How is Ayn Rand still a thing? From ridicule to serious concern

By Steen Vallentin.

A recent article in The Washington Post informs us that Donald Trump is affectionate about the works of Ayn Rand (1905-1982), often referred to as the ‘high priestess of selfishness’. He shares this affection with several of his members of cabinet. These include Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, Andy Puzder, Secretary of Labor, and Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA. The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has also been an outspoken supporter of Rand, although he has recently distanced himself from her philosophy, citing its atheism as a fundamental concern (Rand famously viewed altruism as an evil form of self-sacrifice, and thus spoke against Christian values of giving and regard for others).

Trump has said that he identifies with Howard Roark, the main protagonist of Rand’s The Fountainhead, while Tillerson has listed Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s magnum opus, as his favorite book. The Fountainhead was made into a Hollywood movie in 1949, starring Gary Cooper as Roark, and this can of course lead one to speculate whether the president actually read the book or ‘just saw the movie’. This brand of speculation would, however, be typical of a tendency to ridicule rather than take Rand’s philosophy, its continued popularity and the influence it continues to have on the rich and the powerful seriously.

To name but a few examples of the ridicule: In 2009, the animated TV show The Simpsons had Lisa Simpson comment to her mother about The Fountainhead: “isn’t that the bible of right-wing losers?” In 2012, president Obama commented that Rand’s work is something that is picked up by teenagers that are “feeling mistunderstood”, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in 2014 dedicated a dismissive installment of “How is this still a thing?” to Rand’s work.

In popular treatments of her philosophy and the cult of personality that surrounded her, notions of ‘selfishness’, ‘greed’ and ‘objectivism’ are thrown around, but rarely with much argumentative depth. In scholarly circles, her work is often rejected as overly politicized ‘bad philosophy’, full of logical fallacies (and false distinctions), failing to constitute a coherent and closed system of thought (in spite of such pretense), and thus not deserving of more serious engagement. The literary form she uses in her major philosophical works also does not count in her favor among scholars. It can easily be dismissed as philosophical pulp fiction.

What I want to question here, however, is whether or how Rand’s work is deserving of more serious critical attention and treatment by those who are opposed to it. The idea is not to offer support or claim neutrality, but to lay bare the arguments presented in order to better understand and challenge their continued allure. In other words, Rand’s thinking continues to be an ideological force to be reckoned with, and we need to understand why and how it influences people, not least those in power.

Importantly, following Boltanski & Chiapello, the term ‘ideology’ should not be construed in the reductionist sense often suggested by Marxist uses, e.g., as a moralizing discourse intended to conceal material interests and constantly contradicted by practice, but rather as shared beliefs that are bound up with actions and hence anchored in reality. In other words, ideology must be considered as a practical concern with real effects (however loosely coupled with ideological precepts), not just as a mask veiling reality, a mode of deception or a sham.

Admittedly, Rand’s thinking is a hostile world to enter for non-believers. There are a number of reasons for this (apart from the endurance required to get through the 1100+ dogma-soaked pages of Atlas Shrugged). Objectivism is a closed philosophy, related to her mind’s work and reflecting her ideal world, a world that is often far removed from most people’s experience of the modern world. In spite of strong objectivist claims regarding Man’s mind and its relation to reality, her loyal followers often tend to ignore the obvious and to misrepresent reality when defending objectivist dogma. Objectivism is often associated with extreme/far-right political views, self-consciously flying in the face of political correctness and common morality and peddling the same sort of dystopian and polarizing view of the deterioration of American society that Trump campaigned on. However, the real ‘truth’ of Rand’s philosophy is to be found in her work, not in how various minions choose to carry her torch.

