Exposing the CSR Pretenders

Exposing the CSR Pretenders

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 4 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

“Industrialism created a limitless appetite for resource exploitation, and modem science provided the ethical and cognitive license to make such exploitation possible, acceptable, and desirable” – Vandana Shiva

Can Big Tobacco ever be responsible? British American Tobacco (BAT) have engaged in extensive stakeholder consultation exercises and, since 2001, their businesses in more than 40 markets have produced Social Reports, many of which have won awards from organisations as diverse as the United Nations Environment Programme, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants. BAT has also been ranked in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the FTSE Ethical Bonus Index and Business in the Community (BITC) Corporate Responsibility Index, and they funded Nottingham University’s International Centre for CSR.

Yet this is the industry where, in 1994, the CEOs of 7 of America’s largest tobacco companies[1] testified before the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment of Congress, all denying that cigarettes are addictive. They lied under oath. And this is the business that, according to the World Health Organization, kills more than AIDS, legal drugs, illegal drugs, road accidents, murder and suicide combined.’ Of everyone alive today, 500 million will eventually be killed by smoking, and while 0.1 billion people died from tobacco use in the 20th century, ten times as many will die in the 21st century. Isn’t responsible tobacco an oxymoron?

Of course, it’s not just Big Tobacco. What about Big Oil? This is the industry that set up and funded the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) to lobby against the emerging consensus of climate science and policy development until it was embarrassed into disbanding in 2002. A 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, entitled Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air, documented how ExxonMobil adopted the tobacco industry’s disinformation tactics, as well as some of the same organisations and personnel, to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue. According to the report, ExxonMobil funnelled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organisations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.

Or what about BP? In 2000, the company reportedly spent $7 million in researching the new ‘Beyond Petroleum’ Helios brand and $25 million on a campaign to support the brand change. Greenpeace concluded at the time that ‘this is a triumph of style over substance. BP spent more on their logo this year than they did on renewable energy last year’. Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil (2008), is similarly sceptical, claiming that at its peak, BP was spending 4% of its total capital and exploratory budget on renewable energy and that this has since declined. That’s even before we factor in the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005, or the catastrophic Gulf spill in 2010, or BP’s ongoing investments in the Alberta tar sands. Isn’t sustainable oil a contradiction?

While many of these examples – and I could cite countless more, from automotive, agricultural, chemicals and other industries – are a little more than the familiar toxic mix of old-fashioned dirty lobby tactics, many companies today in engage in far more subtle and seemingly plausible campaigns of misdirection – investing in environmental management systems, producing  …


[1] Philip Morris U.S.A., RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, U.S. Tobacco, American Tobacco Company,  Lorillard Tobacco Company, Liggett Group, Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company

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Visser, W. (2011) Exposing the CSR Pretenders, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 27 October 2011.

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Is Philanthropy a Smokescreen?

Is Philanthropy a Smokescreen?

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 3 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

“I believe it is my duty to make money and still more money and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man, according to the dictates of my conscience.” —John D. Rockefeller Sr.

The Rockefeller story is a good one to introduce the Age of Philanthropy, not only because of John D.’s iconic status as a tycoon and philanthropist, but also because his life and views on charity embody much of the philanthropic attitudes that still prevail today in business. At the heart of the Age – and its chief agent, Charitable CSR – is the notion of giving back to society. Rather interestingly, this presupposes that you have taken something away in the first place. Charitable CSR embodies the principle of sharing the fruits of success, irrespective of the path taken to achieve that success. It is the idea of post-wealth generosity, of making lots of money first and then dedicating oneself to the task of how best to distribute those riches, by way of leaving a legacy.

In 1970, the respected US economist Milton Friedman published an article in the New York Times Magazine (13 September) entitled ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Profits’. In it, he called the ‘doctrine of social responsibility’ a ‘fundamentally subversive doctrine in a free society’ and argued that ‘there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud’. As such, he came to define one end of the spectrum of opinion on CSR: the purist, stockholder (or shareholder) view, a view which was once again given an airing in the Wall Street Journals’ ‘The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility’ article on 23 August 2010. Despite his hard-line view, Friedman does allow some concessions, saying:

“It may well be in the long run interest of a corporation that is a major employer in a small community to devote resources to providing amenities to that community or to improving its government. That may make it easier to attract desirable employees, it may reduce the wage bill or lessen losses from pilferage and sabotage or have other worthwhile effects. Or it may be that, given the laws about the deductibility of corporate charitable contributions, the stockholders can contribute more to charities they favour by having the corporation make the gift than by doing it themselves, since they can in that way contribute an amount that would otherwise have been paid as corporate taxes.”

