Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine reminds us that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is both a reflection of the times we live in and also dynamic! Numerous corporations, acting in response to social and political pressure, are withdrawing from Russia on the grounds that human rights, and a nation’s rights, are being trampled on. This is not to say that these decisions necessarily come easily: there may be ethical, strategic, stakeholder and political tensions. But the point is that perhaps the most basic societal issue of war and peace – and its governance – enters CSR agendas. Ethical investors are even considering the defense industries as suitable for their assets.
In recent decades several challenges have emerged which appear to move CSR from a relative comfort zone of discretionary activities to more core societal governance challenges, some of these manifestly involve some corporate culpability (e.g. the 2008 financial crisis, international supply chain labor abuses, climate change, ecological degradation), others like international pandemics, war and international health and welfare challenges reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, may reflect wider causes. Nonetheless, corporations claim some responsibility for these issues. Even corporate ‘talk’, as well as ‘walk’, contribute to the redefinition of CSR to take in core societal governance challenges.
This is understood as right and proper from some perspectives. Medieval corporations were established precisely to achieve public ends – often of basic infrastructure. Industrial corporations were pioneers of C19th health, welfare and education systems. In many developing countries corporations take responsibility for physical security of their employees and communities.
But in the late C20th a view took hold that this was somehow inappropriate. Milton Friedman’s famous 1970 critique of CSR was precisely on the grounds that corporations are not accountable for addressing such issues: governments are. Many CSR advocates, whether fearing a corporate takeover of government or vice versa, and have advocated a dichotomy between the responsibilities (social and economic) of corporations and those of governments.
Yet the last twenty years have witnessed two related phenomena which challenge the dichotomous view. First, corporations have chosen to engage in social and environmental agendas which are core for national and international governments (e.g. human rights, corruption, access to resources), whether in response to pressure or by virtue of their own ethical or strategic judgement. Secondly, governments have encouraged corporations to enjoin public efforts, through their policies of endorsement and cajoling, financial incentives, partnerships and even mandates (e.g. for energy markets, non-financial reporting, supply chain due diligence).
Governments have recognized the distinctive resources that corporations can bring to governance questions (e.g. to innovate, to experiment, to reach beyond national boundaries, to collaborate). Interestingly in cases of mandate, governments often cede to corporations discretion as to how, rather than whether, to comply. Thus, for example, corporations can choose whether to cynically comply with international weapons sanctions on a country to sell arms by the legal use of third parties to effectively maintain the sales OR to embrace the spirit and intention of the sanctions and uniformly cease the sales to the regime in question.
But Friedman’s critique nags and critics of corporations point to unaccountable corporate power through lobbying and informal influence. Corporations lack a traditional democratic mandate. We elect MPs and governments, but not CEOs. So is engagement with public policy (rather than legal compliance) really the business of corporations?
My short answer is ‘yes’ on the grounds that businesses are members of society and that corporations are afforded particular privileges by the state, and thus have clear public duties. But the situation is not satisfactory. In most democratic jurisdictions corporations’ roles ‘to make’ and ‘to take’ regulation are not clearly specified and thus their accountability is unclear. Moreover, new international multi-stakeholder initiatives which tie corporations in with each other and with civil society often fail to effectively regulate errant organizations.
So we have a challenge which is about CSR and politics: how to better build corporations into political institutions? I suggest that the challenge is shared – for corporations to review their political participation to ensure that it is citizenly; for civil society to engage in defining how corporations can be more accountable and to engage more directly in corporate accountability (perhaps with support from government?); and for governments to review how accountably corporations influence and respond to regulation.
About the Author
Jeremy Moon is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, and Chair of Sustainability Governance Group. Jeremy has written widely about the rise, context, dynamics and impact of CSR. He is particularly interested in corporations’ political roles and in the regulation of CSR and corporate sustainability.
Given these ambitions, an important question for corporate sustainability and conservation research and practice is how to link financing mechanisms for conservation and value chains, two policy streams that are generally disconnected. Actual methodologies for understanding appropriate, long-term financing for forest conservation remain elusive, and this knowledge gap hinders the clear assignment of responsibility, accountability and sustainability of conservation efforts.
Introducing No Trees, No Future – new research project
An ambitious new research project “No Trees, No Future – Unlocking the full potential of conservation finance”, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, seeks to design and test a rigorous methodology for understanding the responsibility for conservation finance of influential firms in the palm oil value chain. It addresses important knowledge gaps that currently impede effective conservation finance, examining questions such as: Which firms are responsible for financing conservation? What are the motivations of firms to engage in different types of conservation finance initiatives? To what extent are companies willing to internalize conservation costs? What might cost-sharing models look like?
This novel, interdisciplinary research project uses a mixed-methods design that combines in-depth case studies, surveys and remote sensing to explore how the costs of conservation may be shared effectively and equitably between palm oil value chain actors, and provides a resource for external stakeholders seeking to identify firms’ contributions to land cover change, in Indonesia to start with.
The research will involve the development of data-intensive methods to assess the spatial footprint of the supply chains of a set of lead firms in the oil palm value chain, as well as in-depth interviewing of stakeholders across the palm oil value chain to identify the feasibility and possible impacts of adopting new methods for conservation finance.
Our goals are: (1) to develop a methodology that can be readily applied to estimate lead firms’ responsibility for contributing to conservation finance in the palm oil sector, and (2) that business models and strategies integrate conservation finance effectively, supporting more equitable cost sharing.
The research will identify several possible models for assessing spatial footprints of firms’ supply chains in the oil palm sector, testing their feasibility with a selected group of investors and conservation project proponents. Following this initial project, which focuses on the palm oil value chain, we intend to explore possibilities in other commodity sectors, and how to scale up efforts to support effective and equitable conservation finance.
To what extent will companies be willing to absorb the costs of conservation finance into their supply chain transactions? How might potential barriers be overcome? It is our intention that the project contributes to companies taking on greater responsibility for conservation finance, embedding long-term conservation costs into the palm oil value chain (that are currently externalized), disrupting ‘business as usual’ to support forest conservation, given their critical role in climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation.
We will share our interim findings on this blog as the project progresses. We would be delighted to hear from researchers from different disciplines and practitioners working in this field. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch!
About the Authors
The two-year project is led by Dr. Kristjan Jespersen, Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS). The research team includes Dr. Izabela Delabre, Lecturer in Environmental Geography at Birkbeck, University of London; Dr. Caleb Gallemore, Assistant Professor in the International Affairs Program at LaFayette College, Pennsylvania; and Dr. Katryn Pasaribu, seconded from Universitas Prasetiya Mulya to CBS.
We report here on a new campus initiative to create a permaculture garden on the CBS campus, opposite the Kilen building and very close to Fasanvej Metro Station. CBS owns a piece of fairly large plot of landhere that is currently unused.
A design workshop was held on 4th March, where different groups of participants (students, faculty, representatives from Frederiksberg municipality and others) worked collaboratively on a design for Permahaven.
‘Permaculture’ stands for ‘permanent agriculture’, a term coined by Tasmanian Bill Mollison in 1978. He defined it as:
“The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”
Permaculture offers a holistic framework for creating sustainable ways of living. It aims to integrate land, resources, people and the environment by maximizing beneficial relationships, observing, emulating and working with rather than against nature to enhance resilience, diversity, productivity and stability (Hopkins 2020; Permaculturenews.org 2020). Permaculture advocates three overarching ethics: earthcare, people care, and fair share, and twelve design principles – the petals of the so-called ‘permaculture flower’ (see Figure below.
Ultimately, the goal is to foster responsible cultivation, production and consumption through a whole-systems approach. But permaculture is much more than that – increasingly, the concept is being applied beyond the field of agriculture to support and inspire more sustainable lifestyles, to improve mental health, sanitize consumption, and design livable, humane social systems (Blasco, forthcoming).
What can a permaculture garden bring to a business school? Regenerating learning through permaculture
More from the event
About the Authors
Isabel Fróes is a postdoc at MSC Department at Copenhagen Business School working in three EU projects (Cities-4-People, iPRODUCE and BECOOP). Isabel also has wide industry experience and has worked both as a user researcher and service design consultant for various companies in Denmark and internationally. For more detail please see her Linkedin profile.
Maribel Blasco is Associate Professor at MSC Department at CBS. Her research focuses on management learning and higher education, notably at business schools; as well as cross-cultural inquiry. She is interested in learning not only as the transfer of know-how and technical skills but also more broadly as a process of identity formation, acculturation and development of tacit abilities such as intercultural competences, ethical awareness and creativity and innovation.
Oil and gas development in the Arctic has long been a subject of controversies, due to the vulnerability and pristineness of the arctic ecosystem, as well as the challenges that the region faces because of climate change. In the light of growing pressure from stakeholders, legislators, and the public, an increasing number of banks, insurers, and investors have been committing to restricting financing of arctic drilling. Typically, this is addressed by formally excluding the funding of oil and gas development in the Arctic from the firm’s investment universe.
However, several key issues with the current formulations of financial actors’ investment exclusions, make the restrictions potentially ineffective in curbing oil and gas expansion in the Arctic. Firstly, the exclusions typically apply only to financing and coverage, allowing for unrestricted provision of corporate support. Secondly, imprecise financial proxies are used to specify the activity levels at which an exclusion should be applied. For example, exclusions are often based on a revenue threshold, which does not cover early-stage exploration activities that typically do not generate revenue. Lastly, most restriction policies do not refer to a specific definition of the Arctic, which allows for the use of a case-by-case approach when making financing decisions. Where a definition of the Arctic is used, justification is rarely provided for why a specific exclusion zone had been chosen.
Problem 1: How should the Arctic be defined?
Figure 1 below shows the geographic definitions of the Arctic which arctic restriction policies are most commonly based on. It is evident that they differ significantly in terms of scope.
When choosing which definition of the Arctic to use in their exclusions, financial actors are presented with a difficult choice.
Selecting a wide-reaching exclusion zone, such as the arctic region monitored by the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Programme (AMAP), helps ensure that all assets located in the Arctic are covered. This said, however, such broad exclusions place investors at risk of missing out on profitable investments in ambiguous locations such as the Barents Sea, which has been argued to not be significantly different from the Norwegian sea in terms of oil spill response preparedness or ecosystem vulnerability. This dilemma becomes especially relevant in the context of asset managers’ fiduciary duty.
At the same time, if the exclusion is based on a definition of the Arctic which is too narrow, the policy is rendered largely ineffective, as it fails to restrict the financing of arctic oil and gas projects which continue to have negative environmental and social impacts. Which definition of the Arctic should be used as basis of a restriction policy, needs to establish based on a nuanced understanding of the geographic distribution of material issues associated with oil and gas development in the area.
Problem 2: Identifying the negative impacts of arctic drilling
To be able to argue for a targeted exclusion as part of a responsible investment policy, financial actors must credibly prove that the environmental and social impacts of a given activity are particularly dire. Indeed, the discussion is still ongoing as to what extent the documented harmful social and environmental processes in the Arctic can be categorized as by-products of arctic drilling, rather than as cumulative consequences of other activities.
One of the most common environmental concerns regarding arctic drilling is that it contributes to the melting of the polar ice caps. However, research has found that while black carbon emissions from oil and gas exploration in the Arctic reduce the ice cover’s reflective properties, polar caps are primarily melting due to the increases in global temperatures. As such, one could argue that for an exclusion to significantly tackle the issue of polar ice cap melting, it should extend to investments in all fossil fuel developments worldwide.
The negative environmental impacts which have been uniquely linked to arctic drilling (e.g., offshore oil spills, black carbon emissions, and biodiversity threats) are notably difficult to capture within a territorial exclusion zone. This is due to the lack of consistent data on their dynamically changing distribution.
The issue with addressing the negative social impacts of arctic drilling (e.g., land conflicts, threats to food security) in an exclusion policy, is that similar issues are faced by local and indigenous populations in other vulnerable areas, where oil and gas extraction also takes place, and where investments are not subject to restrictions. Here, a notable example would be the Amazon.
An additional complication results from the differing perspectives on arctic oil and gas development, with many local stakeholders crediting it with having improved infrastructure and employment opportunities in the region.
Problem 3: A double materiality perspective – addressing the risks to oil and gas development operations in the Arctic
From a risk management perspective, a comprehensive investment restriction policy should also account for the unique material risks to profitability of oil and gas projects in the Arctic, which make financing and coverage more volatile. This also falls in line with the double materiality approach to impact assessment.
The most significant material risks to oil and gas operations which are distinctive to the Arctic are caused by permafrost thawing, sea ice and icebergs, and extreme weather conditions. Similarly to negative environmental impacts, the dynamic nature of these arctic risk factors makes them difficult to capture within a geographic exclusion zone.
