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Crane and Matten Blog

April 22nd, 2015
Why diversity quotas in the boardroom may be a good idea

Today we feature a guest post from our colleague over in the law school, Aaron A. Dhir, who is an Associate Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and a Senior Research Scholar at Yale Law School. Aaron's book on boardroom diversity is out

April 10th, 2015
Has Tim Hortons given up on sustainability?

"Making a True Difference" has been Tim Hortons' slogan animating its social responsibility and sustainability initiatives over the past few years. But since they were acquired late last year by Brazilian private equity outfit 3G Capital, the owners of the fast food chain

March 28th, 2015
Germanwings 4U9525: The art of asking the right questions

  The crash of the Germanwings flight earlier this week is still dominating much of the (Western) news media. It is not just the fact that it happened with a well known Airline with a good safety record (Germanwings is a part of Lufthansa)

March 10th, 2015
Apple’s big bet on consumer trust and privacy

The Apple Watch understandably took the limelight at Apple's big launch event today. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that to really understand the company we need to see it as so much more than simply a technology company. And we have

October 27th, 2014
How Apple and Facebook have taken gender discrimination to a new level

Over the last week or so we have seen a vibrant debate unfolding after the announcement of Apple and Facebook’s latest benefit: Female employees can store and freeze their eggs on the company’s dime so that they can postpone pregnancy beyond the phase where they might want to just focus on their careers.

I put the case up for debate in my undergraduate classes on business ethics this week. It was a fascinating experience. To start, we assessed the upshot. There is a surge of female professionals who attempt at pregnancy in their forties and thus a surge in in-vitro fertilization and a host of other avenues to late motherhood luckily provided by progress in obstetrics these days. But there is also a fair number of women who just have to suck it up that by the time they can put their head around having babies, that ship has sailed.

Here, such an offer seems to be a big benefit. You can progress in an environment where your commitment to the job is 24/7 – like your male colleagues – and still enjoy motherhood at a later stage. And your babies will be built out of genetic material that is as good as it would have been had you dared at the impossible of merging both, career and motherhood. This policy indeed provides women with more options, more choice to freely decide what to do with their lives, their careers and their aspirations at the personal level.

But upon further scrutiny, my students unearthed three major problems. The first is fairly obvious: what is offered as an ‘option’ by the company may quickly become the ‘default’. What will happen now at Google if a 32 year old women tells her boss she wants to go on maternity leave? Given the options, she makes a statement clear and loud that she prefers her personal priorities over the company’s. In organizations, rules prescribe roles. This new option potentially excludes motherhood from what a ‘high potential’, future executive at Google should prioritize in her most fertile years.

A second focus of discussion turned out to unveil the unsaid. What about the male role in child bearing and rearing? The tacit assumption of such a policy seems to be that not a single of Apple or Facebook’s male employees will ever need similar help or support in his career because of having children. In some ways then the policy just reflects rather problematic gender stereotypes: mothers get distracted from their careers by having children; fathers just carry on as if nothing has happened. Yes, there are different biological constraints on women; but having and rearing a child also totally involves the father – unless he is a complete moron (or Google and Facebook’s model employee?). Fair enough, Facebook also extends an option to male employees to freeze their sperms: after all, a significant threat to post-40 pregnancy is not the female egg, but increasingly the deterioration of male sperm at that age. But the message is the same: postpone that baby business!

Which leads to a third objection which cuts to a deeper level. The age between 25 and 35 for a woman is the phase where biologically motherhood is the most likely. It is also the phase where most women are at the prime of their adulthood: mature enough to make tough life choices on partners and lifestyles, but also vibrant and physically energetic enough to dedicate full energy to their pursuits. By offering this option, aren’t Apple and Facebook just saying: ‘Give us the best years of your life, your kids can put up with whatever is left of you at a later stage’?

One of my students put it more bluntly: ‘If you translated this policy to other forms of discrimination in the workplace, such as racial discrimination, this would amount to saying to black people: “Look, you are very welcome here, but just to make it easier, we offer you this cream that will make your skin as white as everybody else’s here.”’ This new benefit essentially offers to a woman to be just like her male colleagues, happily stripped of all her female ‘impediments’. In some ways, that is gender discrimination at its worst.

Apple and Facebook deserve praise to recognize a common and pressing problem. Admittedly, they have policies regarding maternity benefits and childcare that are better than most other American companies. But the moral imagination they applied to this particular solution falls short of the creativity that made them billion dollar companies. If they are willing to throw $20,000 at the problem, why not offer more choice to both female and male employees? The women  (and men) contributing to the company are not just ‘human resources’ ready for maximum exploitation.
Artwork by Keoni Kabral, reproduced under the Creative Commons License.

October 19th, 2014
The future of business ethics research

This weekend offered an interesting opportunityto discuss, dissect and reflect on the state of the art of business ethics research and some of its future trajectories. At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania a small group of business ethics scholars gathered

June 26th, 2014
Disrupting management ideas

Over the last days we have seen a captivating debateunfolding. Jill Lepore’s article in The New Yorker on the concept of ‘disruptive innovation’ has garnered quite some attention. Not at least from its progenitor, Lepore’s Harvard colleague Clayton Christenen, who appears to be

April 29th, 2014
A ‘Sweet Spot’ in tackling climate change?

Jeremy Oppenheim
Today (Monday April 28, 2014) Jeremy Oppenheim was in Toronto. Oppenheim is the director of the  Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, co-chairs include Lord Nicholas Stern and the OECD Secretary-General). He was hosted by Corporate Knights’ Toby Heaps for a 'high level' lunch which included some of the top brass of Toronto’s investment, real estate, insurance and academic communities. And civil society, of course, David Miller (ex-Major of Toronto and now Head of WWF Canada) was there, too.

It was, first off, a real game changing experience to see a room of 30ish ‘climate activists’ in pinstripes (or female equivalent) convening over antipasto e bistecca to discuss the plight of the planet. Oppenheim's remarks were thought provoking as they reflected the current gist among those leaders that care seriously about climate change.

Oppenheim started by highlighting that the public debate has somewhat stalled as most of conversations on climate change evoke pretty unsexy, depressing and un-cool truths. Going on and on about threats linked to climate change just makes you a boring party pooper.

At least in person – he was all but. Eloquently, engaging and thoughtfully he relayed his core points. What struck me most is that amongst the experts, the entire debate about ‘avoiding’ or ‘fighting’ climate change is yesterday’s news. Oppenheim stated clearly that – in my words - we just have to suck it up that temperatures are about to rise by two degrees. The damage is done. Today’s debate is really about how to avoid global warming to reach three or even four degrees. A sobering – and somewhat chilling assessment.