Although Friedman calls this ‘hypocritical window-dressing’ when done under ‘the cloak of social responsibility’, he concedes that these practices may be justified if they contribute to shareholders’ interests. Hence, he is setting out an early version of what today is more popularly called ‘strategic philanthropy’ – the practice of social responsibility only when it is aligned with corporate profitability. …

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Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) Is Philanthropy a Smokescreen? Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 20 October 2011.

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Is Greed Still Good?

Is Greed Still Good?

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 2 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

If CSR isn’t working, could it be because it pales into insignificance in the face of a much more pervasive force at work in business and society, namely greed? After all, “greed is good!” So declared the fictional character Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film, Wall Street. “Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.” I wonder if today, nearly 25 years and a 7 trillion dollar global financial meltdown later, we are finally ready to lay this powerful myth to rest?

We have lived through an Age of Greed and come out the other side bruised and battered, disillusioned and angry. But are we any wiser? Ever since the first financial derivatives were traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 1972 and the casino economy really got going, it seems like ‘greed is good’ and ‘bigger is better’ became the dual-mottos underpinning (at least one popular version of) the American Dream. The ‘invisible hand’ of the market went largely unquestioned, despite its self-pleasuring habit. Incentives – like Wall Street profits, traders’ bonuses and CEO pay – became perverse, leading not only to unbelievable wealth in the hands of a few, but ultimately to global financial catastrophe.

With the world still reeling from the ensuing global recession, and threatening to slip into the ‘double-dip’ doldrums, I find myself compelled to ask many difficult questions: Was this, as Lehman Brothers trader Larry McDonald suggests in his book of the same name, just ‘a colossal failure of common sense’? Was it the greed of ‘bad apples’ like Lehman’s CEO Dick Fuld, or the banks and their insatiable bonus-driven traders? Or was it the pervasive culture of greed in Wall Street as a whole? What about the greed of politicians and governments who were happy to benefit from growth-on-steroids? And what about Main Street? Wasn’t the public – we, the people – more than happy to greedily lap up those subprime loans?

All this begs the larger question: Is capitalism itself fundamentally flawed? Are we really talking about endemic greed, built into the free-market system – a system which not only allowed, but encouraged the fantasy of double-digit profit growth and an endless bull market? Will capitalism, with its short term, cost-externalization, shareholder-value focus always tend towards greed, at the expense of people and the planet? Will the scenario of ‘overshoot and collapse’ that was computer modelled in the 1972 ‘Limits to Growth’ report (and reaffirmed in revisions 20 and 30 years later) still come to pass? Has Karl Marx been vindicated in his critique (albeit not in his solution) that, by design, capitalism causes wealth and power to accumulate in fewer and fewer hands?

Perhaps the trillion-dollar question for me is not whether capitalism per se acts like a cancer gene of greed in society, but whether there are different types of capitalism, some of which are more benign than others. To date, the world has by and large been following the Western, Anglo-Saxon model of shareholder-driven capitalism, and perhaps this is the version that is morally bankrupt and systemically flawed …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

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Visser, W. (2011) Is Greed Still Good? Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 13 October 2011.

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The Death of CSR

The Death of CSR

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 1 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

My opening questions to you, dear readers, are: Has CSR failed? And if it has, should we kill it off before it misleads and distracts too many people from the changes we really need business to make? Or can we reinvent the concept and the practice of CSR?

First let me say what I understand by CSR. I take CSR to stand for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, rather than Corporate Social Responsibility, but feel free use whichever proxy label you are most comfortable with. My definition is as follows:

CSR is the way in which business consistently creates shared value in society through economic development, good governance, stakeholder responsiveness and environmental improvement.

Put another way:

CSR is an integrated, systemic approach by business that builds, rather than erodes or destroys, economic, social, human and natural capital.

Given this understanding, my usual starting point for any discussion on CSR is to argue that it has failed. In my book, The Age of Responsibility, I provide the data and arguments to back up this audacious claim. But the logic is simple and compelling. A doctor judges his/her success by whether the patient is getting better (healthier) or worse (sicker). Similarly, we should judge the success of CSR by whether our communities and ecosystems are getting better or worse. And while at the micro level – in terms of specific CSR projects and practices – we can show many improvements, at the macro level almost every indicator of our social, environmental and ethical health is in decline.

