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on 22-Apr-10 01:16.
During the last week, we have seen the Asian Forum on CSR in Bangkok, and the Ethical Corporation Asia Conference in Singapore. You could not have had two more different events had one of them taken place on the moon.
The Asian Forum on CSR was a lively, well-attended event, with a broad spectrum of social campaign groups, public sector and businesses looking at a range of compelling stories and case studies of business engagement with some of the starkest issues facing Asia. This included programmes targeted on poverty alleviation, environmental improvement and AIDS. The conference operated through plenaries and a series of breakout sessions, including one stream where delegates nominated titles for the breakouts.
on 22-Apr-10 01:13.
2003 has been a fascinating year for those of us involved in the movement for corporate social responsibility. There have been scandals and setbacks, controversy and debate, paragons of good practice, and innovation in tools to manage and benchmark progress. It seems that none of the energy or momentum for improvement has diminished. And yet there is a gradual growing maturity in how CSR is described and put into practice.
At the start of the year, the Nike v Kasky case got into full swing when the US Supreme Court agreed to review the California Court's decision. Opponents of the principle of the Kasky case - that corporate representations on issues around their conduct enjoyed less protection under freedom of speech than that afforded to the critics - were hopeful this move would lead to the case being thrown out.
Various companies watched nervously from the sidelines as a range of organisations that have championed the principles behind open disclosure weighed in to lobby for the case to be defeated. In the end, of course, the Supreme Court had tantalised to no great effect - deciding only to not decide for the time being. Faced with an extended process that could easily have seen a barrage of damaging publicity about past practice and mistakes, Nike settled - leaving the principles of the case wide open.
on 22-Apr-10 01:12.
Anyone with an eye towards where are the emerging issues in corporate social responsibility will have registered the question of corporate lobbying of governments. Indeed, it wasn't that long ago that we last dealt with the question here. Since then things have continued to move significantly.
One of the growing messages within Corporate Social Responsibility over the last couple of years has been that CSR is about how you create wealth, not just how you spend it. Of course, there are already a lot of rules that govern how companies are, and are not, allowed to create wealth. There is no such thing as a really free market. Legislation to ensure minimum standards of protection for the consumer, and good conduct on the part of companies, has been a part of the landscape for centuries.
Equally, companies have always sought to influence governments in the nature of these rules. This is entirely legitimate. After all, any stakeholders in a piece of legislation ought to be able to make representation. That's how you get good legislation.
Now, the issue about how companies lobby, and for what, is increasingly being drawn into the CSR microscope. Recently for instance, the Institute of Business Ethics produced a report laying out some of the challenges that exist.
on 22-Apr-10 01:09.
For some people, corporate social responsibility is about programmes. Stuff that you do where you can describe what you're trying to achieve, what approach you've taken to achieve it, and whether it worked. But it needs to include the other aspect - how you and your staff behave on a day to day basis. You could label this element straight business ethics - my version is that it's about what you do when you think that nobody's looking.
The UK's Institute of Business Ethics reviews accusations that appear against companies in the news headlines - around 300 stories for last year. Of these the largest number involved issues affecting customers. For instance, product safety issues, misleading advertising or overcharging. The next largest group covered market abuses, such as anti-competitive behaviour or bribery. Third then came a wider group of environmental and human rights issues.
It's a lot of stories about malpractice. No wonder public trust in businesses remains at a low 26 percent.
on 22-Apr-10 01:08.
Killing people is wrong. That's one of the earliest principles established by any civilised society. So how can a company be considered socially responsible if its products - used as instructed - result in loss of human life?
There are some obvious contenders in this category. Immediately the armaments and tobacco companies spring to mind. There are other industries where there are some tricky grey areas around the potential for lethal consequences if products are abused (alcohol, for instance). But let's not go into those grey areas, let's just stay in the land of black and white for just a moment.
Five years ago, there wasn't much discussion on such points. Corporate social responsibility was largely defined as what companies do to "put something back" and companies that killed tended not to be visible in that broader movement.
Since then, there is a growing agreement that corporate responsibility is rather more to do with how the company creates wealth rather than simply how it spends it. At the same time, tobacco and armaments companies have joined the fray, producing social and environmental reports and even winning awards for them.
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