What have we learned?
Based on the discussion of the complexities associated with arctic exclusions, it can be concluded that the weakness of key financial actors’ arctic policies is that they deploy ex ante investment restrictions as standalone policy solutions. Arguably, exclusions can be an effective instrument, but only as part of a comprehensive responsible investment strategy, which covers all stages of the investment process and addresses the extensive information needs regarding material issues.
A well-formulated exclusion can help streamline the pre-investment negative screening process by filtering out investments which:
Have been proven to be associated with unique material risks and negative impacts,
Can be identified with high precision, accounting for the dynamic changes and complexities in the underlying material issues.
Those of the material risks and impacts which cannot be captured in an exclusion policy should be addressed using other pre-investment (positive and negative screening, information requests and questionnaires) and post-investment (active ownership and thematic engagements) measures.
Such a nuanced approach to policy exclusions could provide a powerful responsible investment tool for financial actors in areas and sectors which require additional due diligence.
About the Authors
Zuzanna Lewandowska is a student researcher in ESG and Sustainable Investments at Copenhagen Business School. She studies responsible investment strategies and the state of the art of measuring and reporting information on ESG factors. She has a background in international business and strategy, global market intelligence, and policy consulting.
Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on the growing development and management of Ecosystem Services in developing countries. Within the field, Kristjan focuses his attention on the institutional legitimacy of such initiatives and the overall compensation tools used to ensure compliance.
The corporate political activities of a business – let’s call them “lobbying” as a shorthand, although they comprise much more from public relations to political spending to sponsorship of thinktanks etc – have long played a rather minor role in discussions on corporate responsibilities.
And this relative insignificance also converted into rather minimalist expectations about what responsible lobbying should look like: stay within the bounds of the law (i.e. in some jurisdictions, file some lobbying reports and do not hand out bribes); don’t lie egregiously, although puffery and other tricks of the trade are acceptable; and as some scholars in business ethics would cautiously add: don’t do anything that excludes others from contributing to the democratic discourse in an informed manner.
In many ways this anodyne conception of responsible lobbying mirrors the equally thin conception of corporate responsibilities under the old shareholder-first-and-only paradigm that started and stopped with making profit bounded by legal compliance as the primary responsibility for business.
A growing mismatch
Such a close alignment is hardly surprising. Yet while the broader expectations for corporate responsibility have substantively evolved and expanded since then, no such trajectory can be discerned for corporate political responsibilities. The former moved from negative responsibilities of don’t be evil to a growing set of capacious positive obligations of how companies ought to treat their various stakeholders and the environment. The latter – expectations for what constitutes responsible lobbying – appeared to largely remain stuck with this minimalist canon of obligations outlined above. True there have been some improvement at the margins, more reporting on political spending and lobbying and more ad-hoc pressure for taking sides on a small segment of social issues in some jurisdictions.
But despite the best efforts of a small, dedicated band of good governance advocates the scope and urgency of public expectations on what responsible lobbying should look like have not budged much and certainly have not grown in line with broader corporate responsibilities.
Enter the climate emergency
But things have changed dramatically over the last few years. Responsible lobbying is receiving much more attention in the policy debate and in academia and it is increasingly associated with a set of positive corporate obligations and much more stringent boundaries for which tactics are considered illegitimate. As I would argue, there is one principal engine that drives these much higher expectations for what responsible lobbying should entail: the climate crisis, the civilisational challenge to decarbonise the world economy and several dynamics that it has unleashed in the policy arena.
There is a growing recognition, for example, that what companies do in climate politics is at least as important and often more important than what they do operationally to reduce their own carbon footprint. Then there is the emergence of a rapidly expanding climate governance and corporate accountability ecosystem whose tracking capabilities, incentive levers and accountability mechanisms dwarf anything that is available for governing lobbying in politics more conventionally. Unfortunately, there is not enough space here to elaborate on these and other such drivers.
From projecting future aspirations to back-casting for present obligations
For the remainder of this blog I would like to suggest and focus on another, perhaps less obvious and more difficult to grasp contributing dynamic: a shifting normative corridor of what is considered responsible lobbying driven by the particular nature of the climate challenge. The argument goes like this:
Ever more precise climate science and the Paris Agreement to do what is necessary to reduce global heating to a 1.5 to 2 degrees rise to at least avert the most catastrophic scenarios provide a clearly defined, time-bound landing zone for policy action. The days of outright climate change denial are thus over. Seeding doubt about the facts of climate change or the decarbonisation goal has thus terminally shifted out of the Overton window of what constitutes acceptable viewpoints and (barely) tolerable public relations messaging. But more interestingly, things have not stopped here. The civilisational urgency of getting to net zero by 2050 leaves only a few years and a very narrow and rapidly narrowing corridor of necessary action options.
To oversimplify just a bit: responding to the climate crisis is by now more of an exercise of back-casting, deriving the necessary public and corporate policy action from what must be achieved, rather than an open-ended experimentation space guided by a rough compass for direction of travel.
We are by now so short of time and so clear-sighted about the science that we basically know what fossil assets must stay in the ground, what infrastructures need to be blitz-scaled etc. This clarity of goal and techno-economic pathway also means that most not-so-good-faith lobbying tactics aimed to stall, distract, or opportunistically suggest some costly detours are much easier to spot and call out – than would be the case if the option space was still more open. The normal-times policy deliberation on what business could be imagined doing to help us move towards a desirable future has morphed into a policy imperative for what business must and must not do by when to help achieve net zero by 2050.
Attesting to these dynamics, for example are the emergence of reporting frameworks, assessment exercises, shareholder action and CEO commitments that judge or design a company’s lobbying efforts against scientifically derived necessary policy actions for decarbonizing by 2050. But perhaps even more emblematic for the rising expectations for responsible lobbying is the action plan that one of the leading global PR agencies working for fossil fuel interests has been forced to put forward very recently amidst intense public pressure, including from its own employees. Here some excerpts:
Put science and facts first. We seek a better-informed public on climate issues so that we enable swift and equitable action. We will ONLY be led by the science and base our work on objective, factual and substantiated data.
We will establish and publicize science and values-based criteria for engagement with clients. This goes farther than our principle of not accepting work from those who aim to deny climate change. We will not take on any work that maintains the status quo, or is focused on delaying progress towards a net-zero carbon future. We will support companies that are committed to the Paris Agreement and transparent in reporting their progress in accelerating their transition to net-zero emissions.
Hold ourselves accountable. We hold ourselves and our clients accountable to continual progress, with transparency on results through regular reporting.
A PR maestro engaging in PR spin for managing its own PR crisis? Perhaps. But there are enough concrete actions included that makes it worthwhile to track this and hold the company up to its commitments.
And such a forced response by a world-leading PR company clearly demonstrates that expectations for responsible lobbying against the backdrop of the climate crisis, have rapidly matured from compliance and do no outright evil to a concrete set of positive obligations against which political footprint of companies and their service providers can be evaluated.
The ingenuity required to get us to net-zero is 20% technical and 80% political of how to incentivize, mobilize for and administer a just, legitimate transition.
This outmost importance of climate politics and policy-making combined with the outsize role that businesses and their associations play in this space as the best-resourced and most influential interest group, clearly highlight that responsible lobbying as a set of substantive, positive obligations is an essential piece of the puzzle in solving this civilisational challenge. And my bet is that things will not stop here: higher expectations for responsible lobbying on climate issues are likely to lift all boats over time and translate into higher expectations for how business ought to behave in the political sphere more broadly.
 There remain of course a number of important unresolved policy choices with regard to carbon capture, geo-engineering, bridging fuels etc. but the overall option space and available policy pathways are by now much narrower than two decades ago or relative to many other big policy challenges.
About the Author
Dieter Zinnbauer is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. His CBS research focuses on business as political actor in the context of big data, populism and “corporate purpose fatigue”.
Last March European parliament gave a proposal to create mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence directive. The aim is to prevent human rights and environmental harm in a more efficient way, through regulation. The commission proposal is based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and has three core elements: firstly, companies should themselves assess the risks of human rights violations in their supply chains, secondly, take action together with the stakeholders to address identified threats, and lastly – and most importantly – offer a system for access to remedy for those whose rights have been violated. The commission is expected to give their resolution on the matter before Christmas, though the decision has been delayed already few times.
The EU proposal can be seen as a part of a continuum towards more mandated forms of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Traditionally CSR has been defined as something voluntary that companies do in addition to the letter of law in response to stakeholder pressures and societal expectations. At the level of individual organisations this has meant providing societal good through philanthropy and partnerships with NGOs or avoiding harm by improving the sustainability of business operations. Also, a great number industry level voluntary standards have been invented to solve the environmental and labour issues in transnational supply chains (Fair trade and Forest Stewardship Council being good examples).
However, the past 20 years of voluntary measures have not been able to eliminate human rights violations in business operations. Indeed, it seems that voluntariness works for inspiring collaboration and innovating for better world.
In situations of wrongdoing, exploitation, and harm, stronger frameworks are needed to hold organizations accountable and offer remedy to victims.
The recent development towards more mandated forms of corporate responsibility, like the French Due Diligence reporting Act or the UK Modern Slavery act, can be seen as efforts to respond to the accountability deficit. In June this year Germany passed a HRDD law stipulating that companies must identify risks of human rights violations in their supply chains and also take countermeasures. Also, Norway passed a similar law that requires companies to conduct human rights and decent work due diligence. Similar issues have been discussed in most of European governments.
There are caveats in creating this type of regulation. It might lead to tick-the-box type of exercises without true consideration for the human rights risk, burden companies if not given enough time and guidance to adjust, and transparency reporting does not seem to be enough to change business behaviour. One of the most difficult, yet most important, area in developing the new binding standards is the pillar three of UNGP: Access to Remedy. This pillar tries to ensure that in cases of violations, the victims will have a channel to make claims and receive remedy. Whether it should be civil or administrative liability or whether there should be an ombudsman in each country receiving complaints or via whistleblowing is all still in the air. What is clear is that whatever the final design of well-functioning HRDD system requires inputs and cooperation from businesses, civil society, and governments alike. Companies know best their supply chains, but sometimes NGOs may be a useful counterpart for identifying the risks and setting up stakeholder consultations. Finally, governments should be final proofers of the system ensuring accountability and enforcement.
While some industry associations have raised concerns about the new regulations and the ability of European companies to oversee operations elsewhere, companies also evaluate that the new EU directive might level the playing field and give them a new tool in managing supply chains. Indeed, it seems that we are moving towards regulated CSR not only within EU but globally. UN has launched an intergovernmental working group to prepare a binding treaty on Business and Human Rights, there is an initiative for minimum global corporate tax and efforts to close tax havens. More and more reporting is expected by companies, not only as increasing ESG reports to shareholders but more and more also as part of the mandatory legal requirements.
Societal expectations are one of the key drivers for CSR. According to the latest polls it seems that European citizens and consumers expect the companies to upkeep good human rights and environmental standards within their global supply chains.
About the Author
Johanna Järvelä, is a postdoc researcher at Copenhagen Business School and member of the advisory committee for Human Rights Due Diligence Law in Finland. Her research focuses on the interplay of public and private governance in natural resource extraction and she’s especially interested in exploring how steer private sector towards providing societal good.
The fashion industry has repeatedly come under fire for its negative effects on the environment. With heightened attention towards the climate crisis and scandals highlighting the industry’s social shortcomings (Rana Plaza, 2013), more and more ‘native’ sustainable fashion brands have emerged. However, parallel, we witness a trend towards ever-increasing consumerism. Frequently, Black Friday is seen as the epitome of consumerism which raises the question: How do sustainable fashion brands approach the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday – and how do consumers perceive these campaigns?
We reviewed Black Friday Instagram posts by self-claimed sustainable fashion labels and found they can be conceptualized along two axes: (1) the level to which consumption is encouraged / discouraged, and (2) the degree of action taken by a brand to express its commitment to sustainability. This conceptualization accounts for existing societal marketing strategies, particularly Demarketing, Green Marketing, and Cause-related Marketing. On the one hand, the brand Raeburn closes its shops and urges consumers to use Black Friday to repair their clothing rather than buying new items (Demarketing). On the other hand, the brand People Tree promotes 30% off everything claiming that consumers should “add some green to [their] wardrobe” (Green Marketing).
Business-as-usual, a revolution, or planet-saving purchases – what is actually authentic?
By interviewing 20 consumers, we found that they judge authenticity by inspecting various cues that are leveraged to identify authenticity drivers. For example, donating to WWF (Cause-related Marketing) yielded legitimacy for TwoThirds’ Black Friday campaign. Authenticity is a complex concept – it is multidimensional, subjective, dynamic and socially constructed. Multidimensionality implies that one cannot answer “what is authentic?” precisely; it is an interplay of different attributes. In our case, respondents described an advertisement as authentic when it was credible, relatable, congruent, original and/or impactful. Next, subjectivity means that what is authentic for one person is not necessarily authentic for another. Influential consumer characteristics are a person’s general scepticism towards advertising, level of environmental concern, and understanding of sustainability, resp. do we simply need less- or better/greener consumption to mitigate climate change?
