Archive for the ‘ Corporate Responsibility ’ Category

Investor Relations: where capital meets corporate accountability

For some 250 years, responsible investing has been a key means of aligning our influence with our values.  The Investor Relations function is squarely at the nexus between the strategies and performance of the company and the primary leverage point for stakeholder expression of sustainability goals.  What does this mean for the Investor Relations professional?

Perhaps the very earliest occurrence of socially responsible investing took place in 1758 when the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers, issued the first of a series of denunciations of the slave trade, advising its members to “avoid being any way concerned, in reaping the unrighteous Profits arising from that iniquitous Practice of dealing in Negroes and other Slaves” and “endeavour to keep their Hands clear of this unrighteous Gain of Oppression.”

John Wesley, founder of Methodism

Around the same time (between 1744 and 1760), John Wesley, an English preacher and founder of the Methodist Church, delivered his sermon entitled The Use of Money.  You may have heard the saying, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  That is John Wesley, paraphrased.  What it doesn’t capture, however, are the boundaries he drew around the first of his three rules: “gain all you can.”  Wesley advised his followers to gain but without hurt to body, mind, or soul, of either ourselves or our neighbours.  He spoke of unhealthy work environments, cheating, lying, anti-competitive behaviour, the sale of anything that may impair health, and what he called “sinful trade”.  He advocated honest industry, diligence, continuous improvement, and best practice.  Religious institutions have been at the forefront of socially responsible investing, or SRI, ever since.

In the last five decades, we have seen a steady rise in interest in SRI.  [For a brief history of SRI, see these entries on Wikipedia and About.com.]  We know environmental, social, and governance (or ESG) issues are not new to investors.  So what has changed? Read on!

Collaboration as Competitive Advantage

As I discussed in an earlier post, social media have enabled a shift in information and communications flow from a traditional mass-media “push” model, in which a company may craft and deliver a message to its stakeholders (often a different message for different stakeholders), to a “pull” model, in which company and stakeholders are on a more even footing, and what is being said by one may be heard by all.  In this “pull” model, stakeholders themselves define their own information requirements and actively seek out the sources, connections, and networks that will meet them.

While this might seem scary to some, it also represents one of the great opportunities that social media offers:  collaboration.  If you view each one of these voices not as a threat but as an opportunity to engage and to learn, you can leverage social media to add value to your business.
How? Read on!

How not to legislate Corporate Social Responsibility

Today in Canada’s House of Commons, Bill C-571, a Private Member’s Bill (that is, a Bill proposed by a Member of Parliament, rather than the government), had its first reading.  Bill C-571, referred to as the Trade in Conflict Minerals Act, is intended to deal with corporate practices relating to the purchase of minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa (which includes Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania).

While the trade in so-called conflict minerals is an issue worth action, this Bill is not the answer. Here’s why…

The CSR debate: what are you saying?

I had the pleasure this morning of taking in the spirited webcast, “CSR and the Role of Business Today”, hosted by public interest communications firm, Fenton, and featuring a group of A-list CSR advocates and detractors.  The list and biographies of panelists, and a link to a video of the debate, are available here.

Throughout the debate, there were many fine points eloquently made by the panelists, and I encourage you to view the video of the debate, if you were not able to watch it live.  (Even if you did see it, you might get more out of it watching a second time, as I did.)  In particular, if you are a CSR practitioner or advocate looking to strengthen your understanding or articulation of the context of and business case for CSR, you’ll find some good material here.

I won’t reiterate all the debate highlights (you can check the Twitter feed, using the hashtag #CSRdebate, for the play-by-play), but I would like to consider the anti-CSR case in more detail.  Specifically, I found the arguments made by Professor Aneel Karnani and Chrystia Freeland disingenuous; let me explain why. Read on!

A new “standard” is needed for claims

Twice in recent months, I’ve read about companies getting into hot water over their handling of damage claims in the wake of accidental events.

First, BP was taken to task for using waivers and spill settlement agreements that limited the right of volunteer oil-spill responders and coastal residents to sue the company (BP told to stop distributing oil spill settlement agreements, CBS News, May 3 2010).  Then, in August, similar complaints were leveled against Enbridge, following its pipeline spill in Michigan, alleging residents who were filing for damages were required to sign a “full and final settlement release form” that discharged liability against the company (Enbridge denies allegations of coercion, Globe and Mail, September 1 2010).

In both cases, the companies argued the forms they were using were “standard” forms (BP admits “misstep” over oil spill claims waivers, Reuters, May 3 2010).

I understand the need for the companies to establish a robust claims process and to protect themselves from illegitimate and unreasonable claims.  However, in these cases, the “standard” of care was inappropriate and unfair. Continue reading

The failure of externalities

Professor Aneel Karnani’s article, The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility (Wall Street Journal, August 23rd, 2010), stirred up a lot of discussion in the CSR community, to which Professor Karnani responded in an email posted on Elaine Cohen’s excellent blog, csr-reporting.blogspot.com.

I thought it was most revealing that Professor Karnani refers to “externalities” such as pollution as a market failure.  The real failure is that our “capitalistic” market economy does not include the direct environmental cost (or social cost, for that matter) of industry in its accounting, thus allowing the conflict between private profit interests and public interests to arise.

All of the direct costs of business and industry, whether it’s a labour or materials cost, an emissions control cost, or other, should be internalized; this is the ‘responsibility’ part of CSR.  A company should not be able to generate profit by transferring a cost burden to a third party.  Through licencing and other regulatory mechanisms, companies acquire the privilege of exploiting a public natural resource.  Over time, our society has allowed industry to act as if such permissions also grant an implicit right to pollute (or otherwise transfer costs out of their profit equation).  Corporate responsibility is necessary, in part, to remind all stakeholders that the onus is and should be on the polluter to pay.

The private interest profit motive will be aligned with public interests of environmental and social health when such “externalities” are seen for what they are: internal costs of doing business.

The convergence of social media and corporate responsibility

In the early 1400s, Johannes Gutenberg invented a mechanical movable-type printing process that enabled the first mass production of books.  Within decades, the technology had spread across Europe, and the growing availability and affordability of the printed word revolutionized society.  The flow of information and ideas fuelled the Reformation and the French Revolution, broke down strongholds of power, whether political or religious, and contributed to the democratization not only of societies but of knowledge itself.

Over time, we’ve witnessed the emergence of mass media, designed and used to broadcast information from and by a small group to a large one.  This communications audience is, essentially, a mass society of undifferentiated individuals.  It receives information.

However, social media turns a receptive mass society into a creative public.  Information doesn’t just flow from a small group to a large one, and information creation isn’t just the purview of the powerful elite anymore.  The trickling democratization of knowledge that began with the Gutenberg press, social media is making a flood.

Now, humans have always been social creatures.  It’s not social networking that’s new.  Rather, it’s the development of new technologies at a time of rapid globalization and increasing awareness of humanity’s impact on the Earth that have converged to create the perfect storm of new social media. Read the whole post here

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