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My Take on Codes of Corporate Social Responsibility and the Travel Industry

Jul 14, 2023

This is one of a series of posts that will use my Law Review Note, written in 2015, as the basis of understanding the evolution of sustainability in businesses in general but travel businesses specifically.  I may quote some of it, modify it, and offer my commentary on how I see things have evolved since it was written.  I do have the 25-page Note available, but I can't confirm that laws haven't changed since it was written and links used in my research still exist.  I will not be including citations in this blog.  It is a snapshot of how things were and a commentary on how they are and where they are going. . . . 


In recent years, corporations have increased their focus on Corporate Social Responsibility ("CSR"). Codes of Corporate Social Responsibility (“Codes”) have become quite common. But how much do they actually mean in the marketplace? When corporations voluntarily create a Code, they are stepping over the line of rhetoric and solidifying a promise to their entire supply chain—from suppliers to consumers and the communities where the corporations are located.


The Note provides an overview of how the courts treat Codes and discusses the Code as an implied-in-fact contract with consumers who rely upon a corporation’s written statements when they make purchases or other economic decisions. Courts must hold that Codes are implied-in-fact contracts if Codes are to be taken seriously by the corporations that create them. Important policy reasons--such as the goodwill of the consumer—make it imperative for the corporations to take their Codes as seriously as their customers do.


Over the past several years, I have seen changes in the travel industry that feel like progress.  When it comes to the mode of travel you choose and even which travel partner you choose to work with, the adherence to sustainability principles varies widely.  It cannot be stressed enough that the overall trend seems to be towards becoming more sustainable and not less.  


Since the Note was first written, the term "ESG" has really taken over for "CSR."  This stands for Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance.  The term acknowledges the various aspects that have become a more standard part of all corporations.  Much of the hospitality business is comprised of large corporations that develop ESG programs across their entire portfolio of hotels, resorts, their corporate headquarters, etc.  While they may implement some projects such as recycling, reducing water use, and reduction of single use plastic, that may be the extent of it and is often the minimum standard in most hotels.  


As consumers demand a greater accountability on the part of corporations and require the corporations to abide by their written Codes, the written documents will be held to the higher standard of a contract instead of being viewed only in terms of misleading advertising and consumer protection laws.  Consumers are more savvy now.  They watch for issues and are more vocal in expressing their displeasure and/or taking their business elsewhere.  Those who put a priority on minimizing harm to the environment, employees, and the areas where resorts are located will take a closer look at how important those same values are to the companies they do business with.  


While there is not currently one standardized authority that creates consistency in sustainability practices, many of the principles overlap among the various certification bodies.  In future blog posts, I will talk more about this topic.  

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