Democracy Trumped – Understanding Trump’s Propaganda

By W. Lance Bennett.

How did a brand magnate reality TV star with a vindictive style and no political experience become president of the United States? Why did so many people vote to ignore climate change, pull back from the global economy, and disrupt North Atlantic relations?

A few years back I asked a colleague in Italy to explain Berlusconi. He pointed to a corrupted and dysfunctional political system that angered voters enough to throw a bomb into government. Never mind that Trump, like Berlusconi, oozes a special corruption all his own. Most of the press and party elites missed the scale of angry emotion aimed at them by white working and middle class Americans. Indeed, the cosmopolitan press had long rendered these folk nearly invisible, brushing off the early warning signs of the Tea Party as a minor disturbance. And so, most media experts and party insiders engaged in knowing discussions of how impossible it would be for anyone to be elected with Trump’s combination of inexperience, shady business dealings, and inability to manage his emotions and stay on script.

Winning votes through Marketing: emotio, not ratio

Meanwhile, Trump found and fed the white anger with simple, emotional messages, such as the promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington. He branded “Crooked Hillary” as the ultimate insider, with close ties to the banks, a trail of (largely manufactured) scandals, and trouble drawing a line between official business, the Clinton Foundation, and her ties to Wall Street. Despite the baggage that Clinton carried through the campaign, she did win the popular vote, and might have won the election had the (Republican) FBI director not renewed an investigation of her handling of official emails as Secretary of State.

This was the “October surprise” that sent many undecided voters, including a majority of white women, to Trump. Clinton tried in vain to get policy messages into the news, but Trump dominated the daily media spectacle with tirades against immigrants, government corruption, establishment politicians from both parties, the press, and the global economy. His clarion call at rallies was “I am your voice.” When he mentioned Clinton, the crowds ritualistically chanted “lock her up,” which he promised to do. Reporters were herded like cattle into fenced pens at rallies, and crowds shook their fists and chanted at them when Trump  denounced the lying, biased media. Reporters needed Secret Service protection at these events.

A radical right social movement against the Establishment

Through his deft use of social and conventional media and relentless appearances at rallies, Trump created a movement that revealed, like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries that selected Clinton, the emptiness of the US party system. The Trump revolt echoes the rise of the radical right sweeping European democracies. Traditional parties have become “hollowed out,” in Peter Mair’s term, uninterested in engaging voters beyond crude marketing campaigns at election time. The British felt this shock with the Brexit vote, and no fewer than 28 countries in Europe have radical right parties on the rise, or already in power and threatening basic democratic values. Even though the radical left is as numerous and angry as the right, it is burdened with identity politics and the romance of deliberative democracy, which undermines conventional party organization, leadership, and the capacity to generate appealing ideas that travel via simple emotional messages.

How cosmopolitan arrogance lost the election

The specter haunting democracy today is the legacy of centrist neoliberal elites, and the press organizations that cover them. The core democratic institutions of press and politics have failed to engage white working class populations that have been economic casualties of globalization. Perhaps even more troubling is the failure of the center left and right to engage white middle classes who are more the symbolic casualties of globalization. These are the god fearing Christians for whom racial and patriarchal privilege once offered social identity and status, and who now feel threatened by multiculturalism, immigration and Islam. Yet, neoliberal politicians from Tony Blair to Barack Obama have told them that globalization is irreversible, so get over it. Clinton’s message of “stronger together” surely felt wrong to those who lived in Trump’s America and wanted to make their nation great again – in their own image.

Popumisms  greatest weapon is propaganda supported by social media

Beyond the lying mainstream press, which Trump helped his followers deconstruct every day, Trump’s coded messages of resurgent white nationalism circulated through the alternative or “Alt” right media system in the US. This network includes radio talk personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, with 13 million listeners, who issued daily defenses of Trump’s many miscues in the final months of the campaign. Among hundreds of Alt right websites is Breitbart with 19 million unique monthly visitors.

Late in the summer, when struggling with self-inflicted damage in the establishment press, Trump picked Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon to head his campaign. The campaign media team was soon joined by Roger Ailes, who began his political career reinventing Richard Nixon for the television age, and later headed Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News channel until he was driven out by a sexual harassment scandal. Bannon and Ailes have visions of consolidating their victory by forging a Trump media network that will serve as a surrogate party organization, and bypass the mainstream press in keeping Trump propaganda flowing to supporters.

A new order?

In light of these trends, it is time to ask: What is the future of democracy given the imbalance between left and right, and the disdain shown by many victorious right politicians for civil liberties, moral tolerance, racial, sexual, and religious diversity, press freedom, and basic civility? Those of us who benefit from cosmopolitan societies and global economies have failed to notice that democratic institutions of press and parties have withered, while a new and more ominous political and communication order has emerged in our midst.

Lance Bennett is professor of political science and Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication at University of Washington, Seattle USA. His most recent book is News: The Politics of Illusion (10th Edition, University of Chicago Press). He is also founder and director of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement. and is on Twitter.

pic by aux

Rising Inequality and Political Backlash

By Kate Grosser.

Widening income inequality has become the defining challenges of our time. Not only has this issue been highlighted in recent years by the IMF, the OECD, and the Economic Policy Institute, Washington, among others, but it is at the centre of much analyses of the causes of Trump’s US election victory, including Dirk Matten’s great blog on this site last week. The gap between the rich and poor is reportedly at its highest level in decades in advanced economies. While this trend has been more mixed in emerging markets and developing countries, pervasive inequities remain, and it is increasingly recognized that inequality impacts negatively upon growth, sustainability and political stability.

Contesting the Equality and Gendered Value of “Creating Shared Value” is an urgent task

So what does this tell us about our success in ‘Creating Shared Value’? It would seem we urgently need to pay a lot more attention to what we mean by ‘shared’ and, in particular, to how corporate practices impact upon inequality at all levels of society, across all stakeholder domains, and in the wider economy and polity. Notably the IMF confirms that gender inequality is strongly associated with income inequality and that this holds for countries across all levels of development. Thus we live in particularly challenging times for gender equality. How are we going to address these challenges more effectively?

Corporations have been shown to rely on gender and other forms of inequality as a resource, exploiting women’s low pay globally, and especially in supply chains in developing countries for example, and relying upon invisible and unpaid care work, done mostly by women, to sustain workers and organizations. However, it is also true that business has the power to make changes that can impact huge numbers of women, as well as men, in positive ways through new business models and new approaches to responsible business. Yet, corporate claims to be advancing equality MUST be investigated and evaluated by feminist scholars, and others working on different forms of inequality, in collaboration with the so called ‘beneficiaries’ of CSR, to assess progress in this regard.