Oppenheim – no less a McKinsey director on leave from their London offices – then pointed to the currently explored strategy - which hopefully can become a game changer: highlight the 'positive' side of climate change (in my words). Or to put it this way: adapting to climate change can already make economic sense now! He ran through a couple of examples from many places around the globe. Here is just one: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon region has been identified as a great worry. What we see now though is that land owners in the Amazon are increasingly sympathetic to restrictions on turning rain forest into farm land: after all, the unlimited possibility of creating new farmland through cutting the forest decreases the value of their property. According to Oppenheim, those economic drivers are a huge force in favor of climate friendly policies.

It is interesting to see that a group of top business people is having this discussion. In the Canadian context, many of these will be laughed out of their Golf Clubs or seven star resorts in the Caribbean if they ever repeated to their buddies what they heard today. Canada, Oppenheim intimated with the maximum level of British politeness, is a real mess with regard to climate change action. So Oppenheim’s point was really that we have to change the story, change the way we communicate about it. Present it as a story of opportunity, rather than a story of threat. While Lord Stern’s report years ago was telling us ‘Pay a little now and you avoid being taken to the cleaners by climate change tomorrow!’ Oppenheim’s new message is: ‘You can actually make money on adapting to climate change NOW!’

I left the event with a somewhat ambiguous feeling. I was uplifted to see key players in business – from where most of the sources of carbon emissions are ultimately governed – acutely aware of the problem. I also liked the pragmatic gist of Oppenheim’s argument: We can use the current incentive structure in one of the most powerful engines of capitalism to ‘move the needle’ (I have to watch my language…) on pressing global issues. And - fair enough - there is some leeway.

At the same time, the by now worn out quote from Albert Einstein kept creeping up on me on my way home: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” A focus on short term economic gains for individual actors or organizations got us into this mess of climate change in the first place. And – we have to add – has prevented any large-scale meaningful response to date. So finding that ‘sweet spot’ (a quote from Jeremy Oppenheim’s McKinsey Website) where business interest and environmental needs converge may take us some way. But there can be little doubt that this is not going to really change the bigger picture.
Photo by Arbeiderpartiet. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence.

March 28th, 2014
A practitioner’s reflections on the problems of shared value

After our article on shared value came out in the California Management Review, and we published our last blog piece summarizing our critique, we've had a lot of response from various academics and practitioners in the corporate responsibility field. In fact, we've probably had more emails, comments and calls on this one article than we've had on anything else we've ever published. It has clearly struck a nerve. In the main, these responses have been very positive, suggesting that a lot of people have just been waiting for an article like this to come out. Here's just a smattering of some of the responses we've received (you can also read the comments to our blog post for more):

"This is a long over due excellent and comprehensive critique on the overly optimistic and shallow CSV framework that doesn't really address the real trade offs required to get to sustainable development."

"Good on you for re-framing this topic in a manner that more fully reflects the spirit of corporate social responsibility."

"It is some of the most enjoyable reading I have done in a very long time."

"Just read you CMR paper on CSV - well done. It is about time that someone took this idea apart."

Of course, many commentators, even whilst being supportive of our critique, have also pointed out some of the pragmatic benefits of Porter and Kramer's approach, like this one:

"I can see how the win-win wonderland (in Mintzberg's words) could be a diversion, but I wonder how it might crack existing inertias, and/or if any positive momentum could be leveraged for fashioning a more complete framework."

Such considerations of the lifeworld of business is a theme that is addressed in the discussion we have with Porter and Kramer at the end of our article, but is not something that we fully elaborate on. With this in mind, we thought it worthwhile to post here one of the more thoughtful and extended responses we received from a corporate responsibility practitioner. This is from Rory Sullivan, a veteran of the responsible investment community, now working as an independent advisor as well as being a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. He explores some of our points with regard to how CSR and CSV might be seen from a practitioner perspective. We thought they deserved reproducing here as they help to frame an important element of the debate in a constructive way:

"A proper analysis of the concept and value of ‘Creating Shared Value’ has been needed for some time, and your article does an excellent job of setting out the strengths and weaknesses of CSV. I was disappointed that Porter and Kramer failed to engage with the substantive points that you raised; their bludgeon of a response seemed at odds with the nuanced and careful arguments you presented in your article. While I support the broad lines of argument and analysis in your article, I would like to offer some reflections from a practitioner’s perspective:

  • Your discussion of “CSR as a Straw Man” is fair in its treatment of the academic literature (which has argued that CSR should be a corporate strategic priority). However, CSR in practice is quite different. In far too many companies, CSR continues to have limited business relevance (in terms of its influence on strategy or capital allocation) and remains far closer to philanthropy than the theoretical literature suggests (or would like).
  • On the originality of CSV: Your review of the literature ignored the many important practitioner contributions (e.g. by John Elkington, Stuart Hart, CK Prahalad) which have influenced CSR in practice. I suspect that many practitioners see CSV as a glossy reformulation of ideas such as the triple bottom line, rather than as a new framing of the debates around the role of business in society.
  • On the evidence for CSV: One of the key challenges faced by companies in practice is that ideas that work at a local level and at a small scale, may or may not work [in fact, they often don’t] when they are scaled up to the corporate level or when other companies try to replicate the experience. There are various reasons – the generalizability of approaches, the transaction costs, etc of moving to scale, the problems of taking projects and processes from one corporate culture and trying to implement them in another.
  • I’m not convinced by your argument that CSV is based on a shallow conception of the corporation in society. My (personal) reading of the Porter and Kramer article was that it was best understood as an analysis of the corporation in society, where the corporation is taken as the central unit of analysis (perhaps akin to every western individual being at the centre of their own personal narrative). In that frame of reference (which, I accept may not be what they had in mind), the concept of CSV could be interpreted as simply an argument that there are things that companies can do to make them a little more useful to (or a little less harmful) to society."
Plenty of food for thought there. Any more practitioners out there want to throw their two cents in?

Photo by Ross. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

March 4th, 2014
Four big problems with “Creating Shared Value”

The idea of "Creating Shared Value" (CSV) popularized by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in the Harvard Business Review has probably done more to get corporate responsibility issues into the boardroom than anything else written in the last few years. In many respects, that is a good thing. Or at least it is until you start to realize all the big problems that are hidden behind the big ideas of CSV.

We've just published (together with Guido Palazzo and Laura Spence) a comprehensive critique of CSV in the California Management Review. The published version features a response from Porter and Kramer and a counter response from us which we think makes for quite enlightening reading (you can also download a free, but slightly different, version of our article but without this dialogue over at SSRN).

Our article sets out four main problems with CSV:

1. It is unoriginal. 
Porter and Kramer simply don't acknowledge that there is little new about CSV. People have been writing about much the same thing for decades. And the corporate initiatives they rebrand as CSV are just attempts to relabel practices that were already going ahead prior to them publishing their article. It's just that some people call those practices "strategic CSR," "social innovation," or "stakeholder management."