I am not alone in my assessment. Indeed, Paul Hawken stated in The Ecology of Commerce in 1993 that ‘If every company on the planet were to adopt the best environmental practice of the ‘‘leading’’ companies, the world would still be moving toward sure degradation and collapse.’ Unfortunately, this is still true nearly 20 years later. Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, agrees, saying: ‘I believe that the vast majority of companies fail to be ‘‘good’’ corporate citizens, Seventh Generation included. Most sustainability and corporate responsibility programs are about being less bad rather than good. They are about selective and compartmentalized ‘‘programs’’ rather than holistic and systemic change.’

In fact, there is no shortage of critics of CSR. For example, in 2004, Christian Aid issued a report called ‘Behind the Mask: The Real Face of CSR’, in which they argue that ‘CSR is a completely inadequate response to the sometimes devastating impact that multinational companies can have in an ever-more globalized world – and it is actually used to mask that impact.’ A more recent example was an article in the Wall Street Journal (23 August 2010) called ‘The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility’, which claims that ‘the idea that companies have a responsibility to act in the public interest and will profit from doing so is fundamentally flawed’ …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

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Visser, W. (2011) The Death of CSR, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 6 October 2011.

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Circularity

Circularity:

Towards Sustainable Consumption and Production

Blog by Wayne Visser

Towards the end of the 1980s, a concept called ‘industrial ecology’ emerged. It was popularized in 1989 in a Scientific American article by Robert Frosch and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos, in which they declared: ‘Why would not our industrial system behave like an ecosystem, where the wastes of a species may be resource to another species? Why would not the outputs of an industry be the inputs of another, thus reducing use of raw materials, pollution, and saving on waste treatment?’

Hence, the idea of industrial ecology is that businesses should not only look at the life cycle impacts as individual entities, but rather look for ways in which to link up with other businesses to minimise their impacts. For example, there is a Danish industrial park in the city of Kalundborg where a power plant, oil refinery, pharmaceutical plant, plasterboard factory, enzyme manufacturer, waste management company and the city itself all link together to share and utilise resources, by-products, energy and waste heat.

Another concept that was gaining popularity around the same time was ‘cleaner production’, which resulted in the UNEP Declaration on Cleaner Production in 1998. Later, this evolved into the concept of ‘sustainable consumption and production’, which was defined at the UN’s 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development as an approach ‘to promote social and economic development within the carrying capacity of ecosystems by addressing and, where appropriate, de-linking economic growth and environmental degradation through improving efficiency and sustainability in the use of resources and production processes and reducing resource degradation, pollution and waste.’

The University of Cambridge Business Primer on Sustainable Consumption and Production (2007) gives an example to underscore the importance of creating more sustainable industrial processes. On average, the report says, a gold wedding ring weighs 6,000 kilograms. The enormous discrepancy between the actual retail product and the remaining weight is explained by accounting for all the materials used and the waste created during the production life cycle of the ring. The gap between a gold ring’s actual, physical weight and its ‘resource weight’ highlights the scale of physical and financial impacts that are associated with the creation of apparently simple, everyday products.

The report concludes that ‘the increased cost that results from the difference between sustainable and unsustainable production is not good for anyone. It is not sustainable financially – such low resource efficiency is wasteful and inefficient. And it is not sustainable socially or environmentally – hazardous or damaging waste products are produced systematically, and resources are increasingly depleted.’

Recognising this challenge, the EU government has begun working with business to create ‘product roadmapping’ as a way of systematising what might otherwise be a more organic, haphazard approach to developing products and the policies that support them. ‘Integrated Product Policy’ (IPP) is how government describes conducting life cycle assessments with a view to potential policy interventions. The IPP of the EU, adopted in 2003, aims at reducing the environmental impact of products, instead of specific industries or processes …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) Circularity: Towards Sustainable Consumption & Production, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 21 September 2011.

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Glocality

Glocality:

Thinking Global and Acting Local in CSR

Blog by Wayne Visser

The term ‘glocal’ – a portmanteau of global and local – is said to come from the Japanese word dochakuka, which simply means global localization. Originally referring to a way of adapting farming techniques to local conditions, dochakuka evolved into a marketing strategy when Japanese businessmen adopted it in the 1980s.