Emerging research on CSR, gender, and other forms of inequality – what are we learning?

Among the growing research outputs on inequality issues and CSR, including those addressing gender, development, and indigenous studies, many have raised questions about the nature of shared value. They have also frequently suggested ways forward on this issue, including the need to listen to, and act upon, knowledge that comes from the ‘margins’ of our field, and of mainstream society. However, while such research in CSR is more critical than ever, the impact of this work, in terms of research and practice, will depend to a large extent on levels of interest among CSR scholars in addressing inequality in our midst. A quick review of feminist scholarship for example, reveals that this routinely develops alongside, rather than as part of, mainstream theory and research, such that it is effectively ignored, its implications overlooked and its insights missed (e.g. Shanley and Pateman, 1991). In our own field Janet Borgerson (2007) finds that feminist ethics has been consistently overlooked, misunderstood, and improperly applied within business ethics. In our new edited collection on Gender and Responsible Business: Expanding CSR Horizons (Editors: Kate Grosser, Lauren McCarthy and Maureen Kilgour, Greenleaf 2016), Laura Spence points to low citations of feminist research, even that by the leading professors in our field such as Ed Freeman. Craig Prichard (2013) proposes that ‘uncitation’ does not prove that a paper is of poor quality, but rather that it is separated from the ‘dominant co-citational coalitions’ of a particular group of powerful scholars and journals. He suggests we seek out uncited papers to find new areas of importance to our field. In sum, advancing CSR research on gender and other forms of inequality will require all of us to:

  • Support and mentor those who write from the margins of our field, including women academics from a variety of backgrounds and parts of the world
  • Explore, support and cite scholarship on inequality and CSR, including feminist research;
  • Contribute to investigation of how masculinity dominates CSR research, discourse, organization and practice; and how inequality and neo-colonialism shape our field.
  • Bring the issue of rising inequality centre stage in business and society research of ALL kind

New voices on inequality and CSR

Our new book forms part of the growing literature which aims to bring new voices and perspectives to CSR. Contributions come from people in business, NGOs, as well as academia. Many chapters bring to the foreground the intersection of gender inequality with race and class inequality in global value chains and production networks. One of the strengths of these contributions is that they not only reflect feminist critiques, but also feminist engagement with CSR, including examples as to how we can do more to interrogate and improve CSR impacts with respect to equality. For example, Sofie Tornhill’s chapter provides a rare glimpse into on the ground experiences of the women ‘beneficiaries’ of corporate women’s empowerment programs. She ‘asks what do corporations do when they “empower” women?’, and finds much to be desired in the lived experiences of the women ‘entrepreneurs’ in a South African township enrolled on Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative.  The women in this research help us identify how we might better support gender and CSR program recipients in the future. Felicity Butler and Catherine Hoskyns report on a fair trade partnership between The Body Shop and a local sesame producer cooperative in Nicaragua that paid for care work done in the home to support the business, resulting in demonstrable benefits for women involved, and for gender equality, despite the wider institutional challenges. Elizabeth Prugl’s chapter explores how we might challenge the rise of neoliberal feminism via CSR, with its focus on individuals, and return our attention to the pressing questions of structural inequality. In line with a new focus on wellbeing inequality, as opposed to just economic inequality, other chapters extend the boundaries of CSR to interrogate Corporate Sexual Responsibility (relating to the use of strip clubs and pornography as part of business transactions, or on business travel), hegemonic masculinity, sexist culture in the gaming industry, reproductive technologies, and corporate philanthropy supporting work on violence against women. Issues of sexual harassment, such as that boasted about by Trump, perpetuate inequality and are key to a CSR agenda that extends to human rights.

Beyond the myth of “shared value”

To avoid wasting the crisis of Trump presidency as Dirk Matten suggests, we must move beyond our comfort zones and ‘business as usual’. Significantly more research is needed that specifically addresses the relationship between CSR and rising inequality in advanced economies, as well as globally. Focusing here has the potential to increase the relevance and usefulness of our field. In addition to challenging the role of private corporations in the governance of society, and the advance of privatization, we might focus more on: corporate taxation; investing much more in social infrastructure and the care economy, and fostering new forms of democracy in our own field, to name just a few. While, growing inequality is by no means the only cause of the current political backlash in the US and elsewhere, not for the first time in history, this comes with rising levels of explicit sexism, racism and xenophobia. If language is performative we are in danger of things getting worse for many people, and the myth of shared value, presented as a positive outcome for all, must be interrogated, contested and exposed more widely than Crane et al. (2014) suggest, because the data on inequality globally testify to the fact that the current system is not sharing value so much as it is extracting it. Moreover, this extraction is gendered (as well as racialised and classed) in important ways. The US election result reveals that we ignore this challenge at our peril.

Kate Grosser is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Management at RMIT University in Melbourne, and a Visiting Fellow in 2016 with the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainability, Copenhagen Business School. She researches gender and CSR, feminist organization theory, political CSR, feminist movements and CSR, culture and sustainability. She is on Twitter @KateGrosser and recently published a collection on Gender and Responsible Business: Expanding CSR Horizons (Editors: Kate Grosser, Lauren McCarthy and Maureen Kilgour, Greenleaf 2016).

pic by Greenleaf.

Let’s not waste the crisis of a Trump Presidency

By Dirk Matten

Last Tuesday’s election in the US has left the world in shock. As entertaining, astonishing, at times surely revolting, the Trump performance has been during the campaign – I do not know anybody that would have predicted him actually making it into the Oval Office. But that is history now.
I found myself always harboring rather ambiguous thoughts and sentiments regarding Trump’s ascent. But being surrounded by folks where even the slightest empathy with Trump made myself look like a total moron  – I learned to keep my feelings to myself, not at least in the hope I somehow got this wrong.

To begin with, I was not at all surprised to see Trump win the election. In some ways, this outcome is the logical conclusion of more than three decades of neoliberalism in the US. It did not help that his opponent had virtually nothing to offer to counter the very anxieties that carried Trump over every however unlikely hurdle during the campaign.

With all the shock and depression now seeping through the mainstream media there is one thing I really cherish and find extraordinary about this election: Trump won this election as an, albeit wealthy, outsider – against the united front of the media, the political class and the moneyed elites in the US and beyond. It helped that he is wealthy but that is not the main point. Even fairly balanced media outlets, such as the New York Times or the The New Yorker, over the last months just read as thinly disguised pro-Hilary propaganda; out of 55 main newspapers in the US, only one (1!) endorsed Trump. And yet he won the election. This should give other forces in many liberal democracies something to ponder. It is possible to beat ‘the system’, and in some way I am a little confused why this enormous victory of bottom-up democracy is not celebrated for what it is.