“and it’s kind of a contradiction: ‘Please shop to help the planet’ and I think you can’t shop and help the planet at the same time. So less or no consumption is at all times the best option” (Consumer 1)
“you’re using capitalism to make the world a little bit better. And I think in my eyes, that’s a good strategy to go for” (Consumer 2)
Third, authenticity perceptions can change over time, for example upon new information. Last, authenticity does not exist as a stand-alone concept but is always sensitive to societal changes.
What does this imply for marketers of sustainable brands?
Black Friday is a dynamic context in which brands have to actively reflect on their communication strategy and respective consumer authenticity perceptions. Consequently, no communication strategy shows clear advantages or can be labeled ‘most authentic’. We advise brands to reflect on:
Their standpoint regarding Black Friday
The needs of their target group
The statement they want to make on Black Friday
The tone they want to adopt in their campaign
Sustainable brands increasingly embrace creative ways to distance themselves from the traditional Black Friday, e.g. by closing shops, ‘selling rubbish’ or even raising prices. It remains unclear, however, whether these forms of brand activism reflect a brand’s honest opinion or are employed as a tool to stand out.
We also observe brands who are holding their customers responsible: on Black Friday 2020, Armed Angels let buyers choose between a higher discount or rainforest protection. After Black Friday, the brand revealed that the majority of their customers had chosen the higher discount, which raises the question:
Can consumers be held responsible for making more mindful purchase decisions or is increased action by companies and governments needed?
Upon stating its disappointment about the outcome, followers accused the brand of shaming their customers for choosing higher discounts. This translates to another relevant consideration for sustainable fashion labels – choosing the right tone. While radical messaging conveys urgency and appeals to environmentally concerned consumers, others feel opposed to it and, instead, want to be involved in dialogues. Again, this shows that when it comes to Black Friday, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution – rather, brands should take time to think about their values and how they can make a meaningful difference on Black Friday 2021.
Throughout the interviews in our study, multiple consumers shared with us how they were inspired by campaigns of sustainable brands and respectively questioned their purchase decisions. This demonstrates that sustainable brands’ communications can actually exceed Black Friday and have lasting effects – not only on their brands’ perceived authenticity but also on our planet’s future.
About the Authors
Nina Böntgen is a recent graduate from MSc Brand and Communications Management program at Copenhagen Business School. Next to her studies, she was actively engaged as team lead and board member of oikos Copenhagen, a student initiative driving change towards greater sustainability. She’s happy to share further insights or engage in discussions on the post or the broader thesis (how sustainable brands navigate authenticity and greenwashing) via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Linkedin.
Sara Derse is a recent graduate of the Msc Brand and Communications Management program at Copenhagen Business School. Fascinated by the topics of consumer psychology and purpose branding, she was involved in the sustainability-focused student initiative oikos as a Project Manager. She is happy to discuss her thesis (consumer perceptions of fashion brands with a purpose centred around sustainability) in further detail via email (email@example.com) or Linkedin.
Meike Janssen is Associate Professor for Sustainable Consumption and Behavioural Studies, CBS Sustainability, Copenhagen Business School. Her research focuses on consumer behaviour in the field of sustainable consumption, in particular on consumers’ decision-making processes related to sustainable products and the drivers of and barriers to sustainable product choices.
According to a recent analysis by Datareportal, the number of active social media users grew globally by 13.2% from January 2020 to January 2021, which means that as of January 2021, there are 4.2 billion active social media users. With the increasing use of social media, it only makes sense that important discussions are moving to these platforms. This is especially seen during political elections, but social media are also becoming some of the most important platforms to discuss issues such as gender equality, racism, and climate change. However, while we have seen the potentials of social media for raising awareness about these issues, it is still unclear whether social media are suitable platforms for such discussions.
Throughout my research, I investigated the climate change debate on Twitter, and I want to highlight two important patterns that I found, each illustrating some of the potentials and challenges with the use of social media to discuss global challenges.
On the one hand, I found that the debates on social media platforms are characterized by equality and inclusiveness. It is common knowledge that everyone has a voice on social media, and anyone can contribute to a debate, but simply having the opportunity to contribute does not mean that everyone will have an impact.
Interestingly, what I found was that not only can anyone contribute – everyone can have an impact on the debate and affect how issues are discussed.
This both includes users with less than 100 followers and minority voices such as climate change skepticism. Seeing that even smaller users and minority voices can have an impact is particularly interesting on social media, where it has been argued that it is only the “popular” accounts, influencers, or central actors that shape the debate. Naturally, this does not mean that everyone will influence the debate, but it means that anyone can, which I see as an important part of creating a good place for discussing global challenges.
On the other hand, I found that the use of Twitter to discuss climate change rarely included ongoing dialogue.
There is very little exchange of opinions between two participants – instead, participants share their thoughts by engaging in broader conversations, e.g., by using specific hashtags or by mentioning central figures. In other words, what I found was that participants engage with an imagined audience, not directly with others.
Sometimes a discussion unfolds in the replies to a tweet or in the comments to a Facebook post, but the vast majority of contributions to debates about global issues are more about voicing an opinion, e.g., through retweeting, not back-and-forth dialogue between participants. This means that while most participants actively contribute to the debate, there is rarely any direct response to these contributions, which is a critical challenge, as I see some form of back-and-forth exchange of opinions as an integral part of good discussions.
So, are social media platforms good places for debates about global challenges?
Well, yes and no – and naturally dependent on how you define a “good” debate. The inclusiveness and equality are great, and this is unparalleled compared to offline arenas that are limited by time and space, thus highlighting the potential for social media to empower citizens, both in their role as ordinary citizens and as consumers or activists that challenge corporate behavior. On the other hand, the distinct lack of ongoing, reciprocal exchange of information or dialogue is a critical challenge, highlighting issues with using social media to debate global challenges. This poses an interesting puzzle.
The lack of dialogue suggests that we need to be careful about using social media platforms to discuss global challenges.
Still, the use of social media to discuss global challenges is rapidly growing. Hence, we cannot disregard the importance of social media, but perhaps we can re-think their role in global discussions.
I suggest that we move away from the expectation that social media platforms, by themselves, cultivate high-quality debates and instead see them as platforms that mainly inform and develop participants’ views. Hence, rather than providing platforms for dialogue, social media contributes to global debates by providing platforms where participants can become informed and better prepared for subsequent discussions – discussions that often unfold outside social media platforms. In other words, while social media, by themselves, are imperfect places for debates about global challenges, their role in informing participants, including both citizens, corporations, and politicians, illustrates that social media are a critical part of a more extensive media system, and we should not disregard their importance in debates about global challenges.
A word of caution
However, if we accept that social media mainly serves to inform participants, we also have to consider that some potentials can become challenges. Specifically, the equality found in the debate can become a serious issue.
Without the ongoing dialogue, we miss opportunities to contest and challenge disruptive voices such as climate change skepticism.
Hence, while climate change skepticism, in an ideal and high-quality debate, could be beneficial by inspiring others to improve their arguments and refine opinions, the lack of dialogue on social media means that such voices are not contested and are not inspiring others to improve their arguments.
This is even more important with the increasing polarization we see on social media and highlights that if social media mainly serves to inform participants’ views, there is a greater responsibility on us as participants. Specifically, we still need to seek out these opposing opinions. Even though it might be futile to engage with those opinions, seeking out these opposing views may still inspire us to improve our arguments and, in some cases, even inspire us to refine our own opinions and ideas.
About the Author
Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD Fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research investigates how communication on social media (e.g. the use of emotions, certain forms of framing or linguistic features) shapes the ways we discuss and think about organizational and societal responsibilities.
In a landmark verdict at the district court in the Hague on 26th May this year, Royal Dutch Shell lost a case to the Dutch branch of ‘Friends of the Earth’, Milleudefensie, and other NGOs. The court ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against a 2019 baseline. The decision breaks new ground for the possibility of holding private corporations accountable for climate change – Shell-shocked and a Black Wednesday for the fossil fuel industry, according to expert commentators in international environmental law.
The verdict emphasizes the international consensus that corporations like Shell must respect basic human rights, such as the rights to life and family life. In the ruling, human rights are seen in the context of climate change and the aspirational 1.5-degree target stated in the Paris Agreement (2015), scientifically supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2018).
The verdict is a significant example of a general surge in climate litigation cases globally in which human rights are invoked.
Holding a fossil fuel company accountable based on the standard of human rights might sound as futile as the effort to mix oil and water.
And this sort of skepticism has roots in the recent history of attempts to connect business, human rights and climate change in what could be seen as a ‘bizarre triangle’ of irreconcilable corners.
However, the Shell verdict can be seen as a firm rebuttal to such skepticism. The court argued that Shell had violated the standard of care implicit in Dutch law. To clarify the content of the standard of care, the court used the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) which provide a global standard for businesses’ human rights responsibilities. This is, however, a bold interpretation in light of the UNGPs silence on human rights responsibilities with regard to climate change.
In fact, human rights might not fit so neatly with the difficult case of climate change. Firstly, it is difficult to trace the causal links between the emitters and the victims of climate change, although this is contested by recent studies that have traced two-thirds of historical emissions to the big oil and gas companies, the so-called carbon majors.
Secondly, human rights basically apply only to the state’s duty to protect citizens, and thus only indirectly to private companies. This state-centric approach is core to the human rights regime and tradition, and the UNGPs uphold this by allocating less stringent responsibilities to non-state actors such as corporations.
However, the UNGPs also state that private companies have human rights responsibilities independently of the state. The district court in the Hague reaffirms this in its ruling against Shell, stating that corporate responsibility “exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, and does not diminish those obligations. [..] Therefore, it is not enough for companies to [..] follow the measures states take; they have an individual responsibility.” (4.4.13).
A third source of skepticism resides in understandings of environmental law and the central role of the polluter pays principle. Accordingly, emitters are responsible for their historical output of CO2 as enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC 1992), but the scope is usually taken to be limited to the unit of production (scope 1), e.g. the refining of crude oil. The standard view of pollution is local, as for instance when a factory pollutes the local river.
However, in the Shell ruling scopes 1, 2 and 3 are taken into account, meaning that consumers’ incineration also counts and therefore Shell must take responsibility for consumers’ emissions as well. The consequences of including all three scopes incur far-reaching and demanding responsibilities on corporations, where previously the distribution of responsibilities between producers and consumers has been disputed, for instance in the carbon majors case.
In sum, the Shell verdict raises the bar considerably for the expected level of corporate climate responsibility. The verdict also challenges the assumption that human rights don’t fit the complexity of climate change; though in fact the UNs first resolution on human rights and climate change appeared back in 2008. Moreover, the verdict goes against the widespread liberal assumption that businesses’ responsibilities are mainly to comply with the law of national jurisdictions and that consumers are comparably responsible for causing climate change.
It might be time to rethink such assumptions and not simply continue ‘business as usual’ by seeing climate change and human rights-based climate litigation as a managerial risk factor to be handled instrumentally and in isolation from the moral duty to solve the climate crisis.
One key lesson could be to acknowledge that corporate responsibilities are not just legal but moral as well, since the distinction is not so clear in soft law instruments like the UNGPs nor even in the notion of human rights themselves, not to mention the moral demands following from the need to respect and realize the targets of the Paris Agreement and related transition paths.
This is the kind of thinking now supported in the court verdict against Shell, and it signals a new beginning where climate change reconfigures how corporations and human rights connect… perhaps making the ‘oil and water’ metaphor obsolete.
Among the many expert commentators, Annalisa Savaresi’s work provided particular inspiration for writing the blog. I am grateful to Florian Wettstein, Sara Seck, Marco Grasso, Ann E Mayer and Säde Hormio who all gave comments to my article ‘Climate change as a business and human rights issue’ published in the Business and Human Rights Journal (2020) 5(1), pp. 1-27. The blogpost is based on the approach of this article. Julie Murray was helpful with proofreading.
We live in politically tumultuous times. Authoritarianism is on the rise again across the world. Democratic freedoms have been in decline for 15 years in a row. The share of people living in free societies has shrunk to a meagre 14% of the world population. Meanwhile polarisation and populism, disinformation, mistrust and rising inequality have begun to hollow out the fundaments of even the strongest democracies. Votes for populist parties in mature democracies have risen from 3% in the 1970s to more than 20% today.
