental abuses. We need to start caring for our neighbours and understand that our actions, regardless how small, have an impact on those around us.

Not only do we need to care for one another as humans, we need to be caring of this planet; we only have one planet, one home and we need to learn that it is our backyard regardless of where on the planet it is.

While the actions of Cirque du Soleil are not saving the world single-handedly, they are setting a standard for the rest of the world. They are literally showing that business and global citizenship can go hand in hand, that there is profit in true, honest sustainability and respect.

Companies, governments and individuals need to begin adopting approaches like Cirque du Soleil. We all need to be acting like global citizens, recognizing that we are all in this together.

And we need to do it now.

Image courtesy of Cirque du Soleil