2. It ignores the tensions between social and economic goals.
CSV is presented as "moving beyond trade-offs" between social and economic goals. But that is only because Porter and Kramer ignore any such trade-offs that might need to be made. Sure, there are some great opportunities where business success can be aligned with social progress. But there are also a whole host of social problems, especially those caused by business, where social and economic goals inevitably conflict. CSV prompts managers to simply ignore them.

3. It is naive about business compliance
In a move very much reminiscent of Milton Friedman's famous critique of CSR, CSV "presumes compliance with the law and ethical standards, as well as mitigating any harm caused by the business". Of course, this is where all those messy "trade-offs" are hiding. But as long as you can presume them away, then you don't have to deal with them. In fact there is only one sentence dedicated to social harms, ethical norms and legal compliance in their whole article. So, let's just ignore all the occasions when firms harm people or the environment. Let's ignore all all the times they fail to uphold some of the laws and ethical customs of the places in which they operate. Then we can talk about CSV. But let's not pretend that this is a useful strategy for corporate responsibility or still less a sane way to re-legitimize business, as they claim in their article. Just getting firms to respect the spirit of the law - say in paying their fair share of taxes or respecting international labour standards across the globe - would be a much better way of re-legitimizing business.

4. It is based on a shallow conception of the corporation's role in society
CSV is supposed to be about "reshaping capitalism" but in reality it is really just more of the same of all the stuff that has given capitalism such a bad name - a blind focus on individual corporate self-interest. It will help solve some social problems, and will make some firms, and some stakeholders better off … but who are they kidding that this is going to save capitalism? What we need is a perspective that acknowledges the systematic nature of many of the problems we face, and a willingness from firms to engage in collaborative responses with other stakeholders to solve the problems that need solving. Not just those that can be cherry-picked to make a fast buck.

The point is not that CSV contributes nothing to the debate on corporate responsibility - there are some very good reasons why it has met with so much success, as we discuss in the article. But in ignoring much of which is actually problematic in the field it gives a very unrealistic picture of the challenges ahead. Managers looking to combine social welfare with economic prosperity simply deserve more than the whitewash that CSV offers them.

January 15th, 2014
CSR in Africa: be part of it!

Today we have another guest post from our long-term friend and collaborator, Laura Spence, who is just back from the African Academy of Management Conference and had some reflections we thought would be good to share.
*  *   *   *   *   *
Given the laudable aims of corporate social responsibility protagonists - I guess, roughly speaking, to make the world a better place - you have to wonder why so much time and effort is put into understanding social responsibility in places where really, let’s face it, the social problems are not really that big.

Should we be stressing about which company sponsors school sports equipment, or would we be better occupied to worry about schools which have no books? Is corporate lobbying one of life’s big issues or could it rather be the conflation of corporations and governments, systemic bribery, corruption and nepotism? Should we be fretting about diversity training in head offices or focusing on situations where gender, race, class, caste, religious and tribal differences mean staggering inequalities in opportunities are ingrained? It paints a pretty miserable picture when you think about it.

For all this, understanding developing and emerging countries need not be a miserable enterprise. I have just come back from the fabulous African Academy of Management (AFAM) Conference in Botswana, with renewed understanding of social responsibility – or at least a whole new set of questions to ask.

Discussion around the conference was not so very different in many respects to other Academy events, but one thing kept surfacing – we might list the relative importance of issues in developing country contexts, but is there a different philosophical starting point? Are the frameworks based on Western capitalist systems of any real help outside of the ‘West’?

As is the way of things sometimes, a glimmer of an answer came for me in one of the few moments we had to get outside of the conference. We visited, by chance, a small exhibition of local artists’ work relating to the fight against HIV/AIDs. It was produced under a cross-sector partnership between government and a local NGO with the Tswana strap line ’Nna le sea be’. This roughly translates as ‘Be part of it’.

It is just a tourist-eye view of mine of course, but this felt different to me, not an approach I would expect to see elsewhere. There is something special about the local push for the acceptance of problems and drive to pull people together to join in and be a part of the solution, reflected through a local saying used in equal measure to help someone pick up something they have dropped, or work together to reduce the tragedy of HIV/AIDS. Surely this has implications for CSR in Africa.

Alongside this, another important realisation was the different pace in Botswana. Time and again when waiting for some service or other to be provided, one is met with ‘It’s coming’ or better still ‘Tomorrow’. It is a reminder how hung up some cultures are with everything being just so, preferably yesterday. When the pace of life slows, this does seem pretty absurd, but it also acts as a reminder that transferring expectations from one part of the world is a misguided approach to just about anything, not least CSR. It is likely to be far more helpful to learn from local perspectives, achievements and solutions. But patience might be needed.

My reason for being in Botswana was as part of the team offering a PhD training workshop and a stream on small and medium sized enterprises and social responsibility in developing countries funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. We have six seminars planned for 2014 and 2015, a book and as a result of the fascinating time had at AFAM 2014, we will be wrapping up our project at AFAM2016 in Ethiopia.

Nna le seabe.

Laura J. Spence

January 2nd, 2014
Top 10 corporate responsibility stories of 2013

Plus ça change in corporate responsibility. If nothing else, 2013 provided ample evidence that, contrary to popular belief, corporate responsibility issues, even the huge stories that dominate the media, do not exactly come out of nowhere. So many of the top CR stories of the year, like the Rana Plaza disaster, Apple's tax problems, and JP Morgan's huge fine, were already prefaced by the big stories of the previous year. Among our top 10 of 2012 were a Bangladesh factory fire, corporate tax avoidance, criticism of tech companies, and prosecutions in the financial sector. So the writing was already on the wall for most of the big stories of 2013. It would appear, as Ethical Corporation editor Toby Webb said recently, that with all the excitement about new opportunities and win-wins, companies are underestimating the importance of sound ethical risk management in the corporate responsibility equation. So, if you want to know what CR risks lie ahead for 2014, you could do worse than checking through our list of the big stories of 2013.

1. Rana Plaza building collapse
Back in April 2013, more than 1100 people, mostly garment workers, died when the Rana Plaza building collapsed near Dhaka in Bangladesh. It was probably the single worst garment factory disaster yet, in an industry that has suffered more than its fair share of needless fatalities. But Bangladesh had already seen a series of major industrial accidents leading up to Rana Plaza, which had been met with little tangible response from business and government leaders. Rana Plaza looks to have at last changed that. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, signed by nearly 100 global retailers, as well as labour unions and NGOs is a legally binding agreement to ensure worker safety through independent factory inspections, mandatory repairs, financial support, and sanctions for noncompliance. More than 2m vulnerable Bangladeshi garment workers are already covered by the Accord. A competing agreement, signed by Walmart, Gap, Target and other North American companies was criticized for having weaker enforcement and failing to involve labor unions. Nonetheless, both pacts are evidence that factory safety in Bangladesh is finally getting the concerted attention it deserves.