In Atlas Shrugged (1957), she creates a world in which industrialists, i.e., the prime movers, the makers, the traders, constitute a morally superior class of people. Opposed to these are the second handers, the takers, the looters, moochers, rotters of society. The industrialists represent everything that is good and capitalism everything that is proper in this world, but successful business people and proper market principles are persecuted by forces of envy and mediocrity operating under the flag of social responsibility. In Rand’s world, social responsibility is nothing but a battle cry for politically correct, collectivist-egalitarian and ultimately totalitarian schemes that are meant to keep great business people down by means of government interference and regulation. It is the way of the loser, who cannot make it in a man’s game of real market competition and who cannot cope with the innovative brilliance of the chosen few. Social responsibility and social welfare and progress are promoted by morally corrupt, hateful and obviously inferior people, whose actions are bereft of proper reason and any meaningful relation to reality.

In her depiction of an America that is falling apart due to lack of reason and totalitarianism, (and which in many ways more resembles her native Russia), Rand provides scathing critiques of the corrupted – and corrupting – forces of politics, government bureaucracy, science and media, the tyranny of public opinion and the lack of reason among the common people. Opposed to all this rot stands capitalism. To Rand, and her followers, capitalism pure and unadulterated is the solution to all imaginable ills of society. She offers a philosophy according to which selfishness and greed are virtues and nobody should ever feel ashamed about being successful.

We do not have to accept the claims of Rand’s philosophy or to sympathize with its underlying ideology to acknowledge that her dystopian world view has some resonance in regard to emla what we are living through right now. Besides, there is the matter of the continued influence of her thinking on the rich and the powerful. Atlas Shrugged portrays business people (the right kind) as innocent and by and large powerless victims of persecution and scapegoating perpetrated by a list of shameful characters ranging from government bureaucrats to spouses and family members. For one of the more extreme expressions of this message we can turn to a 1962 lecture where she asserted that: “In Soviet Russia, the scapegoat was the bourgeoisie; in Nazi Germany it was the Jewish people; in America, it is the businessman” (quoted in Weiss, p. 53).

It is interesting how this perplexing narrative of persecution apparently continues to inspire extremely rich and successful people (the 1%) – in spite of all their success and all their well-documented power, and the fact that the societal view of business people and business as an institution has changed dramatically since Rand wrote her book.

In sum, Rand’s thinking is probably more a part of the problem than the solution to many of the crises we are facing, but it nevertheless call for more serious engagement – even by those radically opposed to her extreme view of the virtues of capitalism and everything that stands in its way. As the saying goes: keep your enemies closer …


Steen Vallentin is Director of the CBS Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR) and Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School.

Pic of Rand by David Seaton, edited by BOS.

If at first you don’t succeed, build, build again

By Lara Hale.

It is already challenging to make small changes to buildings – painting the window panels, upgrading the kitchen, or even (as many Copenhageners are familiar with) installing a shower. But there is a pressing need for more extensive change – we need to learn how to build again and build more sustainably. As part of the EU Marie Curie project “Innovation for Sustainability (I4S)”, my PhD dissertation investigates how the Active House Alliance and their co-founder, VELUX, experiment with demonstration houses in order to develop a sustainable building standard for a trifecta: environment, energy, and comfort. In other words, it examines how they use experiments (building, then building again) to best synergize the three and holistically improve building practice.

The third dimension “comfort” has been particularly challenging to develop in that there has not historically been a formal definition or measurement of comfort in buildings. The PhD’s first article delves into how Active House goes about legitimating technical specifications (i.e. measurable parameters) for comfort in buildings. Not least of all, this has involved revisiting basic elements like light exposure, air exchange, and indoor human health (see for example the Circadian House Report). The research finds a reciprocal relationship between commensuration (conversion of qualities into comparable quantities, see Espeland & Stevens, 1998 and 2008) processes and legitimacy building – both among other professionals internationally and locally in the context of the projects.

The second article addresses structurally influencing the building users towards sustainable consumption – so that by design, people may behave more sustainably in buildings. Buildings are made with default rules: the rules for which infrastructural set-ups come ready-made. We know that default rules can affect sustainability-related behaviors (Mont et al., 2014; Sunstein & Reisch, 2013; Dolan et al., 2011; Brown et al., 2013). For example, the space orientation determines how much light a living room receives, and thus when and how for how long one uses lights. The literature holds that default rules work, in part, because they do not engage people’s awareness. However, this research finds that, in relation to sustainable consumption, that there are further nuances. Where at first people are unaware of how the defaults are affecting their behavior, after they leave the experimental buildings and live in their former, non-sustainably designed structures, the contrast makes them aware. It is this change that gears them towards making more sustainability-oriented consumption choices in the future.