With democracy under attack everywhere how does and how should business position itself? What are the democratic responsibilities of companies? A tricky question well beyond the scope of a blog entry, but here some rather random notes and provocations on current trends and gyrations as input to this highly topical conversation.
Inaction is untenable, political neutrality unlikely.
It is less and less of a practical option anymore to hide behind a veneer of political neutrality no matter if rationalized instrumentally (the Republicans-are-buying-sneakers-too argument), normatively (it’s undemocratic for business to engage in high stakes politics beyond its own narrow business interests) or intuitively (the empirically tenuous claim that business tends to only support moderate, mainstream politics anyway). Here some reasons why:
For a start, it is not easy to find real-world contexts, where a principled commitment to free and fair markets and a principled rejection of crony capitalism would not also imply and indeed be predicated upon a commitment to competitive democracy. Or from a slightly different angle, the normative minimum for business – to respect human rights in its sphere of operation and influence –also entails respect for basic democratic rights and a related duty of care.
Remaining silent on democracy is therefore only an option as long as democracy is not in danger, as long as none of the substantive political forces in a country seek to actively dismantle load-bearing democratic norms and rules.
Yet in many countries this is not the case (any more). From Brazil to the Philippines from Poland or Hungary to the US, formally democratic regimes are under attack from within the political establishment. And in many more other countries fringe groups with dubious democratic credentials and intent often propelled by a toxic mix of populism and nativism are moving closer to becoming part of government.
Enter corporate democratic responsibility
Corporate responsibility in such contexts entails having a plan for and executing on corporate democratic responsibility on at least three different levels / time horizons.
For a start and most immediately it requires aligning non-market strategies with regard to corporate support for politicians, lobbying, public relations and other business and society interactions with an active stance and role in support of democracy. E.g. no funding for politicians and parties that have taken to destroying basic tenets of inclusive political participation (not just temporary bans until the PR tempest calms down), no lobbing on issues that corrode the fundaments of political equality, an active promotion of democratic values, for example along the lines of campaigns by German business associations against extremism.
In the medium term it calls for a democracy audit – an active interrogation of one’s own operations’ “democracy footprint”, and how one’s business model can best respect, protect and promote democratic values. Big tech platforms, for example, are being pushed to better understand and address their role for a healthy democratic discourse.
In long-term perspective it demands a deeper probing on how corporate conduct is linked to some of the underlying drivers of democratic decline and disillusionment. Growing inequality and declining social mobility, status anxiety and a profound sense of losing out and losing authorship of one’s life are all empirically confirmed to provide fertile ground for populism and creeping authoritarianism. To help restore a sense of individual economic and political efficacy, trust in societal fairness and public as well as private authority companies may wish to interrogate how practices around tax avoidance, regulatory arbitrage, shareholder primacy etc. intersect with these issues. This also includes questions around how reforms and new formats in corporate governance can help resurrect a sense of being in it together and revive the idea of the business organisation as a shared venture, an important venue for exercising citizenship and co-authoring one’s economic life world and, capable of collectively evolving a strong, responsible corporate purpose.
A rough, but necessary ride ahead
Good corporate democratic responsibility does not come easy. It means wading into a messy terrain and facing up to the perennial tension between defending democracy and curtailing freedom.
It involves business decisions on whether fitness-bikes should be permitted to spread rumours about voter fraud, whether couches and guest rooms should welcome riot tourists, whether rumour-mongers deserve cloud hosting or whether the president of the United States should be kicked off the world’s largest social network. Yet, all these things need to be reckoned with one way or the other as doing-nothing only cements a status quo of what is often democratic backsliding.
All these tricky questions around corporate behaviour in the context of democratic countries that are at risk of backsliding will also bring into sharper relief the perennial question of what companies can and should do when operating in outright authoritarian settings – a discussion well beyond the scope of this short blog entry but one that is returning with a vengeance given high-growth prospects in authoritarian settings or military coups in popular foreign investment destinations.
Finally, an honest grappling with corporate democratic responsibility will be agnostic to partisanship in principle and approach. But it is highly likely to be partisan in outcomes. Political incivility and anti-democratic behaviour are unlikely to be evenly distributed across the ideological spectrum in any given setting. So brace yourself for a partisan backlash and for a constant tight-rope walk between supporting democracy and being drawn into day-to-day politics. Getting this right will require the best of corporate strategy, corporate governance and corporate communication. But ultimately there is no escaping from corporate democratic responsibility. Flourishing economies and flourishing democracies ultimately depend on it.
About the Author
Dieter Zinnbauer is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. His CBS research focuses on business as political actor in the context of big data, populism and “corporate purpose fatigue”.
Contestations of CSR across time, space, and experience … and a Call for Papers
By Jeremy Moon
◦ 3 min read◦
It is well known that globalization of business has thrown up a host of new governance challenges and new governance solutions. Conspicuous in this regard are the various ‘responsibility remedies’ for challenges posed in the supply chains of multinational corporations.
The growth and transformation of supply chains, particularly in agricultural products and garments has reflected a pattern of business expansion and penetration of host country markets. These have been followed by revelations of short-comings in the treatment of workers and communities, and in environmental responsibility. And in turn, these have been followed by responsibility remedies, often in the form of partnerships, international standards and multi-stakeholder initiatives.
Formerly, if corporations were asked to whom they were socially responsible they might well have answered ‘to their communities’ or ‘to their stakeholders’. The concept of responsibility to communities makes sense in an industrial model of production in which the company, its management and workers are united not only by association with the company but also by the place in which the company had its most obvious impacts. The concept of responsibility to stakeholders is premised on its offer of an alternative to exclusive responsibility to shareholders, combining an ethical and a functional logic. But with global supply chains, the concepts of community and stakeholder responsibility are stretched. In the former case this is to relationships with no face-to-face interaction or even common identity with place and culture. In the latter case it is to corporate relationships with workers who have no contractual relationship with the respective corporation, and may even be unaware that they are working in that corporation’s supply chain.
So we have witnessed numerous alternative models of supply chain responsibility often in the form of partnerships of businesses and civil society organizations, sometimes also involving local, national and international governments. The legitimacy of these partnerships, standards organizations and Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) is usually premised on some reference to, what are taken to be, universal principles, and on the plurality of participants, particularly those reflecting societal voice – ostensibly the surrogates of community and stakeholders.
But notwithstanding the legitimacy that these responsibility remedies initially attracted, research increasingly sheds doubts on their ability to resolve the responsibility question because they tend to obscure conceptions to whom and for what business is responsible for, and specifically by marginalizing representation from the global South – or the production-based economies of the supply chains.
In my own work, I have seen tensions between host governments and international remedies for oppressive labour standards, with the former regarding such ostensibly well-intentioned initiatives as subversive to their own authority. There are tensions between host country suppliers and international brands and retailers with some of the former going out of business for not readily complying with new standards or complaining that they bear disproportionate costs of factory upgrading. And there are tensions experienced by workers whether with their own governments for regulatory failure, with their immediate employers for low wages and poor conditions, or with international supply chains which structure their livelihoods. But these tensions are often not articulated by virtue of the weak labour organization (often compounded by political environments hostile to organized labour).
As a result from global South perspectives the new variants of the social responsibility model look ill-suited to the ‘on the ground’ economic, social and environmental challenges, at best. At worse, they look like a legitimization of a continuing model of exploitation.
How do individuals, groups and communities from various geographic and geo-political contexts experience the imposition of social responsibilities and practices from businesses of all forms?
How are social responsibilities and their related institutions and practices transformed, subverted and/or resisted within, across and outside of organizations and workplaces?
Moreover, the SI editors will also welcome papers on wider issues arising from the social responsibility of business, specifically to highlight perspectives borne of contextual experiences.
A Special Issue workshop will be heldon Thursday 16th September 2021 (applications by Monday 21st June 2021. To be considered for this special issue, full-length papers should be submitted through the journal’s online submission system between February 1st and 28th 2022.
For full details on the call, the workshop and the submission processes please follow this link.
About the Authors
Jeremy Moon is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Chair of Sustainability Governance Group and Director of CBS Sustainability. Jeremy has written widely about the rise, context, dynamics and impact of CSR. He is particularly interested in corporations’ political roles and in the regulation of CSR and corporate sustainability.
On behalf of the Guest Editors: Premilla D’Cruz, Nolywé Delannon, Lauren McCarthy, Arno Kourula, Jeremy Moon and Laura J. Spence; and the Human Relations Associate Editor: Jean-Pascal Gond.
How can financial investors better understand underlying risks and act accordingly
By Amanda Wildhaber, Dominik Wingeier, Jessica Brügger, Nico Meier, and Dr. Kristjan Jespersen
◦ 4 min read ◦
Forests play a crucial role in tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity. Around 12 million hectares of tropical forest worldwide were lost in 2018 and approximately 17% of the loss stem from the Amazon alone. The main drivers of deforestations are soy, palm oil, cattle and timber production. As deforestation may harm a company’s reputation, directly affect its supply chains and increase regulatory risks, many institutional investors are concerned about the impact deforestation can have on their portfolio companies.
How can deforestation be measured?
The definition of deforestation risk from an investor’s perspective is difficult to lock-in because different frameworks and approaches focus on different aspects of the risks. The amount of information and the lack of transparency can be overwhelming to financial investors. Therefore, a helpful framework for financial institutions to systematically evaluate the deforestation risk management of portfolio companies has been developed. The framework is divided into two parts, an internal assessment of a company’s commitments and achievements regarding deforestation and an external assessment of outside policies related to deforestation, namely binding laws and private sector initiatives. The framework may serve to complete a scorecard which gives an overview of how well prepared a specific portfolio company is and if it is able to deal with deforestation risks and future regulatory changes. The final scorecard reflects the deforestation risk of financial institution’s portfolio companies.
Is voluntary support sufficient?
Many companies voluntarily support sustainability initiatives and follow zero deforestation commitments (ZDCs) to signal their intention to reduce deforestation associated with the commodities in their supply chain. The reasons behind their commitments include demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR), reducing the risk of potential reputational harm and supply chain disruptions. To understand the value of these commitments in mitigating deforestation and associated risks, it is important to critically analyse them in terms of their scope, effectiveness, monitoring and achievements. This includes for example, assessing how companies define deforestation and whether they systematically measure the compliance with their commitments.
External pressure to facilitate internal commitments
It is valuable to see companies implementing robust internal policies and commitments to manage and monitor their deforestation risk. However, it is also important to have external policies in place to hold companies accountable. There are two types of external policies the proposed framework is based on.
The first type are binding laws which apply for portfolio companies and thus represent a regulatory risk. The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) of 2010, which prohibits the sale of illegally logged wood in the EU, is one example for such a binding law.
The second type are initiatives by third parties, which are of a non-binding nature and complement the binding law. One such initiative is the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is an initiative by private companies as well as external parties targeted to eliminate unsustainable palm oil production.
How do the companies score?
Based on the assessment of the two pillars of the framework – internal and external – a scorecard is derived which assists investors to better understand how a portfolio company or a new potential investment is managing its deforestation risk. Answering questions with scores from 1 to 3, whereby 1 is the best score and 3 the worst, the proposed scorecard allows the quantification of the deforestation risk management of a company. While the distinction between 1, 2 or 3 is not always straightforward, the final score gives a tangible assessment of how well a company is positioned to manage its deforestation risks and associated future regulatory changes. The following scorecard provides an overview of the assessment and indicates how well Nestlé is managing deforestation risks.
Having such a scorecard allows investors to manage and mitigate the deforestation risks they face in their portfolios. In addition, the final scorecard enables investment analysts to directly compare potential investments with other companies and can be used as a parameter in the investment process.
The call for action is getting louder
New regulatory requirements, growing public scrutiny and extended private sector initiatives (such as the investor-led initiative Climate Action 100+), mean that it is becoming increasingly important to properly manage deforestation risks. This is also becoming a key concern for financial investors and it is time to think about systematic approaches on how to include deforestation into the investment process. The proposed framework is intended to serve as a starting point for just that. It allows a quantification of deforestation risk and the identification of critical factors. Building the basis upon which investors can engage with companies. This is a first step to support the mitigating of not only financial but also ecological risks.
About the Authors
Amanda Wildhaber is completing her masters in Economics at the University of St. Gallen. She works as a Junior Consultant in the Strategy team of Implement Consulting. Her interest in ESG and sustainable investments developed when she wrote her bachelor thesis on social enterprises in India.
Dominik Wingeier is studying master’s in Banking and Finance at University of St. Gallen. Dominik has been working for BlackRock where he was responsible for executing and monitoring primary, secondary and direct investments in infrastructure projects.
Jessica Brügger is studying master’s in Business Innovation at the University of St. Gallen. Jessica is currently a board member of the Private Equity & Venture Capital Club of the University of St. Gallen and is particularly interested in making the financial industry more attractive to women.