2. Apple's tax avoidance
Corporate tax avoidance had been a growing story in the UK and elsewhere prior to 2013, as evidenced by our top stories listing of 2012. But the issue exploded onto the public consciousness when Apple's CEO Tim Cook was forced to testify to a Senate committee in Washington back in May of this year. The company had avoided paying literally billions of dollars in tax by exploiting various loopholes in international tax treaties and funnelling its European profits through a shell company in Ireland. All completely legal, of course, but hardly what the public expects of a good corporate citizen. Now that attention to corporate tax avoidance has gone global, and with inequality and government debt the two biggest global risks today, the obvious questions are which country will be next in taking aim and which company will be in the firing line? Corporate tax reform is also undoubtedly going to loom even larger in the coming year.

3. NSA spying
Without doubt, Edward Snowden's whistleblowing on the US National Security Agency's (NSA) mass surveillance programs was the story of 2013. Nothing else even got close. However, the corporate responsibility dimensions still remain somewhat murky, which is why it doesn't quite make it to the top of our list. We do know, however, that telecoms companies like Verizon are required to hand over all call records  (or "metadata") to the NSA about cell phone calls made in the US. We also know that none of these companies ever sought to challenge the legality of the action. Another revelation was that the secret PRISM spying program allows the NSA to tap into the servers of internet companies like Google and Microsoft to access customer data. We also know that NSA pays millions of dollars to these same companies. We do not yet know exactly how complicit tech companies have been in the whole mess but one thing for sure is that they now realize that the NSA spying story is undermining their customers' trust and are calling for government reform. Expect much more to come in 2014.

4. JP Morgan's $13bn misconduct settlement
Our annual list of major corporate responsibility stories would not be complete without an entry from the finance industry. As we predicted at the beginning of the year, 2013 was marked by the return of government and some major financial sector scalps. None of these was bigger than the whopping $13bn fine landed on JP Morgan for misleading investors in the same of mortgage backed securities in the lead-up to the financial crisis. To date, it is the settlement ever between the US government and a corporation, and will come as some (though probably not enough) relief to those who have viewed most of the finance sector giants as getting away with the crisis relatively unscathed. On the other hand, JP Morgan is probably pretty sore about catching the flack for misconduct that was less about their own practices and more down to firms like Bear Stearns that they were encouraged by the US government to acquire at the height of the meltdown. No one comes out of this looking good.

5. Europe's horse meat scandal
At the beginning of the year, the big news was all about horse meat turning up in products it wasn't supposed to be in. Like those clearly labelled as "beef". The scandal started in the UK, quickly spread to a suspect supplier in Ireland, and soon rocked much of Europe. Customer trust rapidly evaporated as it became clear that effective oversight of the food industry was sorely lacking. Companies acted quickly to withdraw potentially contaminated products and shore up confidence but further revelations of large scale criminal activity in the food supply chain will do little to restore trust in a thoroughly compromised industry.

6. India's new CSR law
The world's largest democracy now has the world's most extensive CSR legislation. But that is not necessarily a good thing. Under the new Companies Act, passed by the Indian Parliament in August 2013, large Indian companies must spend at least 2 per cent of their net profits on CSR each year from 2014 onwards. It also requires firms to set up a CSR board committee and institute a CSR policy. The new CSR legislation has met with a mixed reaction, especially as it seems to institutionalize a somewhat backward looking approach to CSR which emphasizes philanthropic giving whilst ignoring the core strategic business of the firm. It will also be incredibly hard to enforce in a country already hamstrung by an overburdened legal system. On the plus side, the legislation does force many of India's laggard companies to finally take some responsibility for the various social problems faced by the country's citizens. For better or worse, CSR is no longer something that can be ignored in India.

7. Chevron's Ecuador pollution case
It has been a big year for Chevron and Ecuador in their long-running, aggressively-fought pollution case. In November, the Ecuadorean high court made its long-awaited appeal decision which upheld the original 2011 judgement requiring Chevron to pay $9bn to compensate for contaminating the rainforest during crude oil extraction over two decades ago. Chevron has never operated in Ecuador but inherited the lawsuit and its toxic legacy when it took over Texaco, the original operator, in 2001. For its part Chevron continues to dispute the legality of the ruling and has refused to pay. The appeal was at least partially successful for Chevron by halving the original $18bn damages bill, but not in overturning the decision. Chevron is now awaiting the outcome of a counter-suit heard last month in the US against the plaintiff's main lawyer, who the company claims engaged in bribery and fraud to secure the conviction. Meanwhile, attempts by the plaintiffs to seize Chevron's assets overseas to pay the fine also had their ups and downs in 2013. For example, Canada first denied them the rights of enforcement in May, only for a judge to overturn the decision on appeal in December. Other actions are underway in Brazil and Argentina. This has fast turned into a test not only of the Ecuadorean legal system, but of the global legal system's appetite to prosecute international legacy corporate responsibility issues.

8. Rosia Montana mining protests 
2013 saw major protests against mining operations all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Columbia, Greece, Niger, Peru, even Tibet. But the biggest of the lot was probably in Romania, which saw a mass protest movement arise in response to plans to mine around the town of Rosia Montana. If approved, it would be Europe's largest gold mine but critics claim that it would inflict untold social, environmental and cultural damage. Mass street protests erupted after the government proposed a new law that would enable the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (majority owned by the Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources) to finally start operations after years of failing to acquire the necessary environmental permits. At stake here then is not just the proposed mine but the legitimacy of the democratic process, which protesters feel has been fatally undermined by the hastily forced through legislation. As one protester put it: "People today confront a corrupted political class backed up by a corporation and a sold out media; and they ask for an improved democratic process, for adding a participatory democracy dimension to traditional democratic mechanisms."

 9. New UN Global Compact 100 Index
There were several entrants to the new corporate responsibility standards and guidelines category in 2013, with the G4 guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative probably being the most talked about. But September's launch of the Global Compact's new stock market index, the Global Compact 100, for us represented the most significant development. First, as John Entine noted, it offered a welcome new development in a social investing field "hungry for innovation and dogged by ideological correctness". But more than that it showed just how far the UN was willing to push the needle on its voluntary approach to corporate responsibility that heavily prioritizes incentives rather than enforcement. While many are still criticizing the Global Compact for not having sharp enough teeth to weed out laggards and green washers, the new index makes it abundantly clear that the UNGC is moving in a very different direction. Ten years ago it would still have been unthinkable, but the reality is that the UN is no longer just in the business of accords, declarations, and principles but is now also firmly in the finance industry.

10. South Korea's nuclear corruption scandal
GSK's corruption scandal in China may have got most of the headlines, but in our book, the corruption scandal that has engulfed South Korea's nuclear industry this year tops it for potential impact. Two short years after Japan's Fukishima disaster, neighbouring South Korea is also facing a devastating loss of confidence in its nuclear industry which supplies about a third of the country's energy needs. The scandal has centred on a swathe of faked safety certificates that have been issued for critical nuclear reactor parts over the years, and the bribes that have allegedly been paid to look the other way. Most commentators pin the blame on the closed structure of the nuclear industry in South Korea with only a single national operator and close ties between the operator, suppliers and testing companies. The prime minister has likened the industry to the mafia. A number of reactors have been shut down, trust in the industry has plummeted, a national energy shortage is underway, and now some 100 officials have been indicted for their part in the scandal. Corruption that compromises the safety of the nuclear industry is probably about as bad as it gets. And its unclear yet whether South Korea can really turn this one around.