Trump is a symptom

Of course the main problem with Trump is Trump-the-person. He did all but help himself in giving fodder to the public to embark on an almost two-year project of character assassination. But again, I happen to have a different take on this. Did he tell a lot of lies? Of course. But then let’s not forget why Bush and Blair started the Iraq war. Lying is an integral part of US politics (and I am not even talking about his opponent’s husband when dealing with his White House romance). Trump said preposterous things about women. But in some way he just bragged about things that actually no one enacted more by the book then his opponent’s husband – covered up and tacitly supported by her for decades. Did he say racist things about Mexicans? Yes, but then let’s have a look at the 2.5m ‘aliens’ the Obama administration deported between 2009 and 2015. Did he say absurd things about Muslims? He sure did, but again, what he expressed is already social consensus in the US. Just think of the many people bumped off airplanes in the US recently just because they ‘looked’ or ‘spoke’ like Muslims (i.e. terrorists). Oh, and he has no experience in political office, right? Have we all forgotten that the same was said – on good grounds, at that – of his predecessor? Yes, he was talking about ‘bombing the sh** out of ISIS’. But wasn’t that exactly what his Nobel Peace price winning predecessor actually did for eight years by chaperoning a global drone war that killed almost 5,000 (incl. ca. 500 civilians)?

All I am saying then is that the media still tries to paint him as ‘unamerican’, as against the current political culture, as a pariah. The truth is, however, that he just unapologetically verbalised what is common practice all long. The United States – and I am talking about the political and economic system, as well as about half of the population – are an inherently racist, bigoted, violent and unfair country these days. As much as one may reject Trump as president – I think that his presidency just tells the true and accurate story about the moral morass the country has gotten into over the last three decades. It is ugly, but it is nonetheless not just attributable to one symbolic person.

Which leads to a big, often ignored or belittled core question. Trump did win the election because about half of the American electorate agrees with him. The real question we have to ask is what happened to the oldest democracy, a country that – 70 years ago – pacified Europe and gave the continent a new political setup based on enlightenment values. We just have to acknowledge that these United States are history now and that the country has been indeed on a steep decline in cherishing some of the core values which made it the world’s only superpower in the second half of the 20th century.

The America today is the America of ‘Dogville’, ‘Manderlay’ (as my Danish readers would appreciate) or ‘A History of Violence’, rather than ‘Independence Day’ or ‘Forrest Gump’. Trump’s majority is not just angry white men, as some want to make us believe. He represents a much wider fraction of American society as some of the poll’s analyses now painfully unveil.

So, what is the agenda then?

So do we have to be afraid of a Trump administration? On balance, I would be rather relaxed here. Not that I am not worried about some aspects. The main of which would be that many of the things he said during the campaign – as much as I am convinced he said them just as a good marketer and with an eye on his target constituency – can have rather ugly effects on common people. He legitimised racist and violent language, and it is no surprise that we have, for instance, seen hate crimes rising. If what I hear from friends in the US just these last two days is anything to go by, his words have legitimised and empowered views and behaviours which for a long time were at least publicly suppressed. He has opened a pandora’s box, for sure. And whether this spirit can be put back remains indeed an open question.

Beyond that, I feel very much reminded of Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. I remember people saying back then that ‘Reagan is a 2nd rate actor, delivering a 1st rate performance at playing a 3rd rate president’ and stuff like that. Reagan was initially a joke and a lot of what he said (‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’) wasn’t political correct or even sane at the time. I would really doubt if a three times divorced New York socialite will actually embark on some of the socially conservative projects (with regard to race, immigration or women’s rights) which popped up so frequently in his campaign.

In some way the crucial litmus test of his presidency will be if he will be able to actually address the social and economic worries of his core constituencies. These issues are somewhat similar to the Sanders agenda, and the agendas of many other left wing political movements throughout the world. Will Trump be able to substantially improve the living conditions of middle- and working class Americans, regarding income, access to healthcare, education and other welfare state features? It is here where he has a real chance to become ‘Reaganesque’ – albeit in mostly reversing many of the political changes Reagan initiated in America and which ultimately brought the country to this dismal place.

So what to watch then in the business-society context?

So like any good paper, I should finally make the sharp turn on this blog to what editors tend to call the ‘managerial implications’ ☺ (I hope you get the joke…).

Actually, there are a few. My main point here is really that as much as Trump’s presidency can be seen as a disaster, it is just a brutally espoused symptom of a failed economic and social experiment. What really puts me off is that even now post election many smart minds seem to run away from that conclusion and rather engage in a lament of the candidate’s horrible character (as much as I agree, watching him and his lot on the stage Wednesday early morning was ugly- but that’s a distraction).

It takes the sleazy, ‘bridge and tunnel person’ (as Manhattan establishment figures still derogatorily refer to him) from Queens to defeat a political system that is largely in the pocket of the moneyed elites, using corporations to make sure their class interests are dominating American politics. It is here that Hillary’s defeat makes me happy indeed. With hers and her husband’s massive obligations to the corporate world, we would just have continued the same system over and over again, behind the veil of the wonderful advancement of a woman president (btw, exactly the same thing we have seen with Obama, just replace ‘woman’ by ‘black’).

Trump’s victory then spells out one simple fact. Capitalism (in the form we have cultivated it in the US and globally for the last four decades) and democracy are just not compatible. Democracy is more than just giving people a vote every four years. As T.H. Marshall has posited ‘the fullest expression of citizenship requires a democratic welfare state’. Democracy only works if the electorate has some basic provision of a dignified life, a basic sense of participation in determining their material living conditions, as well as the basic education that allows informed and critical political choices.

It is fair to say that the neoliberal project has infringed, if not abolished, these basic elements of a vibrant democracy. Let’s not forget, the ascent of the US as a superpower in the second half of the last century was built on the New Deal, on the idea that a vibrant democracy (in the face of the rise of fascism and communism in other parts of the world) needs a basic welfare state with the result of what we have come to know as a ‘middle class’. The people that elected Trump all represent the part of American society that no longer enjoys these pivotal elements of a democratic community. That is why they fall for simple answers (be them racist, bigoted, religious, misogynist or otherwise).

One of the main driving forces behind these shifts has been the interests of capital, the interests of the wealthy elites, enacted through their control of private corporations. Culminating in the Citizens United ruling of the Supreme Court, we have witnessed the creeping and dominant interests of private corporations capturing the political process in the US over the last four decades.