It is said that the English word ‘glocal’ was first coined by Akio Morita, founder of Sony Corporation. In fact, in 2008, Sony Music Corporation even trademarked the phrase ‘go glocal’. Glocality was subsequently introduced and popularized in the West in the 1990s by sociologists Manfred Lange, Roland Robertson, Keith Hampton, Barry Wellman and Zygmunt Bauman.

The underlying concept of ‘think global, act local’ claims somewhat more varied origins. In a broad, abstract sense, it is captured in the ancient Hermetic idea of ‘as above, so below’ – the macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm and vice versa. Or as Goethe put it: ‘If (we) would seek comfort in the whole, (we) must learn to discover the whole in the smallest part.’ More concretely and recently, the Scots town planner and social activist Patrick Geddes applied the concept in his 1915 book Cities in Evolution, saying:

Local character is thus no mere accidental old-world quaintness, as its mimics think and say. It is attained only in course of adequate grasp and treatment of the whole environment, and in active sympathy with the essential and characteristic life of the place concerned.

Sometimes, glocality maintains its geographical rootedness. For example, Neighborhood Knowledge California is a project of the Advanced Policy Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which serves as a state-wide, interactive website that assembles and maps a variety of databases that can be used in neighbourhood research. Its aim is to promote greater equity in housing and banking policy. In addition, it functions as a geographic repository for users to map their own communities by uploading their own datasets.

When and by whom the phrase ‘think global, act local’ was first applied to environmental issues is a matter of some dispute. It may have been introduced by David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, in 1969, or by Rene Dubos as an advisor to the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. Also, in 1979, Canadian futurist Frank Feather chaired a conference called ‘Thinking Globally, Acting Locally’. Whatever its origins, the notion of glocality has entered into the popular consciousness.

It was given its most visible and practical expression when the Rio Earth Summit issued Local Agenda 21 in 1992, which was a programme of action for applying the global principles of sustainable development in local contexts. Today, there is also a Glocalist magazine in Austria that offers a daily online newspaper, weekly digital magazine and monthly print magazine …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) Glocality: Thinking Global and Acting Local in CSR, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 11 July 2011.

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CSR and Pharmaceuticals – Part 2

CSR and Pharmaceuticals:

Big Pharma on Trial – Part 2

Blog by Wayne Visser

It is nearly ten years later and the pharmaceutical companies are still trying to rebuild their reputations. As Mail & Guardian journalist Qudsiya Karrim reported for Inside Story in 2010: The past decade has been a public relations nightmare for big pharmaceutical companies – and deservedly so, their critics say. Activists and nongovernment organizations the world over have slated Big Pharma for putting profits ahead of people and vigorously enforcing their intellectual property rights, preventing many from gaining access to life-saving medication. It’s an ugly story told repeatedly – in the media, over dinner, at AIDS conferences and during university seminars – and it has earned the pharmaceutical industry an unmatched notoriety.

But have they learned their lesson? The latest and possibly most responsive action has been from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Early in 2009, CEO Andrew Witty announced a major reform in their corporate policy on drug affordability and accessibility. In particular, he said GSK will cut its prices for all drugs in the 50 least developed countries to no more than 25% of the levels in the UK and US – and less if possible – and make drugs more affordable in middle-income countries such as Brazil and India. In addition, GSK will reinvest 20% of any profits it makes in the least developed countries in hospitals, clinics and staff and invite scientists from other companies, NGOs or governments to join the hunt for tropical disease treatments at its dedicated institute at Tres Cantos, Spain.

Many NGOs remain sceptical. Michelle Childs, director of policy and advocacy for Medecins Sans Frontieres, says that in China, GSK charges over $3,000 for the antiretroviral Lamivudine in the absence of generic competition, while in Thailand, by comparison, another pharmaceutical company, Abbott, offers the Lopinavir/Ritonavir co-formulation for $500. And as for reinvesting profits, Catherine Tomlinson of the Treatment Action Campaign says, ‘Wouldn’t it simply be better to slash profits and allow for countries themselves to invest in improving health infrastructure? The GSK argument is circular: We charge so much money so that we can give you some of your own money back!’