Lastly, the third paper delves into the development of sensor-based building technology systems, such as WindowMaster, NetAtmo, Nest, and so forth. In an era of pressure for technologies that can decide for or replace the actions of people (McIntyre-Mills, 2013), building systems can manage entire households – from running grocery lists and scheduling exercise to adjusting electricity usage and changing temperature. At the same time, the building industry grapples with the performance gap, wherein the planned energy performance of buildings does not match reality, largely explained by failures to grasp how people will behave (Frankel et al., 2015). Rather design needs both technical and social considerations (Maguire, 2014). This article uses the Active House building demonstrations to show how these experiments have helped standards makers to learn from too much focus on technological automation – as it leads to an overshoot, wherein people feel too controlled by technology and either submit or tamper with it, akin to technological interaction highlights in the works of Rip and Kemp (1998) and Shove (2003). The paper argues that the pendulum can swing too far towards technological reliance, and that co-design, a balance between human and technological development is needed – especially under seeking sustainable solutions to societal challenges.

Altogether, the idea is: that which is built can be rebuilt, our norms and practices are fluid and constantly under development. In the case of sustainable building, governance projects and experiments must tackle challenges of measurement, consumer base, and rapidly evolving technologies. It is an era of uncertainty, wherein there are no clear trajectories for sustainability transitions; but when experimenting within the frame of learning and adapting for the next steps, we can lay the first building blocks.


Lara Anne Hale, MSc, is Marie Curie PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School at the Department of Management, Society, and Communication. Her research areas explore experimental governance, standards, innovation, green building, sustainability transitions, sustainable production and consumption. You can follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Open Buildings, showing LichtAktiv Haus.

Who’s responsibility is it, anyway?

By Erin Leitheiser.

Workers and companies from across the globe each play a part in creating our clothes.  Yet, it’s unclear who is responsible for addressing the myriad of social and environmental sustainability issues in these global supply chains. 

Who is responsible for the social and environmental sustainability of the denims that you’re wearing? 

Chances are that when you check the tag you’ll see the name of a country like Bangladesh, China or Turkey.  While global sourcing from these and other textile hubs has been common practice for decades, we still face major issues related to child labor, poor and unsafe working conditions, modern slavery, gender inequality, pollution, and many more.  Partnerships and collaborations have sprung up across the board to address supply chain issues, with just a few examples including an initiative to remedy the safety of ready-made garment (RMG) factories in Bangladesh, attempts to raise the standards and traceability of extractive industries, and Ethical Trading Initiative’s recent launch of a platform for ethical trade in Turkey

While partnership and collaboration form the foundation of many of these efforts, there remains great confusion about who is and should be responsible for what in supply chains.  Looking specifically at ready-made apparel (RMG) supply chains, here’s a glimpse into some of the murky roles and responsibilities. 