It is indeed the pivotal role of private corporations which in my view is one core problem that the Trump victory epitomises. I am actually not pinning too much hope on the Trump administration itself to change anything substantial here. After all, with a republican controlled congress, and a democratic ‘opposition’ which is largely in the pockets of the corporate world, I don’t see any hope for substantial change. The Obama administration was probably trying the hardest in recent history to move the agenda, be it in consumer protection, access to healthcare or regulating the financial sector – and we all know how well that went. The Affordable Care Act was a healthcare reform, that did not substantially infringe corporate interests and control. It very well might ultimately be considered as one of the key drivers that energized Trump’s base – given the substantial rises in premiums during this last year.

No, I would, first of all, urge any scholar, any public commentator, anybody able to make a contribution to the debate we have to have here, to, first, not just dismiss this week’s election as an outlier and something that can mostly be attributed to one crazy person. It is of the essence to see this election result as part of a fundamental crisis of western democracies – and the US is just again the showcase here. Brexit and the rise of the far right in Europe is just another symptom of the same problem.

What is the underlying problem here?

The core problem is the role of private corporations in the governance of society. On a macro level this implies re-thinking the big questions about regulating markets, most notably financial markets and labor markets. It also involves re-thinking basic institutions of welfare provision. This might also include a debate on new forms of division of labor between the private and the public sector. Since for technological and (geo-)political reasons it will not be able to just turn the clock back to the 1950s new forms of non-employment based welfare models need to be discussed and developed, including things like basic income and other new institutional arrangements. We basically have to invent new – or reinvigorate to some degree old – forms of income redistribution, through intelligent new forms of taxation and other ways of addressing the vast inequalities. Mind you, the urge to change our current model of capitalism is no longer some sort of leftist or anti-corporate agenda. It is meanwhile becoming more and more clear also to business leaders that the current capitalist system, and particularly the role of corporations within it, is no longer sustainable. As some of those CEOs, such as Dominic Barton (McKinsey), Paul Polman (Unilever) or Ratan Tata (Tata Sons) argue, we have to ‘re-imagine’ capitalism in substantial ways (see Kipping/Barton/Horvath 2016).

On a meso level, we need more thorough work on a re-conceputalised role of the corporation, and its essentially political nature. As Robert Reich outlined time and again, the corporation in the US is just dominated by two interest: ultimately by shareholders, i.e. capital, and on a more instrumental level, by consumers. And this is still the accepted model, more or less, in business school academia and teaching. Not that we have not seen efforts recently to change this (see for instance Baars/Spicer 2017). This effort though has to be sustained, broadened and conducted in a more interdisciplinary mindset.
Ultimately, on a micro level, the relation between corporate management – across all disciplines – and the public good has to be re-introduced as a legitimate field of inquiry. So far, most of the business school research never really transcends the traditional management model of corporations being just economic actors. That even applies to the subfield on which one might pin the highest hopes: research in corporate (social) responsibility, ethics or sustainability. But even this subfield is largely constrained by a thinking in business cases and even new offshoots, such as the debate on ‘political CSR’ never quite embraces a political role of business beyond these constraints.

For a short blog such as this one, there remains of course a lot more to say. I just wanted to put some thought triggers together. Quite often – and in my view quite falsely – commentators have evoked the comparison with Germany 1933 when evaluating Trump’s rise to the presidency. Donald is no Adolf, sorry, and Washington 2016 is nothing like Weimar 1933. But if you twist my arm, I would allow one parallel here. The historically most successful reaction to the depression of the late 1920s still is the New Deal. While I am also aware that Trump is no FDR, this situation of apparent crisis should, first of all, enable a more open and honest discussion about the reasons for Trump’s ascent. And we can all agree that this IS a crisis indeed. But we should capitalise on this crisis to develop new ideas around the way we have organised social and economic life in liberal democracies. The one certainty we can take away from this is then that the role, functions and impact of private corporations is at the heart of such a debate.
Exciting times then for business related scholarship!


Baars, G. & Spicer, A. (Eds.), The Corporation: A Critical, Interdisciplinary Handbook. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press

Barton, D., Horvath, D. & Kipping, M. (Eds.), Re-Imagining Capitalism : Building a responsible, long-term model. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press

Dirk Matten is Hewlett Packard-Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility and Professor of Strategy at Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto. Since 2015, he visits CBS as a research fellow. You can visit his website and drop a tweet @dirkmatten .

Pic by The Economic Times


How Could the Democrats Get it so Wrong?

By Jette Steen Knudsen.

Today I heard Hillary Clinton give her concession speech after one of the most surprising electoral results in US history.  Mrs. Clinton was poised, calm and calling for her supporters to give Donald Trump a chance to lead for the good of the USA.  The facial expressions of her supporters said it all – they looked stunned, disappointed and many were in tears.

It should have been an easy win for Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton was supposed to have won the election by a solid margin.  Her polling figures were strong even after F.B.I. Director Mr. Comey just days before the election announced that the F.B.I. had discovered new emails that might be relevant to its investigation of her, which ended in July this year with no charges.  Mrs. Clinton was a strong and knowledgeable candidate on the campaign trail.  In contrast Trump time and time again looked like he did not know what he was doing, which made him an easy target for Saturday Night Live or other comedy shows.  Many well-known Republicans also refused to support Donald Trump’s candidacy.  The Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan refused to campaign with or defend Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.   Former Republican Presidents George W. Bush and George W.H. Bush refused to endorse Trump, as did Colin Powell, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff and a well-known Republican. It should therefore have been a walk in the park for Hillary Clinton.  As her ally Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts said on Election Day on local television: “Thankfully soon we will no longer have to care about what Donald Trump has to say”.  But Mr. Trump won the election carrying several states that traditionally vote for the Democratic candidate.  What went wrong for Mrs. Clinton?

This Country is More Divided Than We Thought

In her concession speech Hillary Clinton concluded with a somewhat surprised look on her face “this country is more divided than we thought”.  In contrast while her campaign may not have understood the extent of the polarization of the American electorate, Donald Trump clearly understood the strong discontent and feeling of exclusion among especially white non-college educated men.  Back in July the filmmaker and social critic Michael Moore wrote that Trump needed only to focus on the blue states Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and noted his theory of “The Last Stand of the Angry White Man.”  “There is a sense that the power has slipped out of their hands, that their way of doing things is no longer how things are done,” Moore wrote.

