The recent launch of Supercapitalism by Robert Reich which criticises CSR has stimulated debate about its role in private enterprise. You can see The Economist’s take here and an interview with the author by BusinessWeek here.
It is naive, even primitive, to argue that corporations have no ethical dimension, rather it is increasingly their role to reflect the values of their shareholders. It is simplistic to reduce the objective of a company to “making profits”. While businesses must be profitable to survive, their organisation has never been the objective of making profits but to provide an understood system for cooperation between people who would like to create something greater than they can individually. (If the objective was only profits there would be no rationale for being in any particular business and criminal activity, with its very high return on investment would be the most attractive option.) Company organisation offers a substitute for feudal hierarchy and as we insist on ethics in government so we demand ethics in business.
For most businesses the discussion has moved beyond “is it appropriate for companies to pursue social responsibility?”, the answer to that is “of course”. The challenge is now how to build ethics in to everything we do and reflect the values of our stakeholders; how to make the organisation more human.
According to a survey of more than 500 business executives by Grant Thornton, executives believe that corporate responsibility programs can positively impact their business and help achieve strategic goals. While commentary by traditionalists might suggest that CSR will be a cost, without benefit, only a quarter of survey respondents agreed that profits need be sacrificed, while three quarters believed corporate responsibility could enhance profitability – 77% said they expected corporate responsibility initiatives to have a major impact on their business strategies over the next several years.
The press release with summary analysis is here and Social Funds’ analysis is here.
Net Impact released Business as UNusual: The 2007 Net Impact Guide to Graduate Business Programs. Their second annual guide, written by students at 56 business schools, it highlights programs in CSR, sustainable management, and other socially responsible practices.
Download the guide here.
The September issue of Inside Innovation offers a clutch of interesting articles as usual, but this graphic caught my eye because it so clearly shows the relatively massive impact industry can have on the biosphere. There is a small proviso though: the banks with the small footprints are the organisations that fund the chemical companies with the BIG footprints.
As various reports on progress in Iraq are discussed by the US administration The Economist offered a briefing on Strategy in Iraq. You may browse Waiting for the general (and a miracle) America agonises over the pitfalls of staying in Iraq – and of leaving. This table sums up the dire situation, and, yet again, underlines the need for a more enlightened approach.
Dynamic new French President Nicolas Sarkozy has added his voice to the calls for education reform. Like those of Gordon Brown and his team in the UK change is desired. Sarkozy sent a 30 page letter to teachers to catalyse change. The Economist notes his laments:
not enough respect or authority in the classroom (pupils, he says, should stand up when the teacher enters); too little value placed on the teaching profession; too little art and sport in the curriculum; too much passive rote-learning; and too much “theory and abstraction”. France, the president concludes, needs “to rebuild the foundations” of its education system.
It is good that education method and infrastructure is reviewed and improved, but it will be a challenge to actually make changes simply because the incumbent system is inflexible and pedagogists have little agreement on how to enhance methods. Sarkozy’s intentions are, however, in the right direction. We reiterate our support of natural education systems (such as those espoused by J. H. Pestalozzi 200 years ago) which encourage emotional intelligence at primary level and expand to cognitive intelligences in secondary; encourage experiential learning; include ethics and values as part of the curriculum in all subjects; and start with personal focus expanding to local, then regional, global and universal perspectives.
I’ve always taken issue with closed environments like office buildings, airports, hotels and conference arenas. Invariably the first noticeable thing on entering them is teh whiff of chemistry. Its either materials used, cleaning agents or just stagnant, fetid air. It slows down life and in some cases can cause more sever ailments. BusinessWeek offers a primer on the problems and solutions for turning a sick office in to a healthy one. Perhaps it will help you improve your lifestyle.
This report by The Ecologist is an eye opener, even for the eco-aware. It describes the banana industry today through the supply chain from plantations, with virtual slavery and toxic chemical use, through the monopolistic supply chain to the supermarket. The author points out “As the pursuit of competitive production has fuelled the race for minimal social and environmental standards, it is inevitable that those at the very bottom of the supply chain will ultimately pay for ‘economy’ foods, through their health and the environment”.
In the UK, bananas are now the single biggest profit-making item sold by supermarkets, with Tesco generating an average £800,000 profit every week from banana sales alone! Just four retailers – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – currently account for 70% of all banana sales in the UK. This represents over one million individual sales every week, which should be used as a vote for Fairtrade alternatives. Next time you buy your breakfast banana please make it fairtrade, or diet.
The Columbia Program on International Investment and the Economist Intelligence Unit published World Investment Prospects to 2011: Foreign Direct Investment and the Challenge of Political Risk. The report contains the first authoritative data on FDI flows for 2006 and forecasts flows until 2011, with 2007 set for a new record. It pays special attention to the rise of FDI protectionism and regulatory risk. Download pdf of the World Investment Prospects to 2011 report.