  • Consumers.  Consumers are held up as king in the world of retail, and may indeed have great (collective) power through purchasing behavior.  Yet, it is difficult if not impossible for consumers to make informed choices about how and where a product was made.  (Side note: a relatively new NGO has been established to create a consumer-facing scoring system to help combat this issue.)  And, even ethically-minded consumers are rarely willing to sacrifice style or price for sustainability.  Therefore, consumers often point to the brands and retailers who put product on the shelves as responsible for ensuring the social and environmental sustainability of all of their offerings. 
  • Brands and Retailers.  The giants of the RMG world, brands and retailers demand high volumes, quick turn-around times, and low prices in their industry of fast fashion.  Even large brands and retailers don’t own many – if any – of their own factories, so instead, opt to purchase goods from a vast network of third-party suppliers.  While virtually all buying companies have codes of conduct governing things like child labor and basic safety practices, any one company’s orders may only constitute a small fraction of a factory’s production, making leverage with the supplier to make changes and upgrades difficult at best.  This may be even more problematic for small brands and retailers whom may depend upon agents (the industry’s equivalent of your friend who “knows a guy”) to find and contract with suppliers. 
  • Suppliers (Factories).  Suppliers simultaneously face downward price pressure and increasing compliance requirements.  First, suppliers must be able to produce a quality product within a short period of time for the right (low) price.  Then, they must comply with each and every buyer’s code of conduct, some of which include additional third party certification (e.g. Oeko-Tex certification on harmful chemicals and substances, a virtual requirement for any producer of maternity or children’s wear).  At the same time they often need to rely upon sub-suppliers to complete orders on time since particularly small factories (under 300 workers) employ enough people to be able to quickly deliver orders for 5,000, 10,000 or more pieces, which adds an additional layer of complexity and transparency. Suppliers often resist worker unionization or other process improvements beyond what is demanded by buyers, in part fearing soaring costs that will make them uncompetitive in the marketplace. 
  • Local Governments.  Governments in supplying countries are responsible for setting and enforcing the laws governing the industry.  While most countries with significant production levels have reasonable laws in place regarding human rights, child labor, and environmental impact, those countries also often suffer from a great lack of enforcement of said laws for a myriad of reasons: lack of financial resources, insufficient staffing levels, inadequate processes and capabilities, and bribery and corruption, to name a few. 
  • UN and ILO.  The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ILO’s Decent Work agenda provide standards and a framework from which businesses can formulate and evaluate their human rights and labor policies.  While crucially important tools, neither have the purview or power to compel uptake or compliance. 

This brief overview of just the major players in global textile supply chains shows how blurred the responsibilities are for social and environmental sustainability.  No one person or party is responsible for or can solve the challenges we face.  But, if we can all be open to change and accept that we each bear some responsibility for solving the issues, we have a fighting chance to make systemic and meaningful change in the industry.  Indeed, in the words of Andrew Carnegie, “do your duty and a little more and the future will take care of itself.”


Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School.  Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society.  Prior to pursuing her PhD she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives.  She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter @erinleit.

Pic by Unicef, found on Flickr

Big Data: Make Every Voice Count

By Michael Etter.

How do we determine if an organization behaves in a socially acceptable way? This question is highly relevant and not easy to answer. If we want to hold organizations accountable for their actions, we need to know what the norms are, against which we measure organizational behaviour. But how do we define these norms? And how do we make sure to include a variety of experiences, opinions, expectations, and values, when judging organizational behaviour? In a recently published article, my colleagues and I argue that social media and big data analytics might provide us with a possible answer to these questions.

When assessing the social acceptance of organizations, researchers typically consult one of three sources that make judgments about organizations visible: News media, accreditation bodies, and survey-based rankings. While well established in the academic literature, these sources are limited in their ability to account for the heterogeneity of norms and values of post-modern societies. In the following I will explain why.

Institutional evaluators represent homogenous norms and particular agendas

There is a general agreement that news media influence and reflect the public perception of acceptable corporate behaviour. As institutional evaluators news media are crucial for the identification and evaluation of organizational conduct and – even more so – misconduct. News media can therefore be seen as a public forum, where socially acceptable behaviour is constantly negotiated and defined. However, we have to remind ourselves that only a few privileged actors can actively participate and shape this forum. In fact, the possibilities for most citizens to express their experiences, views, and opinions in news media are limited.

Furthermore, news media only report certain events about certain organizations, while leaving others untouched. Indeed, the complex process of news production is determined by several selection processes, editorial routines, professional norms, and institutional constrains that substantially influence the expression and negotiation of judgments about organizations. For these reasons news media give only limited indication for the heterogeneity of experiences, opinions, values, and norms of wider parts of society.Accreditation bodies are a second source that gives indication, if organizations behave in a socially acceptable way. Accreditation bodies define the norms and standards, according to which organizations should conduct their business. If corporations fail to meet these standards, they are visibly downgraded, delisted, or otherwise sanctioned.