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

But why do so many Americans seemingly vote against their interest?  In 2004 the journalist Thomas Frank published a book with the title “What’s the Matter with Kansas? – How Conservatives Won the Heart of America”.  Mr. Frank asks why poor people in the heartland of America vote Republican when – at least for people of the East and West coasts of the US – the Democrats are the party for workers, the poor and the weak.  In other words, why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests?  Mr. Frank answers this question by examining his home state Kansas and reveals how conservatism, formerly a market of class privilege, became the creed of ordinary Americans.  This conservatism has mobilized voters with explosive social issues such as busing, un-Christian art and abortion and these issues then get married to pro-business economic policies. Add to this that in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania traditional manufacturing jobs have been lost as factories or mines have closed downs.  Service sector jobs don’t pay as well as manufacturing jobs.  For example Wal-Mart or Dunkin Donut pay the minimum wage, which in Michigan is $8,50 /hour and in Pennsylvania only $7,25/hour.  At the same time health care costs and college tuition have soared in America. It is no wonder that white unskilled workers feel left out of the American Dream.  Mr. Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” resonates well in the American Heartland.

Democrats on the Coasts

Well-educated high earning Americans live in the coastal areas in cities such as Boston, San Francisco or Los Angeles – and they overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The Democratic Party also made great attempts to include Blacks and Latinos but as a commentator in the New York Times (which had endorsed Mrs. Clinton) conceded this past Sunday, Trump has done one thing right – he has acknowledged that Blacks have not gained much economic or civil rights advances in recent years and that he understands their frustration.  East and West Coast liberals have simply failed to understand the frustration of Middle America – and the majority of Clinton’s campaign staff hails from the coasts.  The Democratic campaign has probably underestimated the frustration of Blacks and Latinos because although Clinton got more votes from these two groups than Mr. Trump, she got significantly less votes from these groups than President Obama did in 2012.

Midterm Exam Postponed for Teens Mentally Disturbed by the Election Result

The Democrats on the US coasts do not understand Mr. Trump’s supporters and sometimes live in a “bubble”.  For example my son’s great public high school in Cambridge in Massachusetts is one such bubble.  Cambridge is one of the most liberal cities in the US and is also known as “The People’s Republic of Cambridge”. Students at the high school expected a Clinton victory and almost all students supported her.  After the election result came in today, many students were grieving.  Many were crying and today’s midterm exams were postponed because too many students were psychologically distraught.  This small example illustrates how far the East Coast liberal segment is from Trump’s Middle America. 

To unify America will be a long and difficult process.

Jette Steen Knudsen is Shelby Collum Davis Professor at Tufts University near Boston and a Visiting Fellow of the Velux Endowed Chair of Corporate Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. She resides in Cambridge MA with her teenage son.

pic by Heat Street

The F-Word in Denmark

By Lauren McCarthy.

The proposed subtitle for this blog was ‘Why is it more acceptable to say ‘f**k’ in the classroom than ‘feminist?’’ but I thought it might be a bit too strong for most of your inboxes! But indeed, after some time working here in Copenhagen as an assistant professor, and living as a self-professed feminist, it is a question that has continued to perplex me.

No, the swearing doesn’t bother me, although many non-Danes find the embrace of swearing in the classroom, at work, on the radio and in adverts either hilarious, or offensive (by way of glorious coincidence, see the striking poster from Kvindemuseet (The Women’s Museum). Rather, I have on various occasions been told that using the other ‘f-word’, feminism, is taboo. Especially in the classroom. What’s interesting is that a warning over dropping the f-bomb in front of students usually comes from older friends and colleagues, both men and women. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking into a lecture theatre ranting about women’s rights, when what is scheduled is a session on corporate governance. But I AM researching and teaching about corporate social responsibility and sustainability, both topics that are inherently gendered and political. Sometimes it makes sense to mention the dreaded F-word in those contexts. And I think the fear of feminism as something we might talk about in business education comes from two places: a misunderstanding of what feminism is; and perhaps complacency about its need in modern Denmark.

Everyday Feminism

The word ‘feminism’ often provokes expressions of mild horror. It conjures up grainy photos from the 1970s of women, living au natural in communes, ‘hating men’ (as one of my students put it). Others have suggested that being feminist involves rejecting high-heels, or make-up, or the desire to be a mother. When you put all that together (witchy, bra-less, slightly-wild single woman in a homemade dress?) I’ve no wonder my sessions on feminist theory might sound alarming!

For many people worldwide, this stereotype persists. Yet if we tone-down this characterisation, at it’s most basic, feminism is the fight for human beings to live their lives without their gender or sex hindering them from achieving what they wish to. This fight is hundreds of years old. Feminism is political, economic and social. It involves governments, international organisations, businesses, NGOs, and most crucially ‘normal’ people going about their everyday business: calling out that off-colour joke at lunch; tweeting about overly sexualised advertising; writing about online abuse or raising their children unconfined to gender roles. And yes, all whilst wearing make-up, or getting married, or being a feminist man- if one chooses to.

A feminist utopia?

So that’s my take on feminism. Perhaps my surprise at the rejection of feminism was because I assumed that in one of the world’s most gender equitable countries everyone would be a feminist. But perhaps because Denmark is perceived in this way, the need for feminism appears to be over. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite seem to be the case.

Last week Denmark fell another four places down the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gapratings, from 14th to 19th place. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland take the top four places, but their Nordic neighbour Denmark continues to lag behind. In 2014 an EU survey revealed that Denmark has amongst the highest prevalence of domestic violence within the EU. Yet these surveys reveal only part of the story. The fantastic Everyday Sexism Denmark post testimonies from women experiencing (you guessed it) everyday sexism, often in their workplace or school. All of this suggests that whilst on paper things often look good for women (for example, in excellent parental leave policies, and a growing number of women in senior roles), the reality is that men and women are often held to differing standards, and that this become so normalised, so ingrained, that we might assume everything is fine. Activists such as Emma Holten are pointing out that things aren’t equal, or equitable, and that perhaps Denmark has become disillusioned in this regard: “Our idea that everything is great and fine in terms of human rights and respectful discourse is actively combating our ability to progress in these areas.”

The feminist future

Emma Holten is symbolic of young Danish feminists using their own experiences, often with wit and humour, to reignite a conversation about gender equality. Slowly there’s been a resurgence in feminism in the last few years (albeit a lot slower than in the UK and USA), facilitated by social media. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts such as Everyday SexismOverheard Sexism in DenmarkYoung Feministsand others collect thousands of likes, post and shares. I’m happy to report that closer to home Copenhagen Business School now has a feminist society enthusiastically run by students. Online lives spill into our offline lives, and within my classroom there is a genuine interest in discussing the role of feminism today- in politics, in the media and in business.