Photo by rijans. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

November 25th, 2013
The business of modern-day slavery

Events last week in the UK, where three women were rescued from what appears to be a 30 year-long situation of forced domestic labour situation, have focused a great deal of attention on "modern-day slavery". But it is hardly a one-off. Issues of forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery are increasingly gaining public attention. Business, however, has been slow to engage in the conversation.

Perhaps this is no surprise given that no company wants to run the risk of being tainted with the spectre of slavery. But most of the big modern slavery stories involve business. From children forced to harvest cotton in Uzbekistan to labourers enslaved to fish in the waters of New Zealand, hardly a week goes by without a new story of extreme exploitation being splashed across the media. The appalling treatment of migrant construction workers in Qatar the build up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup has gained more exposure than most, likely because of the headline claim that construction for the World Cup will leave 4000 migrant workers dead. It is a heart-stopping statistic.

With all this noise around modern slavery, much of it at the hands of campaigners such as Anti-Slavery International, Free the Slaves, and Walk Free (who are responsible for the recently launched Global Slavery Index), governments at least are gradually starting to act. The UK Government is already in the process of drafting a modern slavery bill to make the complex legal situation around the issue more clear for prosecutors. The US has also launched initiatives to tackle human trafficking in the supply chains of companies and government contractors. Canada too now has a national action plan to combat human trafficking whilst Brazil has perhaps gone the furthest of any country in seeking to tackle the problem.

Such measures are to be applauded, but there's still a long way to go in effectively combating the worst forms of human exploitation. And one crucial player that so far hasn't brought much to the party is business. Compared with many other social and environmental issues, modern slavery has not seen much enthusiastic response from the business community. Although virtually all corporate codes of conduct prohibit any kind of forced labour, the issue is rarely given any particular attention. Most businesses simply assume that it doesn't affect them. However, the torrent of news stories across various countries and industries suggests otherwise. Companies just aren't looking hard enough to find their connection to modern slavery.

David Arkless, formerly President of Corporate and Government Affairs at the global temp agency Manpower, is probably the most visible and articulate member of the business community involved in anti-slavery efforts. He said last week that he was "frustrated by the lack of involvement of corporations in efforts to ensure that their supply chains are verified against the use of abused labour and that most of the big corporations of the world have not amended both their financial, expense and human resource policies.” You can understand his frustration. Most business leaders are simply burying their heads in the sand.

This is a major stumbling block because most forms of modern slavery either involve business or affect it in some way. After all, forced labour is a particular way of doing business - a morally regnant one for sure, but a business practice all the same. Even illegal industries such as prostitution and drug cultivation, both of which have had numerous documented cases of trafficking and forced labour, rely on business principles and come into contact with legitimate businesses at some stage. The bottom line is that we have to understand modern slavery as a business if we are to make any real sense of it and take appropriate steps to prevent it.

The research base exploring the business of modern slavery is especially thin. So I was pleased last week to help launch a new report funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the business models and supply chains found in forced labour in the UK. It was a fascinating project to be involved in, and along with my co-authors, I'm hoping that it really helps to shine a light on the economics of modern slavery in developed country contexts.

One of our main findings is that although forced labour is often described as a hidden crime, it is not as difficult to unearth as many in the UK, including businesses and government, seem to believe. As my co-author Genevieve LeBaron and I say in a recent article for The Guardian: "The problem is not so much that we cannot find forced labour; it is that either we choose not to look where it is most likely to occur or we simply misclassify those being exploited as criminals rather than victims. A new approach to detecting and enforcing forced labour is necessary. To pinpoint its occurrence we need to start by examining the forces of supply and demand."

Much still needs to be done to really understand how these economic forces lead to such extreme forms of exploitation. But the good news is that we're making good progress. The challenge will be getting legislators and business leaders alike to take our findings seriously.


Photo by Junaidrao. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

November 9th, 2013
Rob Ford should stay

Toronto, that once sleepy capital of Canadian business, ‘New York run by the swiss’, a city widely seen as boring and ugly (esp. compared to its once-competitor Montréal) – has made global news: A crack smoking mayor! Match that, London, New York or Berlin! All the mainstream media here (and globally) are pretty unanimous in their call for Rob Ford’s resignation, or at least for him taking a break.

That in itself is a reason for suspicion. In my business ethics course this week I had a vivid exchange with my students. We were discussing discrimination and how it is unethical to apply criteria such as race, gender, sexual orientation, recreational habits etc. to job qualifications and hiring. On that note, calls for Ford’s resignation are not very convincing. After all, on many accounts, he has done a good job as Toronto’s major. The city’s finances are healthy; public services are running smoothly, key infrastructure projects, such as the construction of new subway lines have finally taken off; and the major successfully tamed the beast of an otherwise dysfunctional federal/provincial/municipal layered bureaucracy to get even more public infrastructure projects off the ground. This alone, in a city whose infrastructure is stuck somewhere in the 1970s, is reasonable ground to consider him a success on his job.

Of course, there were other things in the past, where arguably Ford violated the terms of his job. Toronto Star investigative reporter Daniel Dale – a former student of us - digged out a number of occasions where the mayor took advantage of his role for personal issues. But nothing really stuck.

As much as some have made an ethical case here against the mayor, I do not think these arguments really touch the heart of the controversy.

Two things spring to mind to any reflective observer. First, much of the vitriol directed at Ford in my view is just based on the persistent WASPy (as in White Anglo Saxon Protestant) subculture of North America. Ford likes to use recreational drugs, has all the wrong, politically incorrect friends and, yes, is probably an alcoholic. Mind you, at least it was not about sex. But in some ways his fate resembles the one of Bill Clinton or Elliot Spitzer: Ford does not live up to the public morality and style, which is deemed politically correct in Canada. It is worth noting that consuming crack is not illegal in Canada. And the fact that he admits to it in public and simply continues with his job just infuriates all those who either have succumbed to this pubic consensus of stuffy morality or otherwise suppress it and live it out in private. After all, Canada’s alcohol consumption is twice the global average and him talking about his ‘drunken stupors’ as a regular occurrence probably just represents an average recreational practice in this country.

Little surprise of course, that much of the hunt on Ford – representing the right wing Progressive Conservative Party – is coming from the ‘liberal’ press here. It not only shows how small ‘c’ conservative even Canada’s liberal elites are but also reveals that all those who hated Ford as a mayor to begin with now take whatever moral resource as their disposal to finally finish him off.