The judgments of organizational behaviour by accreditation bodies are typically based on balanced evaluation criteria that are established by experts. From a critical point of view, however, it can be argued that these judgments only partly represent the views of a wide array of civil society actors. In fact, even if standards include the inputs from certain stakeholder groups, these groups will represent merely their own agendas. As a result, again, accreditation bodies give only limited indication for the multifaceted expectations, opinions, views, and experiences of ordinary citizens.

Finally, researchers have used survey based measures to assess the public perception of corporate behaviour. Surveys can provide a representative picture about the opinions of certain societal groups. Nevertheless, surveys face several methodological challenges, such as social desirability bias or lacking knowledge about certain organizations. Furthermore, predefined evaluation criteria run the risk to miss or overemphasise certain aspects of organizational behaviour. This means, again, that survey based measures give only limited indication for the expectations, opinions, views, and experiences of ordinary citizens.

The value(s) of digital finger-pointing

Now, can social media provide a solution for these shortcomings? We believe that social media can at least complement the picture. In our article, we discuss how social media can give a more direct and inclusive access to a plurality of voices and opinions of ordinary citizens. This is the case, because social media are increasingly used by a variety of civil society actors to express their views, interpretations, and experiences.

Obviously, the expression and negotiation of judgments in social media are subject to various selection biases and power dynamics. Recent attention has been paid to “echo chambers”, where the plurality and negotiation of opinions are distorted, because everybody seems to have the same opinion and talking about the same topic. These filter bubbles form, because individuals tend to connect and surround themselves with individuals who have similar views. Technological filters and algorithms have further magnified the effects of these filter bubbles. Other biases are related to varying use of social media, self-censorship, and the tendency to promote a desirable self-image, which leads to selective behaviour when voicing opinions. Nevertheless, we argue that the voiced opinions and views substantially shape the ongoing discussions and give insights into a diversity of concerns and (niche-) conversations that need our attention.

Finally, one can argue that the expression and negotiation of judgments in social media is highly influenced by news media. However, recent developments in the political arena, such as the unexpected election of Donald Trump or Brexit, have shown that traditional news media are not always a good indicator for the opinions of large parts of society.

We therefore deem it valuable to include the digital finger-pointing in social media, when assessing the judgements about organizational behaviour. With new tools of big data analytics we can access and include every single opinion from the millions of public voices and therefore account for a large heterogeneity of norms, values, expectations, and experiences.


Michael Etter, PhD, is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cass Business School, City University London.

Pic by Ky, Flickr

The Task At Hand: Facing a Trump America

The following post by American CBS MBA student Wynne Lewis is an accompanying piece she wrote recently for the Financial Times’ MBA Blog.

Titled “Case for responsible business post Trump and Brexit shocks“, Wynne spoke to the shocks of the recent inauguration of Mr. Trump in the U.S. and the vote for Brexit in the UK. She argues that these events are creating many setbacks to the strides we have taken recently in favour of human rights and combating climate change. But they are also catalysts for positive change for the individuals who are fired up and ready to go stand up for what matters most – for example by contributing to a more sustainable economy by founding your own venture.

Read the full post on the FT MBA Blog.

In her latest piece on the CBS MBA blog, she now offers a little bit of inspiration to get you started with making a change.


By Wynne Lewis.

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

We fear regression, but there is much we can do.

I spoke with my classmates (representative of countries from all around the world), my professors, and visiting speakers and here is a little bit of inspiration to get you started.