Feminist responsible business education

Some might argue we need a new term for the fight for gender equality, or that feminism excludes other, equally important social injustices. But the F-Word isn’t going away, it’s getting louder. Feminist theory offers lenses into understanding how social change happens, and continues to happen. The history of feminist activism demonstrates the politics of the everyday. And feminism is a living, breathing phenomenon that is being adopted once again- by people as diverse as Beyonce, Ban Ki Moon and Muhtar Kent (CEO of Coca-Cola). What does it mean when these people use the word? What does it mean for business? For feminism? If we’re going to teach and research how we might lead, manage and create responsible businesses, let’s throw out the stereotypes and explore modern feminism in 2016.

Lauren McCarthy is Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Governance in the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, Copenhagen Business School. She researches and teaches about gender and CSR in organisations and their global value chains. She is currently exploring online feminist activism in the UK. You can follow her updates @genderCSR .

Pic by kvindemuseet.

The Ecosystem of Shared Value – Unoriginal, But Still Likely to Make an Impact

by Andreas Rasche.

The October 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review contains an article by Mark Kramer and Marc Pfitzer called “The Ecosystem of Shared Value.” Positioned as a follow-up to Porter and Kramer’s very successful essay on “Creating Shared Value” (CSV), the authors suggest that to “advance shared value efforts […] businesses must foster and participate in multisector coalitions—and for that they need a new framework. Governments, NGOs, companies, and community members all have essential roles to play, yet they work more often in opposition than in alignment.” This new framework has a nice new label – Collective Impact.

A big (but unoriginal) idea… 

My claim here is that this new concept – Collective Impact – is oversimplifying and rather unoriginal (but nevertheless will be successful, at least in terms of corporations trying to reproduce the label and academics citing the paper). Much like its predecessor CSV, Collective Impact is old wine in new bottles; a new label for something we have known, studied, and practiced for many years. Talking about Collective Impact ignores the multi-stakeholder nature of many initiatives and partnerships within the field of sustainability and CSR. For instance, multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Fair Labor Association, have practiced collective impact for many years.

Also, partnership-based organizations like the Oxford Health Alliance have practiced many of the elements of what Kramer and Pfitzer call Collective Impact (e.g. a common agenda and mutually reinforcing activities). Even most quite simple NGO-business partnerships have these characteristics. Overall, it is hard to disagree with what Kramer and Pfitzer are writing, but it is equally hard to see any groundbreaking new idea here…

Collective Impact is also unoriginal in another way. My colleagues Andy Crane, Guido Palazzo, Laura Spence and Dirk Matten have convincingly argued in an article in the California Management Review a while ago, that CSV is an unoriginal concept and that its core premises have many similarities with well-known ideas in the CSR discourse (e.g., strategic CSR). They also showed that one of the core avenues for CSV – local cluster development – is neither new nor in any way surprising. Local clusters – which essentially are just a way to create collective impact – have been part and parcel of debates around sustainability in academia and practice. Understood in this way, Collective Impact just reiterates a part of the CSV story (which was unoriginal in the first place).

Why will the idea still be successful?

Considering all this, the important question seems to be: Why can concepts such as Collective Impact or CSV still make such an impact, despite their vague and unoriginal nature? One possible answer to this question relates to the so-called Matthew Effect in science. Robert K. Merton (1968) first observed this effect. The main claim is this: the credit for scientific work is distributed unequally. If similar research findings are communicated by a well-known, prestigious scholar and by one who is less widely known, it is the first who usually gets recognition. In other words, scientists with an existing good reputation receive greater increments of recognition, while the contributions of unknown scholars are rendered less visible. This makes science a “sticky”, path-dependent and self-reinforcing business…

Collective Impact and CSV (as well as other management fashions) are not successful because they offer new and innovative solutions. Rather, a significant part of their success can be attributed:

(a) to the already existing reputation of the people who promote the concept (in the case of Collective Impact we can assume positive legitimacy spillover effects of Porter’s work on CSV),
(b) to the perceived legitimacy of the outlet that the idea is published in (in this sense the Matthew Effect would not only be applicable to people but also to outlets), and
(c) to the short and simplifying nature of the message that is being sent.

All of this is not to say that Collective Impact, as framed by Kramer and Pfitzer, is totally useless or that it should not be published. Nobody has a patent on the idea of multi-stakeholder collaboration. It is even likely to spark interesting discussions among practitioners and will (hopefully) motivate more partnership-based initiatives. What I find worrying is that packing well-established ideas into such simplifying concepts may curb the advancement of knowledge in our field.

Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at Copenhagen Business School and directs CBS World-Class Research Environment “Governing Responsible Business”. More information at:

pic by interactioninstitute

On CSR in ship recycling and textile sector supply chain management

By Karin Buhmann.

Dansk version nedenfor/Danish version below

Over the past weeks, news has emerged that Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, which is based in Denmark, is having some of its container ships scrapped (cut up for materials to be recycled) under sub-standard conditions at beaches in India and Bangladesh. While Danish media have paid considerable attention to this and investors are asking critical questions of Maersk’s alignment between its CSR policies and practices, much less attention was paid to a case of severe critique of a Danish textile company that sourced from a supplier in the Rana Plaza building around the time of the building’s collapse.

What do these two cases have in common? More than one might expect, judging from the way they have been treated by media and business association statements. This applies with regard to business practices as well as research. But whereas one company’s understanding of due diligence appears very weak, the other displays a due diligence understanding that holds bigger promise for the longer term.

Company challenges in relation to risk-based due diligence

Both cases concern businesses’ exercise of risk-based due diligence. This is a process for businesses to avoid causing social or environmental harm. According to OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, enterprises should carry out due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential adverse impacts on human rights, industrial issues including labour standards, the environment etc. Enterprises should also carry out due diligence in relation to their suppliers and other business relations, to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse impact that is directly linked to their operations, products or services. This applies to yards scrapping ships as well as factories sewing clothing to be sold in stores in Denmark or elsewhere.

The Maersk case is an example of company that has problems walking its own CSR talk. But it is also an example of a company that has paid attention to the risks caused by its decision to scrap ships in India and taken certain steps to prevent such damage from occurring, suggesting due diligence has been exercised to a certain extent. However, the information that has emerged in recent weeks suggests that the due diligence process has not been adequately carried through from beginning to end of the activity in question. The textile case concerns a company that did not adequately carry out core due diligence elements in regard to its supplier in Bangladesh, where the prevalence of severe building safety issues was well-known already prior to the Rana Plaza collapse.

NCP: severe critique of Danish textile producer sourcing from Rana Plaza 

On October 17, 2016, the Danish National Contact Point (NCP) under OECD’s Guidelines issued a statement following a complaint concerning the practices of a Danish textile company in relation to, amongst others, occupational health and safety standards at the supplier in Rana Plaza. The NCP statement severely criticized the due diligence processes of the Danish company. Amongst others, the statement noted that the company neglected to make adequate requirements of the supplier in relation to a CSR policy; neglected to require the supplier to perform self-evaluation; and neglected to monitor and follow up on such self-evaluations.