This points to a second observation. Rob Ford epitomizes the aches and tensions of a country which has been the most relaxed and forward looking in terms of immigration. His constituency are the ‘905ers’ based on the area code of Toronto’s suburbia. That is also where he is from. These are mostly people with a first generation immigrant background coming from south and east asia. The other lot,  who hate him and are currently fanning the flames of ousting Rob Ford are the ‘416ers’, those who live in the core downtown of Toronto. None of them voted for Ford and they never felt represented by a fat, white, uneducated, loud bloke from the suburbs.

Ford’s approval ratings have soared in the aftermath of him admitting his drug use. This is no surprise. He represents people who struggle to make ends meet; who are sick and tired of commuting to work in a city with the longest commuting time by far; who get little kick out of taxes being spent on things that do not relate to their everyday struggles; and who know from their own experience that fighting your way out of, say, Bangladesh to Brampton (a 905 suburb) – yes – takes determination, hard work and not too much concern for what their then constituency back home thought of them. Rob Ford, the small time entrepreneur, in his stubbornness just represents them.

So what does this amount to? On day one of his election I thought Rob Ford was a disaster. Mostly because I believe in Toronto’s potential as a great global city that deserves a mayor of a different stature and outlook. But at the same time I also believe that a mayor has to represent the city that voted him in. And boy, Rob Ford fits that bill. So rather than trying to get this ugly representation of what Toronto actually looks like out of sight, the real smart reaction to this scandal would be to say that Rob Ford – with all his preposterous faults – is the one that the people of Toronto chose to represent them. So lets allow him to continue to represent us. And if we don’t like what we see - until we can vote him out - maybe we find the courage to address the underlying issues. Rather than killing the poor guy who currently just displays them.
Photo by Eric Parker, reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

September 10th, 2013
Corporate social responsibility in a global context – a new free download

The new edition of our textbook on CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility: Readings and Cases in a Global Context, written with our colleague Laura Spence, hit the shelves a few weeks ago - just in time for the new academic year. And we're pleased to see...

September 5th, 2013
Top 10 tips for teaching CSR and business ethics

It's time again for the start of the new school year in universities across much of the globe. For us, this typically means updating course outlines, refreshing our teaching materials and getting ready to hopefully engage and excite a new cohort of students looking to learn about corporate responsibility.

There are many ways to teach courses on CSR or business ethics. Some approaches suit particular professors or groups of students better. But over the years, we've discovered that, as far as teaching in business schools is concerned, there are some fairly common do's and don'ts that can make teaching in this field more effective.  Not everyone will agree with all of these, but here's our list of the 10 best ways to ensure a positive learning experience in ethics and CSR.

1. Be clear and realistic about what you can achieve.
All good courses start with a clear set of learning objectives. This is particularly important in corporate responsibility courses because there are so many different types of outcome that an instructor might be aiming for. Do you want to make your students more ethical managers? Do you want to improve their decision making? Do you want them to be able to practice CSR, or to have a more critical perspective on it? Think about not only what is most important to you, but, most importantly, what you think your students hope t learn. But beware of expecting too much - you're never going to change your students' values in a couple of months of teaching.

2. Use current events to engage students.
Teaching ethics and CSR isn't easy, but one thing we do have an advantage in is that there is hardly a day that goes by without our subject being in the news. This is a golden opportunity to demonstrate to students that what they are learning in the classroom has immediate relevance in the real world. Don't waste it!  

3. Start with a problem or issue, not with a theory
In our experience, business school students respond best when they recognize there's a problem to be fixed and then you give them some theories or concepts to help them do so. So start with a problem - whether a case study, a news story, or your own experience - and then use this to hook them on why theory matters - not the other way round! Starting with the theory and then showing how it applies runs the risk of losing the students' interest too early. It might work for some, but it's a risky strategy.

4. Students’ own experience is valuable class material – don’t waste it!
We are constantly surprised by the rich variety of  experience and opinion that our students have had in corporate responsibility, even without ever having a formal CR position. This is a real treasure chest for teachable moments, when you can flip what you're teaching in the classroom to help students make sense of their own past or current experience. And the rest of the class can learn so much from this too. It brings everything into such clear focus about the here and now rather than some abstract case in a textbook.

5. Don't preach.
In our opinion it is important to avoid imposing a single theoretical position or set of values on students, regardless of what your own perspective on corporate responsibility might be. There are few unequivocal right or wrong answers in this field. So the goal should be to help students understand the breadth of perspectives on the issues at hand and enable them to find their own position not to impose one on them. The professor's job should be more like that of a coach than a preacher.

6. Don’t confuse ‘there are no right and wrong answers’ with ‘there are no better and worse answers’.
The first statement is largely true. The second one is not. One of our most important jobs is to enable students to make better decisions, and to come up with better answers than just simple moral relativism : "my opinion is just as valid as anyone else's". A valid opinion, or a good answer, is one supported by fact, reason, evidence and logic. This may not mean that the answer is right from any universal moral perspective, but is should mean that it gets an A when you're doing your grading - even if you don't agree with the answer!

7. Use (but do not abuse) the business case 
Rightly or wrongly, the business case is the most powerful tool for any corporate responsibility advocate in the workplace. If you can show how a CR initiative will create business opportunities or reduce risks, it has a much better chance of getting approved. So teaching the business case is a crucial part of any course. But there is more to responsibility than only the business case. A good course needs to consider other social and ethical arguments for corporate responsibility beyond the business case so that students do not get trapped inside a purely self-interested mindset.

8. Be mindful of the limits posed by particular forms of business and business system. Not all companies are publicly-held corporations, and not all systems of governance work like the US where the shareholder is king. When teaching corporate responsibility it is essential to help students recognize this, especially if they are using a US textbook. Small firms, privately held companies, co-ops, mutuals, B Corps, social enterprises, etc - these all operate by different rules that give rise to different limits and opportunities for social responsibility. Likewise, the governance of large companies in continental Europe, Asia and and Latin America is quite different from in the Anglo-American system. Corporate responsibility is best understood as a practice than happens within particular constraints - and students need to know exactly what those constraints are in different parts of the world and in different parts of the economy.

9. Provide a good structure for learning. 
This is true for any course, but its easy to forget how important good structure is for good learning when there are so many juicy issues to get your teeth into in our field. An effective course will use a clear relevant organizing framework (such as themes, stakeholders, theories), not just a list of issues. Think about a course as series of building blocks - what's the foundation and what are you aiming at reaching at the pinnacle?

10. Remember to link with other business subjects and courses
Corporate responsibility is not an island. It needs to be linked and embedded with the other subjects that students are taking. Hopefully some of this will be happening in those other courses, but our job as a corporate responsibility professor is also to make those links clear for our students so that they don;t see ethics and social responsibility as add-ons separate from "real" business. So bring in elements of strategy, or marketing, supply chain management, accounting, finance - whatever it is that makes sense in the context of what you are teaching. A joined-up curriculum leads to joined-up thinkers - and one way or another we need a whole lot more of them out there.