For Employers / Employees:

  • Recognise the power of business. Do not be ignorant to your own influence. There is no such thing as an a-political corporation in the polarised climate under which we are operating today. Every decision must be intentional.
  • Create meaningful working class jobs. If your consumers are voting pro-nationalism, are they willing to pay a higher price for locally sourced products? Can you source your products or raw materials locally? Can you conduct market research to prove your case to investors? There may even be a risk management case to make for keeping the supply chain close for better transparency.
  • Treat your employees with respect and invest in their development. Look at the most recently hired/promoted people at your company. Are they a diverse group? Are you promoting from within? If not, chances are good that some of your talent is falling through the cracks or not being developed. It may not be intentional, but you can become aware of it and take strides to be sure you are capitalizing on your best resource – your employees.
  • If you have employees who may feel marginalised or unsafe in the current social climate sparked by the election, reach out and check-in with them. Do they feel safe in their commute to work? (This has been very relevant for many of my friends living in New York, so it is worth asking.) Is there anything you can do to help? Has the office climate changed at all for them? It is important that they are able to focus on doing a good job without feeling marginalised or harassed at work. Keep tabs on this. If handled with care, you will foster the establishment of a strong working environment and retain your talented minority (women included) workers.
  • Look for business opportunities. What was the change you were hoping for? Is there a gap in products/services today and the products/services we need to achieve that change? Your next great venture may just be hidden in the void.

You will know best how these things must ultimately align with a clear business case appropriate for your company, but it is important to point out those business practices that shape our countries, our politics, and ultimately our societies.

For Investors:

  • Divest from energy companies who are not investing in the future. Oil is booming right now with the recent elections, but the future will hold a diverse portfolio of energy sources. Companies who are only focused on fossil fuels are resisting innovation.
  • Be an active voter in the companies you invest in. If you hold stocks in companies that are doing things that you do not support – underpaying workers, polluting, vocalising racist sentiment – use your voice as a shareholder to change things. Be active and let them know that as an owner you do not support the way they are operating the business. Chances are high, you are not alone. Get other investors involved.
  • Invest in companies that are good for people, planet, and profit. There are many resources for those interested in impact investing. Read up and put your money where your values are.

On the personal side: invest in values you care about. Whatever they are, donate your time or money to the things that matter most. Create the world you want to live in and that you want your children to live in. Consider it a long-term investment.

The most important thing ultimately is to do something. So get out there, and be active.

Have some great ideas? Please add a comment below.


Based in New York, Wynne is currently enrolled as an MBA student at Copenhagen Business School. She was attracted to the Copenhagen MBA for its strong focus on Responsible Management and the promise of a global classroom. Post-MBA, she is toying with the idea of starting her own venture. She is a blogger for the Financial Times MBA blog, where she hopes to tell the story of what really powers her passion for Responsible Management on the far-reaching global business platform that is the Financial Times.

Pic by Pexels

CSR is Dead. Long Live CSR

By Andreas Rasche, Mette Morsing, and Jeremy Moon.

We – Andreas Rasche, Mette Morsing, and Jeremy Moon – just edited an international textbook entitled Corporate Social Responsibility: Strategy, Communication, Governance (Cambridge University Press). When talking to people about the book, one common response was: “Why didn’t you just call it Corporate Sustainability? After all, this term is used by everybody these days…” In 2014, Peter Bakker, the President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, even declared: “CSR is dead. It’s over.” And Michael Porter and Mark Kramer made a very similar claim when pitching their “shared value” concept a couple of years earlier.

Mr Bakker’s main point was that CSR is mostly about philanthropy and that it is not properly embedded into business models yet. It is hard to disagree with this statement, but nevertheless neither Mr Bakker nor Mr Kramer and Professor Porter got to one point:

The core of the problem

First, if you do not have an antique understanding of CSR (as preached in the late 70s), you will recognize that it actually is about integrating firms’ social and environmental responsibilities in their value and supply chain activities as well as their business models. This is precisely what the entire debate on “strategic CSR” has been aiming at. Those companies who understand CSR in a contemporary way know that they have to integrate their responsibilities vis-à-vis society into everything they do; and this is not necessarily because they are environmentalists or social protagonists but because this is what society expects from them and this is what provides them with their license to operate.

However, simply changing labels from “CSR” to “Corporate Sustainability” won’t make firms more aware that their business models need to be aligned with their responsibilities vis-à-vis society. While Corporate Sustainability may enable a smoother dialogue between management scholars and economists and while it may also help to engage in dialogue with peers from the natural and technical sciences, it also blurs the importance of firms’ ethical responsibilities. In fact, one could argue that while the Corporate Sustainability language has increasingly helped to engage the investor community into what they label Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, it has also sidelined important ethical dilemmas that were once at the core of the debate.