Nico Meier is studying master’s in Accounting an Finance at the University of St. Gallen. Nico has been working at BLR&Partners where he is responsible for private equity investments. Additionally, he has experience providing M&A, ECM and DCM services.
Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on the growing development and management of Ecosystem Services in developing countries. Within the field, Kristjan focuses his attention on the institutional legitimacy of such initiatives and the overall compensation tools used to ensure compliance.
Notwithstanding promises of win-wins and synergies, we have good reasons to question whether companies address social problems in society’s best interests. As many critics have pointed out, companies tend to promote solutions that foster their commercial interests – often without considering their broader social impact.
Do our suspicions stop them? Of course not. Companies are usually well aware of any concerns and continuously evaluate the risk of prompting a controversy around their social activities. When they don’t have the social license to operate, they simply cultivate relations with organizations that do and get them to act on their behalf. Using such relational strategies, companies’ efforts remain hidden from public scrutiny insofar as they operate under the radar. Smart!
It’s not quite that simple, however. Legitimate organizations such as NGOs are just as aware of those widespread suspicions, and they are therefore often reluctant to work with companies. Indeed, if an organization’s relations with companies are perceived to be inappropriate, the organization risks exacerbating concerns around corporate influence and may thereby jeopardize its legitimacy too. The widespread suspicions of companies’ intentions thus make it more difficult for companies to participate in social change. Let’s call this a legitimacy barrier.
Overcoming the legitimacy barrier through relational work
How do companies overcome the legitimacy barrier and become legitimate actors in social change? In a recent publication (Girschik, 2020), I theorize how companies may engage in relational work to cultivate and shape their relations with legitimate organizations in such ways that redefine their involvement as socially responsible and thus legitimate. The paper details that companies can take four interdependent steps:
Cultivating communal relations: As a first step, companies can form or strengthen personal relations with people who work for legitimate organizations and who are likely to be interested in addressing the social problem in question. On a personal rather than organizational level, it is easier to align and create a shared understanding of potential courses of action.
Extending organizational support: Once a shared understanding is evolving, the company can start diligently targeting resources that enable the other organization to boost its activities and address the social problem. Such support has to happen on the organizational level to make sure that it is not considered for individual gain.
Articulating a partnership: Because the second step produces salient practical outcomes and illustrates the benefits of corporate involvement, it opens a window of opportunity to formalize collaboration through a partnership agreement. As part of this agreement, the company can participate in defining not only further courses of action but also the company’s role.
Differentiating as a socially responsible company: At this point, the company’s competitors have likely become interested and may try to imitate the company’s involvement by forming partnerships with the same or similar legitimate organizations. That’s a good thing for the first-moving company because it promotes the legitimacy of such partnerships. And benefiting from its strong relational embedding, the company is likely to outperform competitors through superior compliance with expectations. Being perceived as less sincere, competitors’ efforts are thus less strategically valuable and the first-moving company stands out as most socially responsible.
This process is time- and resource-consuming, but my study shows that it may pay off: it may enable companies to legitimate their involvement in social change while securing a competitive edge.
For better or worse?
These four steps explicate subtle yet consequential efforts through which companies may shape social change. The good news is that it is not easy and takes genuine long-term commitment. The bad news is that companies’ commercial interests may inform and mold trajectories of social change while their actual influence is hidden under a CSR veil. We need to keep deconstructing the relational constellations through which companies establish and exert their influence.
Verena Girschik is Assistant Professor of CSR, Communication, and Organization at Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). She adopts a communicative institutionalist perspective to understand how companies negotiate their roles and responsibilities, how they perform them, and with what consequences. Empirically, she is interested in activism in and around multinational companies and in business–humanitarian collaboration. Her research has been published in the Journal of Management Studies, Human Relations, Business & Society, and Critical Perspectives on International Business. She’s on Twitter: @verenacph
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the common goals of global development as we all agreed. Since its endorsement in 2015, it has become the norm. Multilateral corporations, aid agencies, development finance institutions and international organizations all refer to one or two Sustainable Development Goals (as their priorities) to legitimize environmental and social impact of their business activities. (I must confess here that I was also one of them). However, what are the actual changes in practices? Does it merely work as one other additional reference to our work? Otherwise, does it provoke transformational changes in our business strategies and practices for sustainability? Ironically, the Sustainable Development Goals are at once too sophisticated and too vague to do so.
The complexity of the goal structure should not be an excuse.
The development process of SDGs has been grounded based on lessons learnt from the Millennium Development Goals. Because the MDGs excessively focus on the social aspect of development, the SDGs embrace economic, social, and environmental aspects. This led the number of goals to increase from 8 to 17. In relation to the goals, 169 target goals and 231 indicators have been developed to track the progress of 17 goals (In comparison, the MDGs only have 21 target goals and 60 indicators). These vast numbers intend to strengthen progress monitoring and enhance result management; however, such complexity seems problematic to fulfil the initial purpose. Some indicator selection processes are still under the technical review process after five years of SDGs have once passed and almost half of the indicators (106 out of 231) contain technical difficulties producing data on a regular basis to track the progress. I know that measuring the fulfillment of the whole massive SDGs is complex and may not be an easy task. However, when it comes to wrestling with such a giant, the sophisticated skill set (here, seeking clear target goals and indicators) would be a winning strategy rather than hurdles. Thus, how should we deal with the giant?
We have to consider which specific target goals and indicators are aligned with my actions if you have a will to achieve the SDGs. Simply stating one of the goals does not track your achievement. Each goal cannot be even drawn in parallel rather they are all interlinked.
Universality matters, but not everyone is in the same boat.
We know why the SDGs have a principle of “No one left behind” across all the goals. This principle is again a result of lessons from the MDGs, which were criticized for the fact that they did not consider inequality and vulnerable groups in a development process. So that, this core principle is embedded into seventeen goals with the terms “inclusive”, “for everyone”, “for all” regardless of the developmental stage of their nations. Then, how can we make sure this would go far beyond the rhetoric?
We need extreme caution here. Do we have enough knowledge on those who are left behind? To move forward beyond the rhetoric, we need to unpack the word ‘everyone’. Even though ‘universality’ is an essential principle, we have to find out ‘who is left behind’ in every different context to make them not left behind, rather than concealing those excluded people under the name of “for everyone”.
Let’s see microfinance. It was expected as a universal means to reduce poverty and inequality since it provides a way of financial inclusion to those previously excluded to access credit. However, many research findings demonstrate that a particular type of “financial inclusion” which is embedded into microfinance cannot solve the marginalized groups’ economic challenges by itself. Without complementary social support, it was not enough to empower the poor, and even sometimes it resulted in an exacerbating situation for the people. I think this tells us the importance of deeper understanding of the poor, thus the need for a carefully targeted approach for impact.
In brief, working for “everyone” requires additional attention and effort. Whose reality should count first? How could we guide us to hold clear accountability to turn the “No one behind” catchphrase into concrete actions? I believe one of the roles of research on the SGDs should be founded here.
SDGs as a norm: it should be embedded into everyone’s everyday life.
Unlike the age of the MDGs, the SDGs involve a variety of actors such as private sectors and civil societies, who were not officially a part of the MDG process. Various stakeholders can create synergy through cooperation, but the responsibility to fulfil the SDGs become vague. According to Jurkovich (2019), three essential elements are needed to become a norm: “a moral sense of “oughtness”; a defined actor “of a given identity”; a specific behaviour or action expected of that given actor”. The SDGs as a global norm neither identify relevant actors for each specific goal and indicator nor have a compliance mechanism.
Sadly, the SDGs do not assign the responsibilities to anybody and the technical difficulty to monitor them also implies oughtness can be weakened. Frankly speaking, we officially have no obligation to contribute to the SDGs.
Despite its non-obligatory identity, I strongly believe that most of us have a willingness to dedicate to the SDGs. Although we all understand its complexity of monitoring, ambiguity of target people and non-compliance mechanisms. I urge you as an individual, a scholar or a member of the whole global development community to carefully consider what goals/target goals/indicators and for whom I can contribute with a strong responsibility. Otherwise, the SDGs risk losing its political power and may be on track to decay its status as the norm before its completion in 2030.
About the Author
Suhyon Oh is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, and has over ten years of professional experience working with the donor agency, international organizations, development consultancy, NGOs as well as private sectors. As an international development expert, she has worked with the projects on development finance, financial inclusion and global value chain development, etc. Her current research interest is development finance institutions, impact investing funds in developing countries, hybrid organization strategy and strategy as practice.
The number of products advertised as “green” or climate neutral has exploded in recent years, according to several newspaper articles.Should we be alarmed? To some extent, yes. In addition to cases of blatant fraud and manipulation, there is reason to be concerned when a plethora of green labels for products – ranging from milk over burgers to gasoline – competes for attention, especially when the variety confuses understandings of what it means to be sustainable.
Moreover, since carbon offset programs tend to obscure the fact that neither air travel nor fashion clothing is or can be CO2 neutral, the need to question and test green advertising claims is more pressing than ever. It is therefore commendable that politicians and NGOs in some countries call for more control with corporations that claim to market green or CO2 neutral products.
The growth in green advertising claims attracts increased scrutiny, regulation and control.
At the same time, the expansion in green advertising claims illustrates the growing social, political and economic premium put on sustainability. Even if many such claims are superficial and hypocritical, their combined existence is performative beyond what individual corporations, NGOs and regulators can imagine and control.
When all social actors express the significance of sustainability, something has changed.
Scholars of communication often emphasize that communication is constitutive of organizational and social reality. Communication, in their view, is performative because it does something more than simply describe a preexisting reality. Yet, in what sense does this logic apply to issues of climate change and the broader sustainability arena?
To what extent has communication performative potential in the sustainability arena?
Critics of the performative view on communication view argue that green messages often fail to change anything, either because the senders are insincere or because larger social forces, such as profit motives or efficiency demands, override any talk about sustainability. The power of sustainability communication to shape organizational practices is therefore often described as naïve or overly optimistic. These are important objections to the performativity perspective. Yet, communication still plays a significant role in instigating better practices.
The articulation of sustainability ideals is often “the leading incident” in its performance (Austin, 1962, p. 8).
It is certainly true that sustainability communication is insufficient in and of itself to ensure more sustainable practices. Some sustainability claims may even prevent organizations from moving in the right direction. Nonetheless, communication about sustainability is an important dimension of sustainable action. Without a communicative engagement of major corporations with the values and ideals of sustainability, changes in that arena are likely to be significantly slower.
Interestingly, critique and control of sustainability claims may help such claims to perform.
Talk about sustainability and green products tend to attract attention of critical stakeholders and increase internal and external pressure to walk the talk. Bold statements combined with public exposure and critique are important dimensions of what we might call the performativity “cocktail”. Green advertising claims and public statements about CO2 neutrality can be used to apply pressure on corporations and remind them of their promises. If major corporations, out of fear of attracting negative stakeholder attention, decide to remain silent on the sustainability issue, critics and regulators have less material to work with. In other words, a willingness on the part of corporations to expose themselves to critique is key.
Communicative performativity in the sustainability arena is a macro phenomenon.
Obviously, an organization does not become sustainable by simply “talking green”. In fact, it is a mistake to think of performativity – especially in complex areas such as sustainability – as a result of discrete and isolated organizational messages or claims. It doesn’t work that way. Even with the best intentions, green talk takes considerable time and effort to materialize into more sustainable practices. Moreover, it is rarely an organizational effect. Performativity is an outcome of multiple claims that are repeated and reformulated again and again over time and across multiple organizations, public as well as private. The sedimented effect of such dynamic interaction that lead to what Butler (2010) calls “socially binding consequences” (p. 147).
The performativity of sustainability claims should be understood as sedimented effects of multiple claims and understandings.
The communicative performativity of sustainability claims involve reactions of stakeholders, competitors, legislators and consumers who are variously affected, inspired or provoked by the claims to expect and demand better practices. Still, there is no guarantee that the claims will stimulate significant changes. That, of course, is true for all types of messages. Messages and claims can be ignored, forgotten or outright contradicted by subsequent claims or other types of action. Without the claims, however, society and the physical environment is likely to be worse off. The trick is to use them actively to remind the senders of their social and environmental responsibilities.
Lessons learned from the responsible behaviors of individuals during the Covid-19 crisis
By Fumiko Kano Glückstad
The Covid 19-crisis has had – and still has – a very serious impact on a global scale. The New Normal guideline published by WHO  suggests that the responsible behaviors of individuals during the Covid-19 crisis have a critical impact on how a country is able to control the spread of infection. However, the reactions of individuals to aspects of the New Normal such as “social distancing” and “wearing a mask” have been considerably diverse depending on who they are and which society they belong to .