This is the first time not only in Denmark but internationally that a public institution with expertise in CSR states specific critique of the due diligence processes of a company supplying from Rana Plaza. In view of the large number of casualties resulting from the collapse on 24 April 2013 and the subsequent attention that the tragedy has generated with media and consumers, one wonders why the critique of the Danish company has received such limited attention.

Press releases from business associations and the organization that lodged the complaint have highlighted the fact that the NCP did not pronounce the company accountable for the collapse (in some cases mistakenly communicated as ‘liability’ rather than accountability). Notwithstanding that the NCP’s powers do not enable it to attribute legal liability and the fact that the NCP made its assessment on the basis of documentation that it has been presented with or was able to investigate, that part of the statement has been allowed to dominate. The critique and the lessons on the importance of due diligence that the statement holds for Danish (and other) companies has received much less attention. Apart from the critique of the specific company, the NCP statement also underscores that it follows from OECD’s Guidelines that companies should require suppliers to protect their employees’ occupational health and safety, and that this responsibility today includes risk assessment in relation to building safety and integrity. From a research perspective it is surprising that business associations, despite differences in the way they have covered the issue, have not make more of an effort to explain the significance to their members.

Complexity and context

Ensuring responsible business conduct in chains of business relations is often complex. Turning talk (or policies) into walk (or practice) is frequently challenging in view of the conditions in some of the countries from which Danish companies supply textiles, or where ships are scrapped. Poverty and local socio-economic conditions lead to employees accepting salaries and working condition far below international standards. Unfortunately, these problems are rarely solved overnight. Implementing norms for occupational health and safety does not just require the relevant rules to be in place, but also that they are communicated and explained to employees and managers, and that qualified training and monitoring takes place. Changing dangerous working methods or buildings requires not just investment, but also time and attention. And as in other fields, perfection requires practice.


Maersk has a CSR problem because its ship scrapping practices are not in accordance with the company’s own standards. Yet, Maersk has also demonstrated awareness of risks. When Maersk decided to have ships scrapped at the Alang beach in India, it was also decided to take on three employees to monitor the observance of Maersk’s standards. This suggests a degree of due diligence.  However, due diligence is a continuous process. The Alang-case demonstrates that having employees in place to monitor observance of standards is not sufficient, if this is not followed by processes to ensure that the monitoring identifies the problems it is intended to find. The related case of ships previously owned by Maersk now being scrapped on beaches in Bangladesh demonstrates the significance of also incorporating risk-based due diligence in relation to economic stipulations incorporated into contracts.  However, the Maersk case also offers an example of a company that is working on practicing to walk its talk. The commitment to improve and to internal learning expressed by Maersk in follow-up to the media reports and investor critique raises more hope for the implementation of due diligence than does the reception of the critique of the textile company.

Om samfundsansvar i skibsophugning, tekstilsektoren, og om at tage ansvar alvorligt og øve sig

I ugen med efterårsferien meldte investorer sig med spørgsmål om ophugningen af udtjente Mærsk-skibe på strande i Indien og Bangladesh, og mediernes interesse for sagen fortsatte. Derimod fik en alvorlig kritik, som er blevet udtalt over en dansk tekstilvirksomhed, der fik syet tøj hos en leverandør i Rana Plaza bygningen omkring tidspunktet for bygningens sammenstyrtning i 2013, ganske begrænset opmærksomhed i pressen.

Hvad har de to sager til fælles? Mere end man skulle tro fra den måde, de er blevet behandlet i medier og meddelelser fra erhvervsorganisationer. Det gælder både praktisk og forskningsmæssigt.

Begge sager handler om virksomheders risikobaserede due diligence (på dansk somme tider oversat ’nødvendig omhu’, som ikke skal forveksles med ’rettidig omhu’). Risikobaseret due diligence er en proces til at sikre, at en virksomhed undgår at forvolde skader på mennesker og miljø. Ifølge OECDs retningslinjer for multinationale virksomheder, som Danmark har tiltrådt, skal virksomheder udføre risikobaseret due diligence for at undgå og modvirke skade på miljø, menneskerettigheder, arbejdstagerrettigheder mv. Virksomheder skal også udøve due diligence i forhold til deres leverandører og andre forretningsforbindelser. Det gælder både værfter, der hugger skibe op, og systuer, der laver tøj til danske herretøjsbutikker.

Mærsk-sagen viser en virksomhed, som har haft problemer med et leve op til sine egne standarder og politikker om CSR. Men det viser også en virksomhed, som har været opmærksom på sin mulige skadesrisiko og taget skridt til at modvirke det. Det er udtryk for due diligence. De oplysninger, som er kommet frem de seneste uger tyder på, at virksomhedens due diligence ikke har været ført tilstrækkeligt igennem. Mere om det senere. Tekstilsagen handler om en virksomhed, som ikke løftede en række centrale elementer i due diligence i forhold til sin leverandør i Bangladesh, hvor det allerede inden Rana Plaza styrtede sammen var kendt, at der var alvorlige problemer med bygningssikkerhed og ansattes arbejdsforhold.

Det danske nationale kontaktpunkt for OECDs retningslinjer for multinationale virksomheder offentliggjorde mandag i uge 42 en udtalelse på baggrund af en klage over en dansk producent af herretøjs håndtering af bl.a. sundheds og sikkerhed på arbejdspladsen hos virksomhedens leverandør i Rana Plaza. Kontaktpunktet (som på dansk kaldes Mæglings- og Klageinstitutionen for Ansvarlig Virksomhedsadfærd eller bare MKI) udtalte alvorlig kritik af den danske virksomheds processer for risiko-baseret due diligence. Det blev bl.a. kritiseret, at virksomheden ikke i tilstrækkelig grad stillede krav til leverandøren i form af en CSR-politik; og ikke i tilstrækkelig grad anmodede leverandøren om selvevaluering og gennemgik selvevalueringer med henblik på at fastslå, hvad der skulle kontrolleres og følges op på.

Det er ikke bare i dansk sammenhæng men også internationalt første gang, at en offentlig autoritet med ekspertise inden for CSR-feltet udtaler konkret kritik af en virksomhed, der fik produceret på Rana Plaza. I betragtning af det store antal mennesker, der omkom eller kom til skade, da bygningen styrtede sammen den 24. april 2013 og i betragtning af den interesse, som Rana Plaza-tragedien har haft blandt medier og forbrugere kan det undre, at kritikken af den danske virksomheds due diligence fik så lidt opmærksomhed.