Second, we should not too quickly disparage corporate philanthropy as an outdated concept. Currently, philanthropic contributions are a key driver of many partnerships in support of broader development goals such as the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). Also, philanthropic contributions are often quite “strategic” – many firms directly benefit from such contributions, such as when charity investments in education secure a skilled future workforce. Also, many SMEs make strong philanthropic contributions to the local communities around them – for them CSR is a matter of personal values (often driven by the owner-manager).  Yet, this can bring benefits of employee motivation  (as, somewhat paradoxically, even Milton Friedman noted), social marketing and customer loyalty.

The bottom line: rationales, not labels

The core of the problem lies not so much in labels. It more profoundly lies in the challenges that systemic injustice, corruption, human rights and climate change pose for society and for business, and the resources and strategies that businesses bring to address them. Therefore, we should not focus too much on labels – labels come and labels go. But we should rather focus on ‘rationales’.

Actually, Chapter 2 of our book makes exactly this point. Corporations are often quickly relabelling and repackaging their engagement with responsible and sustainable business. What was formerly described as ethics was translated into CSR and now turns into Corporate Sustainability. In the future it may be given even another name. This is not to say that corporate practices are not changing. Actually, there is a lot of innovation around corporate sustainability and many firms have learned a great deal about which material issues need to be addressed. It is to say, however, that we should not simply throw away the “old” and believe that the “new” will be the Holy Grail.

In this sense, editing a textbook on “Corporate Social Responsibility” is a very timely undertaking. We cannot ignore the big societal challenges that are ahead of us, and by educating the business wo(men) of tomorrow we have to acknowledge that firms’ responsibilities have to be deliberately managed, regardless of whether we call this “CSR”, “corporate sustainability”, “shared value” or something else. We hope that our book will convey exactly this message.

CSR is a continuous journey

The point for us is this: Responsible and sustainable business has to be alive in our minds; it has to shape what we do, how we do it, and why do it. We have to look beyond and behind the different labels we ascribe to responsible business behavior. Truly engaging with a book is but one of the many important ways to achieve just that… CSR is a journey that has just begun and that continues to unfold on a daily basis.

Long live CSR!

Info: The book “Corporate Social Responsibility: Strategy, Communication, Governance” edited by Andreas Rasche, Mette Morsing, and Jeremy Moon is available from 17 March 2017.


Andreas, Mette and Jeremy are editors-in-chief of the BOS Blog and Professors at Copenhagen Business School’s World Class Research Environment Governing Responsible Business.

Poster by Cambridge University Press.

CBS UN Global Compact PRME report on progress: Not only what, but also who

By Lavinia-Cristina Iosif-Lazar.

68 pages, 6 principles, one year of data collection and CBS’ 4th report to the UN Global Compact PRME initiative: these are the numbers behind the latest report by the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) .

The report is now out and presents the main responsibility-related research projects, initiatives, publications and activities that have taken place throughout CBS over the course of the last two years. It is also, what we at the PRME office call “The CBS responsible management phone book”.

The paper presents the way in which CBS lives up to and embeds the six Principles for Responsible Management Education (purpose, values, method, research, partnership, dialogue), which constitute the foundation for the work we do on responsible management education. They provide a solid structure to help us excel in important areas that will contribute to improving our curricula and research.

The principle logos are allocated to each activity to indicate which principle(s) are being addressed. It also brings together in one, overreaching document, researchers, faculty and student organizations from across CBS working with responsibility in management education, sustainability, CSR, business and human rights, development studies and green tech to name but a few. Spanning from Green Shipping to Corporate Social Voluntarism, from student-led initiatives to external partners engagement projects, the report encompasses the diversity of CBS’s view on responsible education.

Having been previously granted with an “Excellence in Reporting” award by UNGC PRME, we constantly strive to put together the best possible report, documenting CBS’ work within responsible management, but also, more importantly, to draw special attention to the people behind this work.