Who they are?
To overcome a challenge like the Covid-19 crisis, but also e.g. the long-term crisis on climate change, socially responsible behaviors from individuals are required. Roughly speaking, such behavioral changes may be motivated by four types of personal value priorities : i) anxiety-free values, ii) anxiety-based values; iii) personal-focused values; and iv) social-focused values (See the Figure).
Socializers and social control agents discourage values that clash with the smooth functioning of significant groups or the larger society. Values that clash with human nature are unlikely to be important. The basic social function of values is to motivate and control the behavior of group members (Parsons, 1951). Two mechanisms are critical. First, values serve as internalized guides for individuals; they relieve the group of the necessity for constant social control. Second, people invoke values to define particular behaviors as socially appropriate, to justify their demands on others, and to elicit desired behaviors. Socializers seek, consciously or not, to instill values that promote group survival and prosperity.
Schwartz, 2012, page 12
This statement is highly relevant to the two aforementioned challenges: Covid-19 and climate change.
Let us for instance think about the economic situation that the Covid 19 crisis has brought upon the tourism and experience economy (EE) sector. In order to thrive and secure the jobs of the employees involved in the sector, the EE sector needs to maintain a certain number of tourists visiting its destinations. On the other hand, society needs to prevent further spreading of Covid-19. Hence, the responsible behaviors of individuals expressed in association with their travel activities play a crucial role in maintaining the EE businesses.
However, individuals’ attitudes to traveling and to the Covid-19 crisis substantially differ, and manifest in different behaviors. For example, some individuals may prefer to enjoy traveling because they prioritize “personal-focused” values, seeking to fulfill their hedonistic needs, their needs of self-expression and to obtain a sense of achievement. Such internalized personal values may trigger a negative reaction to the constant social control enforced by Covid-19. On the other hand, a person inclined to “social-focused” values may instead tend to choose socially appropriate behaviors required to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Which society they belong to?
While the value priorities of individuals within and across societies may differ, cultures also influence the formation of selves. Markus & Kitayama’s  phenomenal theory, ‘Culture and Self’, defines the independent and the interdependent self-schemas that demonstrate “how sociocultural contexts can shape self-functioning and psychological functioning (Markus & Kitayama, 2010, page 425)”.
Kitayama (2001; 2010) explain that:
When an independent schema of self organizes behavior, the primary referent is the individual’s own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Alternatively, when an interdependent schema of self organizes behavior, the immediate referent is the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others with whom the person is in a relationship.
Markus and Kitayama, 2010, page 423
Accordingly, feelings of happiness also differ depending on whether a person is rooted in a culture emphasizing the independent or interdependent self-schemas .
Specifically, in North America happiness may most typically be construed as a state contingent on both personal achievement and positivity of the personal self. Negative features of the self and negative feelings are thus perceived to be a hindrance against positivity and happiness. In contrast, in East Asia happiness is likely to be construed as a state that is contingent on social harmony and, thus, on a balance among different selves in a relationship.
Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama 2004, page 227
Following the arguments of the aforementioned East Asian cross-cultural psychologists, the formation of value priorities might have been influenced by such culture-rooted self-schemas. Thus, the value priorities and culture-dependent self-schemas of individuals become important factors when scholars do research on sustainable and responsible consumer behaviors. In other words, if the mechanism of feeling happiness is fundamentally different between the independent and the interdependent cultures or between the social- or the personal-focused individuals, the motivations for behaving in a socially responsible way may substantially differ.
Socially responsible reaction to the New Normal
existing individual and cultural differences may cause us to think about the definition
of “socially responsible behaviors” in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.
Wikipedia, “social responsibility” is defined in the following way:
Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an individual has an obligation to work and cooperate with other individuals and organizations for the benefit of society at large. Social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems. A trade-off may exist between economic development, in the material sense, and the welfare of the society and environment…
viewpoint, the Covid-19 crisis could be an excellent opportunity for
individuals to exercise “socially responsible behaviors” for the benefit of
society, i.e. in order to return to a Covid-19 free society. However, it generally
seems that the young generation of Scandinavians who have been world-leading in
sustainable behavior changes have been less engaged in the socially responsible
behaviors encouraged during the Covid-19 crisis. What we have learned from the
Covid-19 crisis is that the cultures emphasizing the interdependent self-schema
have had a smoother path to the New Normal behaviors.
An Australian writer, Paul De Vries posted his interesting observation of the Japanese people’s reactions to Covid-19 in Japan Times :
A stumbling block of the “assumption of carrier” countermeasure is that it requires people to endure discomfort for the sake of the collective good, despite the likelihood of being COVID-19 free. Persuading a critical mass of the population to accept such an imposition is a challenging task, especially when new case numbers are in decline.
Three of the motivating factors that induce Japanese nationals to adhere are courtesy, obligation and shame. Courtesy is the willingness to act out of genuine concern for others. Obligation involves placing the needs of the group before those of oneself. Shame is fear of what others might think if one does not comply to group or societal norms.
There is no shortage of courtesy among the silent majority of the West, as unlikely as that can sometimes seem. A sense of obligation also exists, but typically toward groups less large than society as a whole. Shame, on the other hand, is not a dominant Western trait.
Cultural sensitivity and diversities in the measuring of sustainable development
The diverse reactions to the Covid-19 crisis observed in the past months are good examples demonstrating a need “to prepare a new cultural map of developmental goals, and to create and adapt development indexes that are more culturally sensitive”.
However, the mapping of cultural differences is not enough to capture heterogeneities of the respective societies. Here, the individuals’ value priorities play in. The theory of basic human values by Schwartz  implies that individuals prioritizing the “self-transcendence” value, for example, might be more prone to engage in the socially appropriate behaviors specifically required to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In order to effectively implement a policy for the various sustainable development goals, a new cultural map integrating the heterogeneities of societies will become necessary. In this way, a policy maker could distinguish messages suitable for the respective target segments and optimize their effects on the citizens’ responsible behaviors.
The recent development of machine learning technologies has made it possible to classify populations into such personal value typologies, to describe who they are, and to predict how they will respond to various situations . In our project, UMAMI (Understanding Mindsets Across Markets, Internationally) , we developed a workflow and methodologies to investigate such heterogeneities of societies based on personal value priorities. It would be interesting to explore how these can be exploited in various application domains addressing the sustainable development goals in the coming years.
Fumiko Kano Glückstad is Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Cognition at Copenhagen Business School. She works in the area of cross-cultural psychology. She has developed a workflow and methodologies enabling data-driven segmentation and typological analysis of consumers based on their personal value priorities in close collaboration with the Section of Cognitive Systems, DTU Compute at the Technical University of Denmark during the UMAMI project (2017-2020) funded by Innovation Fund Denmark. She previously worked as a consumer researcher and product concept designer of kitchen appliances at Panasonic Corporation, Japan and as a Japanese market specialist at Phase One A/S, Denmark.
Neoliberalism has a core and often repeated set of tenets or memes – the core building blocks of narratives and of culture (ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols). These well-rehearsed memes include that markets and trade are ‘free’, economic actors are self-interested profit maximizers, free markets will resolve societal problems, responsibility is individual, less government is invariably good, and continual economic growth through globalism is feasible and desirable.
Fundamentally, Friedman stated that the sole purpose of the firm is to maximize profits or shareholder wealth, despite that shareholders are, as Charles Handy long ago pointed out, hardly actual owners of the firm in any real sense.
This narrative completely overlooks both societal and ecological impacts of economic activity because nature is completely ignored, even assumed away.
That means finding new memes as powerful and compelling as the neoliberal ones they need to replace.
Such thinking, while fundamentally based in economics, also needs to encompass core societal and ecological considerations to reframe how business is done and how economic activity in general is undertaken.
The paper synthesizes six new memes that frame an economics in support of all of life. It draws from a wide swath of economics and other literature (including now ‘heterodox economics’) and supports new approaches like Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics – with a few core memes. The six memes are briefly described below.
Six Core Memes for Economic Orthodoxy in Support of All of Life
The first new meme is stewardship of the whole, which means that all economic actors have a shared responsibility for the whole system (or nested set of subsystems) that their activities impact. This meme explicitly recognizes both the broader social – societal – system in which economic activity is embedded – and the natural environment in which societies are intimately, inextricably, and interdependently nested. The good of whole systems needs to be kept constantly in mind, whether that is the good of a whole company, a community, a nation, or the planet itself.
Another is Co-creating Collective Value. Here I draw from the pioneering work of Donaldson and Walsh, who stated the purpose of business as creating collective value absent dignity violations. The idea of co-creation invites collective participation in the production of value for the whole system – not just for one stakeholder but for the many that are affected by businesses and other economic actors. Multiple values and multiple stakeholders will inevitably mean new metrics by which to assess economic productivity and activity. Co-creating collective value brings back the original meaning of wealth, which has been corrupted to meaning only financial wealth, but which originally meant health, wellbeing, and prosperity.
A third relates to cosmopolitan-localist governance. The idea here is that though we live in a globalized world (and some things will remain globalized), many decisions – economic and other – need to be placed at the most local level feasible. That ensures access, voice, and participation by many more actors, and encourages sharing of ideas, knowledge, and other resources in contextually appropriate ways.
A fourth is that of regeneration, reciprocity, and circularity, which acknowledges the interconnectedness and interdependence of humans and nature, and that todays so-called take-make-waste production processes are no longer either truly efficient from a whole systems perspective. Regeneration means that production processes need to allow time for the Earth to regenerate resources that will be needed long into the future. Reciprocity means that trade and exchanges need to be mutually beneficial among other humans and with respect to nature. Circularity embodies the idea that ‘waste equals food’ as frequently expressed by the concept of circular economy.
The precept of relationship and connectedness places human economic and social activity into the full complexity and ‘wickedness’ of its connected and relational socio-ecological context. It recognizes that people are social creatures by nature, who only exist in the context of community. It acknowledges, as the African saying Ubuntu goes, ‘I am because we are’.
Finally, equitable markets and trade recognizes that markets exist and are important to meeting real (not manufactured) human needs, and that they need to be fair to all participants throughout the supply chain. That means that products and services need to be fully-costed and priced accordingly – and that all so called ‘externalities’ or negative by-products of production need to be incorporated into prices.
Though far more detail is provided in the actual paper, this brief outline synthesizes some of the core aspects of a framing for economics that has the potential to support all of life, rather than as is the case with neoliberalism, ignoring life and our Earth itself as a living system. It is past time for such a shift in thinking – and core memes – to take place. These ideas are offered as a tentative framework for beginning to reshape economic thinking in the direction of what works for all of life – wealth in its original meaning!
Sandra Waddock is the Galligan Chair of Strategy, Carroll School Scholar of Corporate Responsibility, and Professor of Management at the Carroll School of Management, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA USA. Her research interests include large system change; management education; cross sector collaboration; corporate responsibility; and social and organizational change.
Worldwide there is now a search for new ideas, business models, and innovations that can help us in rebounding from the global impact of COVID-19 and bring our planet and world onto a more sustainable future trajectory. One of the areas where this is evident is sustainability in global value chains where we have seen a global disruption of world trade in ways that have affected not only global brands but also suppliers and workers around the world. Some observers argue that this will result in a global backlash against attempts at making global value chains, for instance, the global garments and textile value chains, more sustainable. I.e. that COVID-19 will make brands and suppliers sacrifice long-term sustainability considerations at the expense of short-term business survival.
In my understanding,however, what these recent events demonstrate is not so much the need for new innovations and “thinking out of the box” but rather considering how the current organization of global value chains and thinking around sustainability have overlooked the importance of “supplier perspectives” on what social responsibility actually means in these chains. Amongst many practitioners, especially in the Nordic countries, there has been a tendency to assume that global brands’ adopting corporate codes of conduct and sustainability standards, asking value chain partners (i.e. suppliers) to implement these, and then auditing for compliance as well as helping suppliers to build capacity to enforce these guidelines would be sufficient.
The case of Bangladesh illustrates why this approach is insufficient. First, many brands have cancelled their orders with Bangladeshi garment suppliers, leaving local factories at the verge of bankruptcy, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of workers at risk, potentially without any income to support themselves and their families. Second, even with orders that have been completed, some brands have refused to honor their contracts and either not paid for the goods received, substantially delayed payments, or asked for discounts on present or future orders from suppliers.
Globally, there has been condemnation of these “unfair” trading practices by both suppliers themselves (particularly in Bangladesh but also highlighted via social media) and also international labor advocacy organizations.
And third, the level of outrage is so strong that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has allegedly been considering placing a ban on particular brands so that they may not source garments from Bangladesh in the future as they have largely failed to live up to their “buyer” responsibilities towards suppliers and workers in Bangladesh.