Pressemeddelelser fra erhvervsorganisationer og den organisation, der indgav klagen, har i stedet fremhævet, at kontaktpunktet ikke fandt virksomheden ansvarlig for sammenstyrtningen. Uden skelen til, at kontaktpunktet ikke har kompetence til at pålægge juridisk ansvar og kun har forholdt sig til de oplysninger, det har fået dokumenteret eller haft mulighed for at undersøge ift hvad en kontrol kunne have vist, har denne del af udtalelsen fået lov at dominere. Det, som danske virksomheder bør skrive sig bag øret om krav om due diligence, har fået meget mindre opmærksomhed. Udover den alvorlige kritik af tekstilvirksomheden fastslår udtalelsen også, at virksomheder for at leve op til principperne i OECD’s retningslinjer bl.a. skal stille krav til leverandører til at sikre sundhed og sikkerhed på arbejdspladserne. Denne forpligtelse omfatter i dag også risikoafdækning af bygningskonstruktioners sikkerhed. Selv om der er forskelle i dækningen fra forskellige organisationer, er det fra en forskningsmæssig CSR-betragtning tankevækkende, at erhvervslivets organisationer ikke i højere grad har grebet muligheden for at forklare deres medlemmer, hvor vigtigt dette er.
Ansvarlig virksomhedsadfærd i kæden af en virksomheds forretningsforbindelser er ofte komplekst. Der kan være langt fra idealer og politikker til den praktiske virkelighed, der gælder i lande, hvor danske virksomheder får produceret tekstiler, eller hvor skibe ophugges. Fattigdom og lokale samfundsøkonomiske forhold er ofte årsagen til, at mennesker sælger deres arbejdskraft for løn og arbejdsbetingelser, der ligger langt fra internationale standarder. Problemerne kan desværre sjældent løses fra den ene dag til den anden. At gennemføre normer for sundhed og sikkerhed på arbejdspladsen kræver ikke bare, at regler findes, men også at de formidles til de ansatte og deres ledere, og at der foregår en solid oplæring og kontrol. At ændre farlige arbejdsmetoder eller bygninger kræver ikke bare investeringer, men også tid og opmærksomhed. Og som ved andre vanskelige opgaver kræver perfektion øvelse.

Mærsk har et problem med manglende overensstemmelse mellem sine egne standarder og deres gennemførelse. Men Mærsk har også vist, at man er er opmærksom på at udvise due diligence. Da Mærsk besluttede at få skibe ophugget på Alang-stranden i Indien, besluttede man samtidig at ansætte folk til at kontrollere, at Mærsks standarder blev overholdt. Det er udtryk for due diligence. Men risikobaseret due diligence er en løbende proces. Alang-sagen viser, at det ikke er nok at placere kontrollører, hvis man ikke også har processer for at checke, at kontrollerne fanger de problemer, som de skal. Sagen om ophugning af tidligere Mærsk-skibe på strande i Bangladesh viser, at due diligence også bør gennemsyre en virksomheds økonomiske betingelser, der indgår i kontrakter. Men Mærsk-sagen viser også en virksomhed, som kan siges at være i gang med at øve sig. Den vilje til forbedring og intern læring, som Mærsk har givet udtryk for, giver grund til større håb for gennemførelse af risikobaseret due diligence end den, som tekstilsagen er blevet modtaget med.

Karin Buhmann har fornylig været på TV2 for at diskutere Mærsks kontroversielle skrot politik og CSR.

Karin Buhmann is Professor (mso) in Business & Human Rights at the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School.

pic by by Mike Hettwer,  National Geographic

Trump, Anti-Intellectualism and the New Role for Business

By Erin Leitheiser.

For anyone who pays even vague attention to the news it is clear that this year’s U.S. election is not only continuous, but perhaps exemplifies the growing divide between truth (facts) and lies (fabrications).  Politicians have a long track record of twisting and distorting facts to support their position, but Donald Trump has taken this to a new level.  In just the past week he blatantly misrepresented academic findings about voter fraud, continued to promote a debunked rumor about $6 billion in missing funds from the State Department under Clinton, and has sworn to question the results of the election if he doesn’t win.  Herein we see a dangerous disregard (at best) or rejection (at worst) of the truth.

Notions of Trust are Changing

Trump may indeed personify the growing divide between who and what information is trusted by the general public.  Every year the PR firm Edelman publishes their annual Trust Barometer, a worldwide study which, among other things, tracks the credibility and influence of various categories of “spokespeople” (such as CEOs, NGO reps, and the like).  Some of the related findings include:

  • There is no clear voice of authority.  When asked who they would trust to provide news and information about business, about half would find a CEO credible (49%) but only about one-third (35%) would trust the government.  NGOs are trusted about half the time (48%), and academics and technical experts fared a bit better with credibility rankings around two-thirds (64% and 67%, respectively).  When asked about how much each institution could be trusted to address social issues, government scored even lower than business – 15% versus 26%.
  • Increasingly, respondents trust their peers as much or more than anyone else.  Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) would trust information about a business given to them by “a person like yourself”.  This is up from less than half just five years ago (43% in 2011).  This trend is reinforced by rising rates of news consumption through social media.
  • Business is increasingly expected to take on a bigger role in promoting the public good.  In 2015, 74% of respondents indicated that “a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates”.  This number rose to 80% in 2016.

What do these trends mean for business? 

With fact-fighting figures like Trump looming over the world of politics, it is not surprising that trust in government is low.  What may be somewhat surprising, however, is the ever-growing expectation for business to take on a role in tackling societal issues.

Business thus far has risen to the occasion in a variety of ways, be it philanthropic donations to communities, like Target’s 5% give-back commitment; cause-brand alliances, like the NFL’s longstanding partnership to promote breast cancer awareness; partnerships with nonprofits to enhance the sustainability of business practices, like IKEA’s work with the WWF to better manage environmental resources; a self-regulatory role by adopting voluntary standards, like certifying timber products with the Forest Stewardship Council; or any other number of efforts.  Indeed, we have entered a new era for business.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer results and several academic studies also point to instrumental benefits for business who engage in societal issues.  Employees at companies engaged in societal issues report much higher levels of motivation, commitment and confidence in the company, and have lower turnover.  When supply chains are closely managed, reputational and operational risks go down, like the ones we saw with the horrific 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.  And, if that’s not enough, research has shown that socially responsible companies perform better financially in competitive markets than do irresponsible ones.


Trust is shifting and expectations of business are changing as the public’s confidence in governments and politics dwindles.  The time is ripe for business to step up to the plate to take a swing at their new role.  In addition to societal benefits, business can expect to see positive impacts to its performance, too.

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.  

pic by cbsnews