The DTI is keen to ‘integrate’ CSR into ‘the mainstream’ of corporate practice. This sounds like a good idea. But what happens when integration is achieved? Will the mainstream have absorbed CSR leaving no trace? Or will CSR have absorbed the mainstream? The real purpose of CSR is surely to challenge the mainstream from another point of view – so ‘integration’ is a very mixed blessing.
The Sudan 1 Affair is instructive. Not because the food companies have reacted sensibly and not because the danger from Sudan 1 is particularly great. But who saw it coming? And what is coming next? There are all those other substances which are banned in food – which we know we should not eat. And then there are all those man-made chemicals whose effects, espcially in combination, we do not know. Yet. The only thing which seems fairly sure, is that there will be continuing ‘surprises’ as the consequences of living in this soup emerge.
The Economist is against CSR: the business of business is business and the pursuit of ethics is at best a distraction; what is ethical is market-driven behaviour. But markets are riddled with externalities – externalities are things which you don’t pay for, but get anyway. Some are good, some are bad, but there are very few markets free of them. So is it ethical to promote a free market system which is riddled with externalities? Is it ethical to sell something which is broken? The Economist thinks so.
The appropriate level of corporation tax has always been something of a mystery. The law is clear that there is no duty to maximise tax paid. But of course there is no duty to minimise it either. Nevetherless, the apparent tax rates for many large companies can approach zero. Interesting then to see the Korean approach to over-zealous tax strategies: give those who report evasion a reward.
The tsunami of 2004 seems like an “Act of God” over which humans have no control or influence. Except that we do: just not on the causes, but on the effects. Where and how we build and live can affect what happens. And just as many large animals are reported to have left the scene shortly before disaster struck, perhaps, in our own way, we can be more sensitive to hazards. And we could probably get very good at being alert to those which defiinitely are of our own making…
Paul Hawken has challenged the Socially Responsible Investing industry over whether it is really responsible. He asks why the portfolio of SRI funds is almost identical to ordinary funds. It is true there ought to be a difference. BUt how do you define what that difference should be? Whose values should count here? Those of the investment manager, those of its clients – or those of Paul Hawken?
Is offshoring inevitable? McKinsey seems to think so. And who does it benefit? No doubt the cash position will be better in the short to medium term. But do workers benefit? It is hard to see that – as work moves from the UK to India, and then to China – and then abolished due to technological change. So does bowing to the commercially inevitable make for good CSR….?
At a seminar last week the new CSR minister, Nigel Griffiths, said he liked to think that CSR was written through corporate DNA like the writing in a stick of rock. When I asked, however he could not say whether the writing would also be written through the rock of government. So perhaps this is the writing on the wall for CSR…
Reporting a war means embedded reporters. What status should their views have? Not only are their reports limited in scope, they are also prohibited from reporting security information. We are trading understanding for the gritty excitement of shaking cameras. We also try to embed sustainability within companies. What is the trade off here? Can companies be sustainble all by themselves – or do they need to interact with their environment, and their stakeholders, to achieve a judicious view of their responsibilties?
Bush again. Why do I feel depressed? Perhaps because of the sense of powerlessness. After all there has been an election which will affect everyone in the world, but most of the world’s people haven’t been able to vote. And most of us will find Bush’s policies taxing, but we have no representation. And when was the last time you voted for someone at the UN?