To me, a key lesson learned from these events is that global brands, business associations, labor advocacy organizations, NGOs, researchers and students can no longer simply “overlook” supplier perspectives on social responsibility in global value chains.
The only realistic way forward is to take account of the concerns of these suppliers if global value chains are to be more resilient in the long run.
Many of these supplier concerns are already well-documented but tend to be either ignored or discarded by “global North stakeholders” in their policies, practices or discourses more broadly – for instance, in how they conceive and talk of sustainability in sustainability conferences around the world.
Just to recap some of the main points that we have learned from studies of supplier perspectives on social responsibility:
a) The factory manager dilemma – e.g., factory managers and owners – for instance, in the global garment industry – have had been asked for continuous price declines by many of their buyers while the same brands have asked for increased levels of social compliance at the same time.
b) The same dilemma arises when factory managers are asked to provide living wages around the year by their buyers when demand is seasonal and price competition is fierce in the global garment industry. For most suppliers having workers sitting around idle for part of the year is not a viable business option.
c) In addition, there is a general unwillingness amongst most (but not all brands) to co-finance – for instance, 50% – of the necessary social upgrading of factories in countries such as Bangladesh. Hence, brands tend to push “social responsibility” onto their suppliers rather than co-investing in and jointly bearing the costs of these improvements themselves.
d) Profits earned from selling goods sold to end consumers in the global North remain highly unequally shared amongst the (ironically called) value chain partners – often with suppliers winding up with 10-20 percent of the value of final retail price.
e) In addition to this, global North (read: Scandinavian) stakeholders including brands, government representatives, NGOs, students, and others often perceive “sustainability” in value chains as mainly relating to environmental and (to a lesser degree) social responsibility in the value chain. Hence, the general talk often seems to be about how suppliers should make environmental and social investments without considering the need for addressing existing inequalities – i.e. unequal distribution of value in these chains – and the business aspects of running supplier operations. In fact, for many suppliers in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, sustainability is first and foremost related to “economic” or “financial” sustainability. Only when suppliers are profit-making can they afford to invest in social and environmental improvements. This is not exactly rocket-science but a point that often seems to be completely overlooked by Scandinavian “sustainability” advocates.
f) Finally, what is sometimes considered “social responsibility in global value chains” in the global North might be narrowly defined as the payment of minimum wages, overtime payment, social insurance, and the implementation of occupational health and safety measures in supplier factories. Of course, I am all for supplier factories implementing these measures. However, I also sympathize with many suppliers, NGOs and other stakeholders in the global South that point to other aspects of social responsibility that may be more contextualized.
For instance, in South Asia, many studies have pointed to factory managers helping to finance the education/school fees of the children of some of their workers. Financing the weddings of young workers or the weddings of the sons/daughters of their workers is another sign of social responsibility amongst many factory owners in South Asia.
From a Scandinavian perspective, this may not be related to “social responsibility”.
However, in the sub-continent, where your wedding day is often considered the most important day in your life, and very important for your family’s wider social standing in society, employers’ financial support may be seen a very valid act of practicing “social responsibility”.
Providing tea to your workers may also be
considered an act of “social responsibility”. Again – from a Scandinavian
perspective – this may not be considered a big act of social responsibility.
However, then again, is it really that difficult to understand? How many of us
in Scandinavia do not value it when our own employers provide us with free tea
or coffee? It gives us the opportunity to socialize with our colleagues or take
a much needed break between different work tasks. Why should it be any different
in countries such as India and Pakistan where tea drinking could almost be
considered a national sport?
Moreover, some factory managers in South Asia allow especially young mothers or women with even slightly older children the option of either working part-time (when the kids are in school or someone else is at home to take care of them) or engaging in home-working so that they may look after their kids while engaging in for instance (embroidery) whenever there is a free moment. Of course, I do recognize that home-working is also often associated with receiving very low wages and not having any social insurance.
However, during COVID 19, even in the Scandinavian context, homeworking has become an absolutely essential part of keeping private companies and public institutions afloat crisis under such compelling circumstances. It has also involved many challenges for families with young children who had to engage in home-based work (typically computer-based) and taking care of their children simultaneously.
Yet if homeworking is indeed not only allowed but also encouraged by most employers in Scandinavia, why it is that brands in the global North sometimes impose an outright ban on their suppliers outsourcing particular work tasks to “home-based locations”?
No wonder that many factory owners and managers in the global South believe that global brands practice double standards when it comes to their social responsibility requirements (i.e. ‘do as I say but not as I do’).
In conclusion, there seems to a great need in Scandinavia for raising our own levels of awareness about the commercial challenges faced by suppliers and acknowledge the myriad ways in which “social responsibility” may be thought of and practiced – of course, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Compliance with core labor standards remains a key concern, but it is not the only way of conceiving of supplier responsibility in global value chains.
About the author
Peter Lund-Thomsen is Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on sustainable value chains, industrial clusters, and corporate social responsibility with a regional focus on South Asia.
More about Covid-19 pandemic on Business of Society blog:
Covid-19 has dominated policy thinking across the world for several months – highlighting our vulnerability to unexpected threats, the fundamental reality of global interdependence, the critical role of science and data, and the value of collaborative efforts in response to a common challenge. And when the short-term public health crisis abates, the middle-term focus will be on economic recovery. But we should think now about the longer term – and the need to build a sustainable society that steps up to another looming threat: the prospect of destabilizing climate change. Thus, as we rebuild our economy, we must do so in a way that moves us toward a clean and renewable energy future as well as addressing other pressing sustainability issues including air and water pollution, waste and chemicals management, and our depletion of natural resources.
To help launch the conversation about the pathways to a sustainable future, I offer below 10 key elements to consider. These concepts build on the ideas laid out in the recently released book,A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future, that emerged from a multi-year research and policy initiative at Yale University, where I teach. For more information on the Yale Environmental Dialogue, please see the website.
1 ) End of externalities
A sustainable future requires that we commit to an end of externalities as the foundational principle for environmental policy. This starting point would require that we implement the Polluter Pays Principle, which means that those who release air and water pollution or greenhouse gases would have to stop these harms or to pay for their pollution. Likewise, any user of public natural resources – including water for irrigation, forests for timber, grasslands for grazing, or public lands for the extraction of oil, natural gas, or minerals – would be required to pay full price for the resources they take.
To be clear, making companies pay for the harms they cause will expose some business models as fundamentally unsustainable and only profitable when externalities are not internalized. These enterprises will have to remake their business strategies or go under.
2 ) Change in systems thinking
We must acknowledge that we live in a highly integrated world, as COVID-19 has so painfully made clear. Complex human and ecological systems require moving beyond traditional siloes to systems thinking — and regulatory design that links energy, environmental, and economic policies. More fundamentally, we must accept the fact that we will need to pursue multiple goals simultaneously and learn to do so in an integrated way that accepts the reality that our goals will sometimes be in tension — and thus need to be traded off and balanced.
3 ) Top-down targets & bottom-up implementation
We must recognize that policy frameworks and structures require both top-down targets and bottom-up implementation. This lesson has become plainly evident in the climate change context, where it is now clear that presidents and prime ministers do not control all the levers of society that must be pulled to deeply decarbonize our economy.
To achieve a sustainable future, mayors, governors/premiers, and other subnational political leaders – who often control economic development, transportation systems, and other key points of policy leverage — must play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a more resilient society.
New policy tools must replace the 20th Century command-and-control regulatory model with economic incentives and other market mechanisms. While the government mandates of the past have allowed us to dramatically reduce pollution levels compared to five decades ago, further progress depends on price signals and a commitment to making emitters pay for the harm they cause.
5 ) New roles & various actors
Environmental progress must recognize new roles for various critical actors. Specifically, in decades past, the business world was seen as the source of pollution problems. But today, most corporate leaders recognize the need to be good environmental stewards so as to maintain their company’s social license to operate. They recognize that old notions about the mission of corporations being centered on shareholder primary and the maximization of profits has given way to a stakeholder model in which businesses have responsibilities not only to shareholders, but also to their customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities in which they operate.
Individuals are also advancing sustainability in new and important ways that go well beyond their long-recognized role as voters. Specifically, individuals today can make a difference as green consumers who make choices every day about which products to buy and which companies are selling sustainable goods and services. Likewise, a growing set of sustainability-minded investors are tracking environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance metrics to ensure that their portfolios align with their values – and they hold shares in companies that are showing the way toward deep decarbonization and sustainability more generally.
And some impact investors are putting money directly into sustainability projects and enterprises with an expectation that their funds will make a difference in society as well as a financial return.
Finally, all of us with a smartphone can serve as watchdogs — capturing and sharing evidence of environmental wrongdoing on social media. We are also all positioned to offer comments and participate in public environmental debates in many places and ways that were not possible prior to the Internet era. This expanded access should deepen public participation and improve the diversity of perspectives that get factored into policy decisions.
6 ) Sustainable markets
We need sustainable markets that incorporate new lessons from various emerging fields of science and other emerging academic disciplines. Industrial ecology, for instance, offers new methodologies for mapping the flows of energy and materials across the economy. In this regard, as we rebuild business in the many sectors devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, we should look sector-by-sector for opportunities to create closed loop production processes that generate zero waste. Such a system would focus on water recapture and the reuse and recycling of other materials.
We might, in this spirit, shift away from plastic packaging that generates greenhouse gas emissions as it is produced and too often accumulates after use in the ocean – and move toward fiber-based materials that can be more easily recycled or composted.
7 ) New tools & Big Data
Policymakers have a set of new tools at their disposal that can be deployed in support of a sustainable future. Big Data, in particular, has abundant applications that can help us to reduce environmental impacts – tracking emissions, identifying best practices in pollution control and natural resource management, and providing metrics that help us to identify policy leaders to emulate and laggards who should be spurred to do better. And while 21st information and communications technologies have transformed how sports teams pick players, businesses market to their customers, and all of us make purchases, technological solutions have done rather little to reshape the environmental realm. But recent advances in data analytics, genomics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning all show significant promise for having important environmental applications.
8 ) Ethical foundation
We must build an ethical foundation for 21st Century sustainability that captures the public’s evolving thinking about core values and fundamental principles. Most notably, the idea of environmental justice and concerns about equity and inequality make it clear that our policy programs must pay attention to who benefits from environmental commitments and who gets ignored.
Indeed, who pays for environmental inaction – including lead exposure from aging water pipes or asthma risk when urban air pollution is not abated – has become a fundamental question.
As we seek to “build back better” after COVID-19, climate change equity issues need to be given a more prominent role – both the intergenerational burden that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threatens to leave for today’s young people and the reality that movement toward a clean energy future will dislocate some communities, industries, and demographic groups in ways that will require transition assistance.
9 ) New ways of communication
We need a new approach to environmental communications and a commitment to translate expert guidance and science to the public in a manner that makes sense to everyday citizens. Tony Leiserowitz and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication have demonstrated, for example, that political leaders must learn to distill and effectively translate scientific concepts and results to the public. And as Thomas Easley makes clear in his Better Planet essay “Hip Hop Sustainability,” we need new strategies that bring the climate change conversation to inner cities and other subsets of society in a way that engages those communities in their own language and on their own terms.
10 ) Innovation
Finally, a spirit of innovation must permeate the push toward a sustainable future. To create an environmental policy framework that is lighter, faster, and more effective than our regulatory programs of the past, we must harness the entrepreneurial capacity and creativity that exists all across the world. Innovation broadly-conceived has already brought us technology breakthroughs in wind, solar, tidal, wave, and fuel cell power. But we must seek innovation beyond the technology domain. We need to be equally committed to fresh thinking and new approaches to finance and investments in clean energy, government policies and incentives, public engagement strategies, and public-private partnerships.
Such innovation can reduce the cost of creating a sustainable future and diminish the perceived tradeoff between environmental progress and economic prosperity.
Despite recent challenges, the promise of a more sustainable society seems ever closer, but still just over the horizon. Progress thus depends on sustainability pioneers who are willing to run out front, innovate broadly, take on risks, accept failures (and redeploy resources quick when unsuccessful pathways are identified), and redouble their commitment to efforts that show promise.
This commentary builds on Dan Esty’s April 2020 virtual lecture at Copenhagen Business School and the University of Copenhagen.
About the author
Dan Esty is Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale Law School
More about Covid-19 pandemic on Business of Society blog:
One thing seems to be clear by now – that we are all challenged by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes all enterprises, large as well as small firms. As states and individuals, also SMEs (Small and Medium-size Enterprises) need to figure out how to respond. SMEs constitute the vast majority of enterprises on the Globe, and their response to the current situation, including how they behave in terms of social responsibilities matter a lot. If jobs disappear, or wages are lowered and/or working conditions deteriorate, a large number of persons (employees) and families will be negatively affected. If environmental standards are lowered the nature and humans will be negatively affected.