You can find the entire CBS Report at here.

Note: Launched at the 2007 UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in Geneva, the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative is the largest organised relationship between the United Nations and business schools. The mission of PRME is to transform management education, research and thought leadership globally by providing the Principles for Responsible Management Education framework, developing learning communities and promoting awareness about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.


Lavinia is project coordinator at CBS PRME. Visit the PRME office at Porcelænshaven 18B, Room 1.123. Follow CBS PRME on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Pic by CBS PRME.

Digitally Dominant Corporations

By Glen Whelan.

On Friday the 26th of January, Denmark’s foreign minister Anders Samuelsen announced that Denmark is to appoint the world’s first ‘digital ambassador’. In an interview with Politiken, and as reported by The Local, Samuelsen explained the decision by noting that digitally dominant “companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft ‘affect Denmark just as much as entire countries… These companies have become a type of new nation… and we need to confront that’”. Whilst Samuelsen was careful to note that Denmark “‘will of course maintain our old way of thinking in which we foster our relationships with other countries’”, he emphasized that “‘we simply need to have closer ties to some of the companies that affect us’”.

A Contentious Trend

Whilst Denmark appears to be the first country to so formalize relations with digitally dominant corporations, the conceiving of corporations as being state like is not particularly new. In 2016, for example, Foreign Policy magazine named Google as its ‘Diplomat of the Year’ due to its “digital diplomacy” and its “empowering citizens globally”. And approximately ten years prior to this, there was a spate of works suggesting that multinational corporations were beginning to take on increasingly state like responsibilities for individual citizenship rights, and that it was multinational corporations that were the new Leviathans of our time.

This trend to conceive of states and corporations as being on something like an equal footing, however, has often been criticized. Forbes contributor Emma Woollacott, or example, chastised Samuelsen for implying that if an organization amasses enough money, then it can “get a government to give… [it] not only special attention but a unique political status”. She thus suggested that whilst “appointing a senior official tasked with negotiating with tech companies makes a lot of sense, equating those companies with nations sets a rather worrying precedent”. In echoing what is now the decade old claim that corporations would likely seek protection “against arbitrary interference and expropriation by governments” for taking on ‘governmental’ responsibilities, Woollacott worries that equating corporations with governments will simply increase the power the former have over the latter.

A Symbolic Turn

In contrast to such normative concerns, Copenhagen University’s Martin Marcussen suggests that the Danish government’s planned appointment of the world’s first digital ambassador will be little more than symbolic. According to his understanding of the Foreign Ministry, “the ambassador will get an office, practically consisting solely of that individual. He or she will… be able to travel around, but it’s just one person, so one can’t expect too much’”.

In and of itself, this statement is difficult to argue with. Nevertheless, it risks obscuring the digital ambassador announcement’s important, albeit largely implicit, suggestion, that it is not corporate power in general that we need to be wary of, but the power of high-tech digital corporations in particular. The first point to take away from recent developments, then, is that the Danish government’s recognition that digitally dominant corporations have a significant impact on the life of Danish (and other) citizens is well founded.

The second and more important point to take away, however, is that we risk misunderstanding the uniqueness of such impacts by trying to conceive of digitally dominant corporations as governments, or by conceiving of their unique political status as arising once governments recognize them as ‘equals’. Indeed, the unique political importance of such digitally dominant corporations is clearly diminished by such an equating.

In other words, when we equate digitally dominant corporations with governments, it tends to take attention away from the fundamental, multitudinous, and technologically informed, ways, in which they (indirectly) shape what we consume, discover, experience, forget, and remember, on a daily basis. If Denmark’s digital ambassador announcement helps us recognize as such, then it will prove to be a very good thing.


Glen Whelan is Governing Responsible Business Fellow at Copenhagen Business School and Social Media Editor for the Journal of Business Ethics. He’s on twitter @grwhelan and @jbusinessethics.

Pic by cea +, Flickr, edited by BOS