Posts Tagged ‘ corporate accountability ’

The Washrooms are Equipped with Smoke Detectors: Corporate Responsibility Lessons from a Frequent Flyer

In this, the third in our series of Corporate Responsibility Lessons from a Frequent Flyer, we take a look at a more serious issue of corporate accountability.  For our first post in this series, Don’t Leave Your Baggage Unattended, click here.  For our second post in this series, Locate the Nearest Exit, click here.

 

If you’re a frequent flyer like me, you’ll know that a standard feature of the onboard safety briefing is that smoking is not permitted and the washrooms are equipped with smoke detectors.

IMG_4691The days of smoke-filled cabins on airplanes are, thankfully, a distant memory, but the urgency of the no-smoking warning remains, reminding would-be transgressors that even in the privacy of the washroom, illicit behaviour will be detected. Corporate actors would be similarly well warned that technology and social media are increasingly the detectors and disclosers of illicit behaviour, wherever it may occur.

In my view, this is a Good Thing; sunlight, as Justice Brandeis once opined, is the best disinfectant. Moreover, the boundaries are blurring between a corporation’s accountability and an individual’s responsibility for inappropriate behaviour.

As if we needed another example of this, we can point to the recent experience of Centerplate’s now-ex-CEO, Desmond Hague.

In late August, Mr. Hague was caught on video abusing a dog in an elevator. Here’s a link to that video [warning: some viewers may find this video disturbing].

Centerplate is a food services company catering to sports and other entertainment venues. It doesn’t matter that their business has nothing to do with animal welfare. The behaviour of its CEO was so morally offensive that the company would be tarred with the same brush if it did not demonstrate its intolerance. Faced with widespread outrage on social and mainstream media, the company expressed its concern, put Mr. Hague on probation, and required him to serve 1,000 hours of community service and make a donation to establish an animal welfare foundation. That wasn’t enough, however. Despite the CEO’s contrite apology, he was forced to resign when the scandal continued to grow.

Also in early September, a far more disturbing incident was caught on video, again by an elevator surveillance camera: football star Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée, Janay Palmer. The public release of the video led the Baltimore Ravens football club to terminate Rice’s contract, and he was suspended indefinitely from the National Football League. In the weeks since, however, there have been many questions about who knew what about the incident and when, and much criticism about the adequacy and timeliness of the actions taken by the Ravens and the NFL, particularly since both organizations knew about the incident from a previously released video.

Both of these cases highlight the need for organizations to engage employees proactively regarding behavioural expectations both within and outside the workplace, to make clear the consequences of behaviour that doesn’t meet these expectations, and to have systems in place to ensure a timely and appropriate response when incidents occur.

Although we surely cannot mandate values, it is possible – and increasingly necessary – to foster a culture of responsibility that seeks in the best case to prevent inappropriate behaviour and in the worst case to ensure swift action when inappropriate behaviour comes to light.

Where there’s smoke, there’s likely fire.  Best not to wait for the smoke alarm to go off to figure out where the fire extinguisher is…

 

For more on the stories that prompted this post:

Click here for coverage in the Globe and Mail.

Click here for coverage in the New York Daily News.

Too Little for Too Long

At the end of September, the Institute of International Finance held its annual meeting in Washington.  The IIF is a global association of financial institutions, whose mission is to “support the financial industry in prudently managing risks, including sovereign risk; in developing best practices and standards; and in advocating regulatory, financial, and economic policies that are in the broad interest of [its] members and foster global financial stability.”

Prominent on the agenda was international financial regulatory reform, over which considerable debate is ongoing. On the one hand, the G20 plan tougher financial regulatory requirements.  The IIF, on the other hand, while acknowledging the need for reform, calls for a cautious approach, arguing that stricter rules could compromise a fragile economic recovery.  In his speech to the IIF’s annual meeting, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney was critical of the IFF’s position, in part because it fails to assume any economic benefit from reducing the risk of future financial crises and because banks already have until 2019 to adapt to the changes. The contrasting viewpoints are summarized succinctly in this Globe and Mail article by Kevin Carmichael, titled “Carney, Waugh spar over new banking rules” (September 26, 2011).

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney

What jumped out at me from Mr. Carney’s remarks is this gem of a quote:  “If some institutions feel pressure today, it is because they have done too little for too long, rather than because they are being asked to do too much, too soon.

This statement reflects the reality that increasing demands for transparency, accountability, ethical behaviour, and consideration of non-financial material issues (like environmental, social, and governance issues) have been apparent for some time, and there is diminishing justification – and tolerance – for delayed action.  This is relevant not only to financial institutions, but to other corporate sectors as well.

The pressure to which Mr. Carney alluded will only increase with prolonged inaction, as the gap between corporate behaviour and performance and emerging stakeholder expectations and regulatory requirements continues to grow.

 

Click here for Governor Mark Carney’s full remarks to the IIF.

Click here to link to the IIF’s paper, “The Cumulative Impact on the Global Economy of Changes in the Financial Regulatory Framework” (September 2011).

Click here to link to the IIF’s latest paper on cumulative economic impact of regulatory reform, addressing revisions (October 2011).

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!

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