The perception of what constitutes social responsibilities varies substantially across countries. As SMEs in different parts of the world face very different situations (see Spence et al. 2018), also in times of Covid-19, the responses will be very different. We already witness intense debates on what is the ‘appropriate way’ of reacting. Most SMEs have a less formalized way of operating compared to larger firms. While this is viewed as leading to being less socially responsible compared to large firms this type of organizing – not being so standardized – maybe be is an advantage in an unknown situation like the one that we are witnessing right now. Agility, creativity and ability to make a decision fast could be an advantage right now like the Danish small firms that have adjusted their production to include critical health products show.
However, the examples are probably the exceptions rather than the rule as only a smaller section of the SMEs typically can be characterized like this. The majority of the SMEs are operating in more traditional, standardized ways and have a more limited range of responses as things stand right now.
In our part of the world, governments have implemented numerous support schemes trying to assist the private sector, including SMEs, in various ways. The Danish SME has various public-funded support packages and a highly formalized labour market cushioned by a number of social benefit programs to factor into the considerations. Hence, we can insist that an important part of managing continues to be keeping an eye on working conditions and the environmental impact. In other parts of the world like the developing countries, governments have so far done less and given the much more informal nature of the economies, SMEs are much harder effected.
The Ugandan SME is faced with no economic assistance and a complete lockdown of the society leading to a dramatically reduced – if not totally halted – operation and turnover. In addition, no social benefits exist to assist employees who are losing their job. So, the overarching topic concerns the socio-economic dimensions of how many SMEs that survive while retaining a good number of the staff – or on the more pessimistic side – how many that go down leaving scores of people unemployed and without an income affecting individuals as well as tons of families.
What can we then expect in terms of social responsibilities in such a situation? Given that some developing country SMEs are characterized as having ‘family-like culture’, we would expect such enterprises to retain the employees (Tran and Jeppesen, 2016). Even though the SMEs retain the employees, owners and managers personally have to handle the insecurity that accompanies the situation as well as relating to the concerns among the employees.
The family-like type of organization could ensure that employees are kept and not fired. Still, we know that a number of SMEs pay little if any wages in times of limited production. Hence, having a job with no income does not make a difference right now.
Small enterprises in developing countries are also praised for their community engagement in taking up activities ensuring women (Langevang et al, 2015) or young people income. The localized response may assist in various ways of helping citizens in dire need. Religion and which church that you are a member of play a role. Some churches, as well as the wealthier members (and among these SME owners and managers), come forward to assist their congregation and the less well-off families in times of need.
We need to wait for the answer to whether and to what extent Covid-19 will be marked by resilience and a protective and more caring (social) response by SMEs – or rather by the tough reality of downsizing and/or closing down with numerous dire consequences.
Søren Jeppesen is Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research concerns the development of firms in developing countries. He focuses on SMEs, CSR and driving forces (or lack of same) for strategies of SMEs in developing countries in engaging in CSR (or not engaging).
More about coronavirus pandemic on Business of Society blog:
Language is a reef of dead metaphors (Guy Deutscher)
We are in the midst of an unfolding crisis that humanity is struggling to understand. To make sense of the unknown, humans tend to rely on metaphors, analogies, or other rhetorical figures. What do metaphors do? They allow for giving meaning to a (rather unknown) target domain by projecting and transferring insights from a (presumably better known) source domain.
For instance, in the public discourse about the current Coronavirus pandemic, the sensemaking process includes analogies within the same domain (e.g., Trump stating at the beginning of the pandemic: “It’s just like a regular flu”; Bolsonaro maintaining for a long time that it’s just a “little flu”) – or metaphors that tap into the source domain of natural disasters (e.g., the “tsunami” metaphor used by various medical professionals) or of human warfare (e.g., Trump’s more recent framing of coronavirus to be an “invisible enemy”; Macron’s insistence that “we’re at war”).
World leaders, journalists, social media influencers, epidemiologists and other contributors to the public debate can be presumed to mobilize such metaphors not only to foster sensemaking but ultimately also to steer citizens’ behavior.
For all that we know, metaphors tend to “have profound influences on how we conceptualize and act with respect to important societal issues”.
Accordingly, it is worthwhile studying how and to what extent the use of different metaphors can inspire, influence and “organize” individual and collective behavior.
As the work by Joep Cornelissen reminds us, the fruitfulness of a metaphor depends on (1) its aptness (i.e. whether a metaphor ‘fits’ and it’s meaningful) as well as (2) its heuristic value (i.e. the extent to which a metaphor offers new insights into an unfamiliar domain; see Cornelissen, 2004).
However, aptness and heuristic value tend to be in a trade-off relation: While close proximity between source and target domain can help strengthen the aptness of a metaphor, it tends to diminish the metaphor’s heuristic value, at the same time. The latter problem also occurs when the metaphorical connection between two domain becomes so well-established (e.g., the link between epidemics and warfare) that the metaphor loses its ability to lend new meaning to the target domain (i.e. a term’s metaphorical quality “dies” so-to-speak; e.g., the term World Wide Web, where hardly anybody today would think of spider webs). In contrast, metaphors can be kept vivid and alive via the power of dissimilarity: the greater the contextual distance between two domains, the better the chance of a metaphor to be insightful.
This may be one of the reasons why novel and unusual combinations of metaphors, such as Tomas Pueyo’s notion of “The Hammer and the Dance” (while being aptly chosen in that case, as well) may have better prospects to lend new meaning to the pandemic and thus inspire new and desirable modes of behavior.
Taken together, the current crisis situation is also a crisis of collective imagination and sensemaking. Hence, in these turbulent and worrisome times it is more important than ever that contributors to the public debate think twice before mobilizing metaphorical imaginations – and to consider not only their aptness, heuristic value, or “retweetability” but also their potential (and sometimes unintended) consequences for individual, collective, and organizational behavior. Ultimately, it is not only the “brute fact” (Searle) of the pandemic that can severely harm us – but also the meanings that are ascribed to it (e.g., via metaphors) and that can materialize in very concrete actions.
For instance, individuals and collectives are likely to act less careful if they believe the Coronavirus to be “just like a flu” – and more careful if they grasp the virus to have chameleon-like features that make it hard to detect (e.g. recent evidence that the virus can also surface in damages to the heart and brain).
Governments play an important role in shaping the roles and responsibilities of business in society.
Promoting responsibility directly and indirectly
Whilst I have previously blogged about how business sometimes leads government in helping promote the public good, this in no way means that governments are not actively seeking to shape and promote responsible business conduct. Governments do this in a variety of ways, and frequently. As such, this post provides an overview of some of the notable policies put into place in just the last few months by governments world over, as well as some reflections about what this means for business responsibility.
Can companies be held liable for climate change?
According to a newly-filed suit, proponents hope that the answer will be “yes”. Following a 3-year investigation of Exxon Mobile, New York’s attorney general is suing the company not for its role in creating climate change (legal theories on these grounds have yet to gain much support) but for defrauding its shareholders by not following through on its promises to factor climate change risks – primarily regulatory and financial – into its business decisions.
Takeaway: Shareholders continue to represent a powerful avenue for legal action, and if successful, this case could break new ground on linking environmental and fiduciary responsibilities.
Single-use plastics banned in Europe
The European Parliament voted for a sweeping ban on single-use plastics – such as straws, cotton swabs, plates and cutlery – due to come into force in 2021. Affected products have “valid alternatives” available and are estimated to represent more than 70% of the plastics polluting our oceans.
Takeaway: If business doesn’t move quickly enough to re-conceptualize products more sustainably, governments will increasingly exercise their power to exclude such products from the marketplace altogether.
Takeaway: By re-structuring the rules of the marketplace, governments can both address sustainability problems (e.g. deforestation) as well as promote more sustainable industry alternatives.
What do businesses think of the ever-changing regulatory environment? While business is typically painted as anti-regulation, this is hardly a universal truth. Companies – particularly the more responsible ones – often want legislation. For example, Apple’s chief executive Time Cook recently spoke to the European Parliament where he warned against the weaponization of personal data, praised Europe’s new GDPR regulations, and called for similar (tougher) regulation in the U.S. as well. (Though it’s worth noting that companies may embrace or eschew responsibilities and legislation on a case-by-case basis; for example, Apple has just been hit with a 10 million Euro fine for its strategy of “planned obsolescence” of its phones).
Governments have and will continue to play an important role in shaping the roles, responsibilities and expectations of business in society.
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 as @erinleit.
Managers’ public claims to improve CSR can have self-persuasive effects on corporations and their members. However, sometimes such “aspirational talk” can have the opposite effect. We explain why this may happen and how to avoid it.
“Green washing” or “smoke and mirrors” are labels that are often attached to the promises of managers who publicly claim to improve CSR. CBS researchers have challenged this sceptical view and argue that “aspirational talk” by managers, by raising public expectations and scrutiny, can make corporations and their members live up to these aspirations.
Sometimes, however, we argue that even the best-intended aspirations can have opposite, even detrimental effects. In the following we provide some reflections on the conditions, under which high CSR aspirations may “go low” and we suggest some ideas how to prevent such outcome.
From persuasive to provisional aspirations Aspirations are helpful to direct and motivate employees. However, the last thing managers need on a mission towards substantial corporate responsibilisation are “blind believers”. Employees, who simply rely on a visionary manager and do not voice, where current business conduct impedes aspired CSR, will contribute little to change. Hence, we propose that managers should avoid getting too persuasive and creating “corporate cultism” around aspired CSR. Rather, managers should signal that visions are provisional and that employees, who critique contradictions between vision and reality, are the true driver of change.
From insistent to revisable aspirations We suggest that managers should not stick too closely to their initial CSR aspirations. As innovation research tells us, insistence on initial ideas is never a good advisor to affect change. In contrary, managerial insistence on initial CSR aspirations may prevent that different ideas about future CSR by employees develop. Hence, managerial willingness to revise their aspirations in accordance to what employees consider responsible practice is crucial. After all, it is the employees who enact CSR in their daily work.
From broad to locally grounded aspirations Aspirations, by nature, have a bias when it comes to envisioned scope and gravity. Dreams are larger than life. On a managerial mission towards better CSR, hence, the goal cannot, and maybe should not be to live up to managerial ideas. Rather, we suggest that corporate responsibilisation is about local grounding and depth of CSR in situated understandings and practices. In other words, CSR is less a question of reaching an aspired scope, but about winning depth and grounding in corporate practices.
Our ideas should by no means discourage managers to think big and speak out about CSR. However, we suggest that voicing CSR aspirations is only the first step. In a second step, managers might need to modify or sacrifice these aspirations for locally committed CSR practices.
Peter Winkler is a FH professor at the FHWien der WKW – University of Applied Sciences in Management and Communication, Vienna, and guest professor in organizational communication at the University of Salzburg, Austria. He is interested in sociological approaches to organizational and management communication research. In 2015/16, he was a research fellow at the Governing Responsible Business Research Environment at CBS.
Michael Etter, Ph.D., is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cass Business School, City University of London. He is interested in CSR, new ICTs, and social approval of firms. He tweets about media, technology, and business & society issues @MichaelEtter_.
While the world seems to have moved on from the last financial crisis, one can only wonder if banks and financial institutions have learnt something from it that could steer them away from repeating the experience. From the educational side, we also have to consider whether business schools are able to instill in their graduates the values and norms to navigate financial institutions into clearer waters.
100 Years CBS – Time to Rethink Finance During a CBS conference in the late months of 2017, academics and practitioners within the finance and banking industries alike had come together to think and “rethink the financial sector”. The purpose of the event was to bring to light the issues and opportunities of responsibility and sustainability within the financial sector, and create an agenda for future research and teaching in business schools, like CBS.
Over the course of the event, the ambition was to develop a dialogue with stakeholders from the banking and finance industry and to challenge the current attitude towards banking and its future with “responsibility” being the word of the day. The hope was that this dialogue would ignite new ideas and develop an agenda for future research and teaching in business schools towards 2117.
During the three tracks focusing on society, business models and the individual, with responsible banking being the overarching theme, participants heard speakers address issues spanning from the role Fintech and disruptive technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies play in industry innovation to different religious perspectives on banking and finance.
To Rethink Finance, we need to Rethink Education When it comes to financial education, the focus was set on bringing it in sync with the new developments and real life challenges, while at the same time stressing the need for a business model based on valuation and normative principles. In crisis situations, the clear-cut modelling learnt in school no longer represents the norm. Education plays a major role in securing that the new generations of graduates have the capabilities needed to identify and understand people and their needs, rethink and modernize local banking and be attuned to the technological developments that can pave the way to a more responsible banking sector – centered on people instead of money.