Photo ©Schulich School of Business

August 24th, 2013
The “IT-Industrial Complex”

A while ago we commented on whistleblowing in the context of Edward Snowdon’s revelation of the current practices of the NSA. The entire story though is much bigger and has been ongoing for a while now. Just Monday this week, Glenn Greenwald’s partner got detained at London’s Heathrow Airport in a rather unusual manner. Greenwald, as most of us will know, is the journalist who was contacted by Snowdon and has been publishing the crucial pieces of Snowdon’s material in The Guardian.

While in essence the ongoing revelations have the political sphere as the key target, it now more and more emerges that the role of private businesses is far bigger than so far known. From the perspective of scholars interested in business ethics then this case, as it unfolds, raises some rather daunting questions, which – besides being troubling from a normal citizen’s point of view – offer some challenging questions for further research.

1. A new industry

Ever since the Washington Post published Top Secret America we are aware of the fast growing security industry which was created by the US Government in the aftermath of the terror attacks of 2001. What was not that clear is however how far the reach of this industry has gone.

The fact that phone companies provide their records to the NSA, that in principle all our email traffic is public and stored somewhere - just to name a few aspects - takes the entire debate to a new level. It now emerged that in fact most wireless phone providers, many internet service providers (including Google and Facebook) share data with the NSA, as do many classic IT hard- and software producer such as Apple and Microsoft.

When these revelations were made it was conspicuous to see the rather muted reaction of these companies. For long we thought that Google, certainly in their varied approaches to Chinese censorship struggled for an ethical approach here; with regard to their own government though very little of these, in essence similar, concerns obviously played a role. The main defense of these companies overly seems to be the need of compliance. While that argument might carry some way, it is not understandable how for instance Apple, who as a ‘footloose’ company manages to deal with ‘compliance’ to tax legislation in very creative ways just caves in with regard to the privacy of their ‘users’ when the NSA asks for access to their accounts.

So what we see here is not only the emergence of a new industrial sector, which combines rather diverse set of companies (see the list of companies in Top Secret America); it is also not clear anymore where the lines between private business and public administration/government lie. After all Snowdon himself was employed by a private company many of us would primarily remember as a strategy consulting firm (Booz Allen Hamilton). While the blurring of lines between sectors is nothing new, the level and dimensions of the 'securocracy' currently dismantling in front of our eyes in the context of the NSA takes it clearly to a new level.

2. The business model and its ethical implications

Ethical issues in the IT industry have garnered attention for a while in business ethics. Given the numerous court cases, for instance Google and Facebook had to weather recently in the US and Europe it is clear though, that with the growth of the internet and the degree, to which the internet is morphing into a social space, many more questions will arise.

Given that we now know that Google, Facebook, Apple and others are not only basically supplying the government with information but have been monitoring, searching, and organizing our data all long it raises some new questions. In particular it raises the question about the very essence of their business model from an ethical perspective.

Lets stick to the Facebook example. We are told that basically the company will make its money through advertising. Looking at the pathetically annoying adds on our Facebook feeds, for instance, the question really is whether this is the whole story? $800bn for some potentially ingenious advertising platform?

As Facebook ‘users’ we know that we are not their customers. We are their suppliers. What they ultimately want to ‘sell’ is information. This, rather than advertising, is ultimately the business case. This similarly applies to Google, Yahoo, Apple and other who store and ‘use’ many of the data we create through our various internet usages. Most of it is ‘free’ so far, yet still these companies are worth billions of dollars.

This raises some questions, which admittedly can easily be confounded with conspiracy theories. The most important of which is that under the post 9/11 legislation the ‘harvesting’ of our data which for long had been prohibited, is now in full swing. These companies are not primarily in the business of social media, web search or email hosting – they are sources of data about the most intimate details of our lives. While this was always clear to those who bothered to read the small print of the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of these companies, it emerges more and more that this is not just material of value for marketing purposes.

Just today we read in The Guardian that in fact many IT companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft made millions out of providing the NSA with our data. The euphemistic term for this is to see it as a reimbursement for ‘compliance costs’ – but from the perspective of those companies’ CFOs, what else is this other than ‘revenue’? This is certainly the first hard proof that there are clear financial ties between the US government and these companies. But could this also be another hint at what the real business model of these companies is about?

3. The Political role of business

That corporations are political actors in societal governance beyond their direct economic role is by now well established. Looking at the IT-industrial complex though adds some aspects. First, and very much on the surface, it strikes one to see the close ties between senior executives in the industry and the current US government. Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) had and still has key roles in the Obama administration to the degree Google has been called the 'Halliburton of the Obama Administration'; Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook CFO) worked for years in Washington, most notably with Larry Summers.

These are just two examples. Looking at the ferocious reaction to whistleblowers recently, one cannot overlook the commonality of interests between the US ‘government’ and the IT industry. Obama winning a second election was seen by many as a proof that maybe – despite of new campaign financing laws for corporations – business influence on politics is limited and that money alone cant buy campaigns and determine election outcomes. But maybe Obama’s re-election is just THE showcase of what ‘Citizens United’ has done: it got the very president elected whose campaign was crucially supported by Silicon Valley, but whose government now appears to be all long deeply engaged and intermingled with this new industrial network.

As business ethics scholars we see here a new opportunity for research. It is foremost about understanding the structure and value creation models of this industry. But it is also about evaluating the implications of these changes for our democracy, for how society is governed and what the rights and status of citizens in this context morphs into. In short, it is a research field rife with ethical question and issues.

Artwork by Susanne Waldau-te Brake, reproduced under the Creative Commons License

August 15th, 2013
The Academy of Management Conference in Disney World: ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ or ‘Back in the USSR’?

Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse and Cinderella Castle

Crane and Matten spent the last 5 days in Disney World Orlando. Which had nothing to do with recent fatherhood or anything like that. Who would have guessed: it was the venue of this year’s Academy of Management Annual Meeting – the biggest conference of management academics in the world, which takes place every August – in five of the Disney Hotels in Orlando.

As if this is not ironic enough, listen to the title of this year’s conference: ‘Capitalism in Question’! Whaow. Questioning capitalism in Disneyworld – for some a joke, for others hypocritical, for most of us simply absurd.

But wait a second. Once I arrived there, it took me only a few hours to think that Minnie & Mickey’s world is actually the best place to understand what is wrong with contemporary global capitalism. And, I love to add, nothing like what you would expect to be a capitalist experience; I rather had vivid deja-vu’s to my frequent visits to communist East Germany before the wall came down in 1989.

