Corporate social reporting in the cruise industry

Cruise-Pollution(1)Dr Xavier Font, Leeds Metropolitan University
The cruise sector has been criticized in the past for poor environmental and labour practices and limited positive impacts on the destinations they visit. Some cruise brands have responded by developing systems to manage their impacts and report their practices, while a great majority have not felt the need for reporting (and we therefore know less about whether they have improved their management).

A recent article published in Tourism Management has reviewed the corporate social reporting practices of cruise tourism brands to create a baseline assessment of what cruise companies should be reporting on. This index is based on the expectations of stakeholders, departing from the Global Reporting Initiative, it then has industry specific additions including labor and human rights, health and safety, and environmental and economic aspects. The study surveyed 80 brands from Cruise Lines International Association and Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association in USA and Canada, European Cruise Council in Europe and International Cruise Council Australasia and Japan Oceangoing Passenger Ship Association in Asia.

The period analysed was from 2009-2010, because these were the first reports (Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Yachts of Seabourn, and the overall Carnival Cruise Lines brand) and second and third reports (P&O Australia, AIDA, Carnival UK, TUI Travel, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, Disney Cruise Line) for most brands, with only Costa Cruises being on their 6th year of reporting. We found that only 29 brands reported any CSR information, and only the 11 brands mentioned earlier had a published CSR report, while the remaining 18 (including household names such as Norwegian CL and MSC Cruises) only mentioned CSR on their corporate website.

The results show that these brands disclose more management than performance data, which is typical of early stages of development- it is normal to first present policies, statements and systems than actual results. We found that brands disclosing less information focus on soft indicators which are easy to mimic and demonstrate posturing- typical examples are CEO statements of how important sustainability is, while no evidence of tangible actions is shown (which would be hard indicators). Items disclosed in these early reports tend to be marginal to the core of the business, have a positive economic impact or pre-empt sector regulation- we see for example no evidence of reporting how operations will impact on biodiversity, or limited mentions of how destinations benefit from cruising, and yet there are numerous mentions of energy reduction or managing emissions, effluents and waste or charitable donations.

It is worth mentioning that the study did not aim to find if the reports are appropriate to the impacts attributed to the sector, but whether it acknowledges what it does in relation to the issue- should a company state their staff do 14 hours per day, they would get a positive score for being transparent, even if this may not be an acceptable labour policy.

We conclude therefore that these early reports therefore echo the voice of the corporations and not the demands of stakeholders. A current materiality analysis of what cruise stakeholders believe is important for cruise brands to report, conducted by Leeds Metropolitan University, together with a comparison of 2009/10 and 2014 CSR reports will tell us to which extent cruise reporting is maturing by listening to stakeholders- we would welcome any interested parties getting in touch.

Bonilla-Priego, MJ., Font, X and Pacheco-Olivares, (2014) Corporate sustainability reporting index and baseline data for the cruise industry, Tourism Management, October: 149-160

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