To begin with, the treatment Disney gives you as a consumer is rather dismal. I did not have a single meal where I did not had to join a long line. Even if you reserve a table, you are still kept waiting for a good half hour. Where i stayed (Coronado Springs) there was not much choice to begin with. Just one restaurant, and one snack bar. The latter had some 15 items on the food menu – but every lunch we could just chose between two types of pre-packed sandwiches. So, by and large, a pretty socialist experience. Bars closed at midnight sharp, and off it was to bed, just in the same way as you had to rush to checkpoints at midnight when visiting relatives in East Berlin back in the day.

The inefficiency was just hilarious. Even my welcome package arrived by UPS just in time on my return back to home…

The GDR claimed to be the worker’s paradise (‘Arbeiterparadies’), just about the same as Disneyland tells us everywhere that we are in the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’. Trained to be happy, wishing you a ‘magical day’ each and every second – the Disney ‘cast members’ (no workers here) have to push that message and play that role 24/7. Of course it’s mostly fake – and with dismal wages most of these actually rather nice people feel more like ‘mouse trapped’.

Slightly spooky is the extreme focus on security: tight controls and ID-ing at every (gated, of course) entrance. One colleague wanted to just walk between the different conference hotels; no such thing: all of them are heavily fenced in. He was warned that stepping off the main paths would immediately call security to the scene – so he joined the lines for the shuttle buses between hotels.

Now, I could rant on like that. The interesting question is what this all has to do with capitalism. It struck me, that at the end of the day, going to Disneyworld for five days of conferencing gives you a flavor of what it would look like if our life would be completely controlled by private corporations.

Its worth looking into the outline of the Conference to understand what we are talking about: Here is what it says:
“Three features differentiate capitalism from previous economic systems in history: (a) market competition among profit-driven firms, (b) wage employment within these firms, and (c) limited government over them.”


If we look at (a), Disney shows what large corporations have always tried to do: Once you are lured into the resorts, life is controlled by one monopolistic corporation. That’s why ‘choice’, free competition or freedom of movement no longer exists once you are there. This experience meanwhile is rather ubiquitous, certainly in US style capitalism: fewer brands and chains control growing market shares and choice with regard to our IT software, our air travel or our means of commuting is often only symbolic. Yes, we can chose between different 30 different washing powders. But at the end of the day, it’s all the same thing.

The result is rather surprising: the actual ‘capitalist’ experience resembles life in ‘communist’ times. Of course I know that East Germany (or the Soviet block in the cold war) was more a state capitalist system, but still. Disney – once you are there – gave me snippets of a socialist experience.

Including the ‘regime critique’. How I enjoyed ranting about the place with my colleagues – in the flesh, on facebook or in other ways of making fun of the ‘jail’ in which we all felt trapped. Someone even wrote a little manifesto! Anonymously of course, Disney might share it with the NSA maybe?

It was great for the spirit. Back to the cold, free world out there, I kind of miss it already. Just in the same way ‘Ostalgie’ crept up to many of my fellow countrymen after the fall of the iron curtain…


Photo by gwaar, reproduced under the Creative Commons License

July 22nd, 2013
The future of CSR

Our collaborator on the forthcoming second edition of our CSR textbook, Laura Spence from Royal Holloway, University of London, has been musing recently on the future of CSR. So we asked her to pen another guest post for us about where she thinks things are going. Here's what her crystal ball says...
I’ll let you into a secret. Sometimes, as I travel from conference to conference, I wonder if we are getting anywhere at all in the study of CSR.  As the field has developed, there are some topics and theories which have somewhat of a stranglehold on our thinking. With every new conference presentation that yet again tackles the well-trodden ground of large, Western multinational corporations, corporate social performance, stakeholder theory, or institutional theory, my heart sinks a little, though I also work on some of these. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of good work on these topics coming out, but we are in danger of throwing all our energies at an ever-decreasing circle of subjects when there is so much more out there to do. Couple that with the assessment by some that CSR has come to its natural end and it is sometimes hard to stay positive for the future of CSR.

And yet, in the last few weeks, I have had to rethink my doubts. It all started with an event on Gender and Responsible Business at Nottingham University’s International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. Somehow CSR – of all subjects - has more or less overlooked the gender perspective despite some pretty long standing powerful contributions.  Every presentation I saw contributed something refreshing, different and relevant, demonstrating a huge potential to shine a new light on CSR in the future. It is well worth joining the continuing conversation through the LinkedIn group: ‘Gender & Responsible Business Network’.

The inclusion of marginalized voices was to my delight also explored at the ‘Corporate Responsibility: Towards Inclusive Development’ stream at the European Group of Organization Studies (EGOS) conference in Montreal.  In a field dominated by US and European corporate perspectives and authors, this stream surfaced a young, vibrant and diverse group of scholars working on regions that constitute most of the world but a small proportion of CSR publications. We heard about CSR in Asian, South American, Middle Eastern and African countries, drawing on important cultural, political, economic, social and religious perspectives that are usually sidelined. Is the future of CSR in Europe or North America? I doubt it. The level of social need, different governmental roles, critical challenges and changing economic structures in developing and emerging economies should encourage us to look well beyond the usual contexts.

And I was not the only one pondering the future of CSR. At a special workshop at the EGOS conference, Christopher Wickert (VU University Amsterdam) and Arno Kourula (University of Amsterdam) led a focused workshop ‘Debating the Future of CSR’. Bringing together PhD students and early career researchers (and let’s face it, they should be the ones that determine what’s around the corner) with a few more established academics, we had the opportunity to really dig in to three key aspects: contextuality in CSR; theoretical criticism of CSR; and stakeholder perspectives and marginalized voices in CSR. The topics discussed were wide ranging and included the role of non-governmental organizations, CSR as a political project, activism, the role of the state, frustration with the ‘business case’, the performativity of language around CSR, listening to the polyphony of  voices and the dangers of stereotyping.  I really hope that the participants at the workshop go on to publish on some of these perspectives in more detail – it will make fascinating reading.  

Some of these waves of CSR research are captured in an earlier Crane and Matten blog and a brand new chapter in our second edition of CSR: Readings and Cases in A Global Context(Crane, Matten & Spence, Routledge, July 2013). There we add to the debate on the future of CSR in terms of new business models such as social entrepreneurship and social innovation, the influence of new social movements, forms of regulatory rather than voluntary CSR, the outcomes of CSR, and the positive prospects of CSR as a profession and an academic subject.   

So, as summer starts in earnest in the UK, I am optimistic for the future of CSR. If space is made for the rising waves of research I have been privileged to see in the last few months, you never know, we might actually make a difference. 

Laura J. Spence

Photo by eelcowest. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

July 18th, 2013
Top 10 tips for publishing CSR research in top journals

Contrary to popular belief, most university faculty don't spend the whole summer lounging on the beach or sitting in the garden. For most of us, summer is the time when we can really focus on our research without the usual distractions of teaching and university administration.

Although many academics do this research because they enjoy it, it is also a critical part of our role. Success in publishing our research is often the number one reason why we get hired or not, or whether we get that promotion or pay rise that we're after. Publish or perish is a mantra that is very real for many of us.

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