The most interesting and radical move, however, is that Witty committed GSK to put any chemicals or processes over which it has intellectual property rights that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a ‘patent pool’, so they can be explored by other researchers. Explaining this move, Witty said, ‘I think it’s the first time anybody’s really come out and said we’re prepared to start talking to people about pooling our patents to try to facilitate innovation in areas where, so far, there hasn’t been much progress.’ He went on to say …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) CSR & Pharmaceuticals: Big Pharma on Trial – Part 2, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 8 June 2011.

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CSR and Pharmaceuticals – Part 1

CSR and Pharmaceuticals:

Big Pharma on Trial – Part 1

Blog by Wayne Visser

Let’s take a look at one of the biggest crises the world still faces: HIV/AIDS. According to the November 2009 UNAIDS report, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981. The number of people living with HIV has risen from around 8 million in 1990 to 33 million today, and is still growing. Around 67% of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa and Africa has over 14 million AIDS orphans. At the end of 2008, women accounted for 50% of all adults living with HIV worldwide. In developing and transitional countries, 9.5 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs; of these, only 4 million (42%) are receiving the drugs.

The topic of drugs presents a good case study in responsiveness (and the lack thereof). In 2001, Oxfam launched a campaign called ‘Cut the Cost’, challenging the pharmaceutical industry to address responsible drug pricing. In the same year, the Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla cut the annual price of anti-retroviral AIDS drugs to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to $350, as compared with the global industry standard of $1,000, and the Western market price of $10,400. Cipla also announced its intention to allow the South African government to sell eight of its generic AIDS drugs, the patents for which were held by other companies.

MSF put pressure on the five major pharmaceutical companies involved in the UNAIDS Accelerating Access Initiative to match Cipla’s benchmark. And to some extent, they responded. Merck cut the price of its HIV/AIDS treatments for developing countries, including offering Crixivan at $600 and Stocrin at $500. Pfizer offered to supply antifungal medicine at no charge to HIV/AIDS patients in 50 AIDS stricken countries.

Bristol-Myers Squibb announced that it would not prevent generic-drug makers from selling low-cost versions of one of its HIV drugs (Zerit) in Africa. And Glaxo-SmithKline granted a voluntary licence to South African generics producer Aspen, allowing them to share the rights to GSK’s drugs (AZT, 3TC and Combivir) without charge.

So far so good. Apparently the drug companies are quite responsive. Why then, in 2001 (at the same time that they were doing all these good things), did 39 of the largest international pharmaceutical companies take the South African government to court over plans to introduce legislation aimed at easing access to AIDS drugs, arguing that it would infringe their patents and contravene the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement? Justin Forsyth, Oxfam Policy Director, said at the time, ‘This court case demonstrates how powerful drug companies are bullying poor countries just so they can protect their patent rights on lifesaving medicines.’

The pharmaceutical companies quickly realized that they had created a monster. Tens of thousands of people marched in protest all over the world, and 300,000 people from over 130 countries signed a petition against the action. Eventually, following public pressure, as well as pressure from the South African government and the European Parliament, Big Pharma dropped the case …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/blog_pharma1_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR & Pharmaceuticals – Part 1 (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) CSR & Pharmaceuticals: Big Pharma on Trial – Part 1, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 3 June 2011.

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CSR in Nigeria

CSR in Nigeria

Blog by Wayne Visser

A few thoughts after my trip to Lagos last month …

I am not naive enough to believe that CSR heralds a new dawn for Nigeria. The general consensus was that most companies are stuck in the Ages of Philanthropy and Marketing. Nevertheless, CSR has the potential to advance transparency and to create a platform to discuss the ethics of business and government. It also has the potential to be corrupted, which sadly is already happening in some instances where corporate sponsorship of government ‘CSR projects’ is practiced as an indirect form of bribery.

Shell Nigeria’s reputation seems as sullied as ever, 15 years after the Ken Saro Wiwa fiasco. It seems like a viscous cycle of destructive relations. According to Tony Attah, Manager of Sustainable Development and Community Relations, 90% of the oil spills in 2009/10 were as a result of saboteurs, vandals and those trying to steal oil from the pipelines. Also, the Nigerian government takes more than 90% of the earnings of the business through taxes, royalties and their own equities (it has a 55% equity stake in the company).

Of course, there are examples of good practice, such as the Global MOUs between companies and communities, and conservation projects like the Chevron preserved urban forest which I visited. Yet even here, one senses that these are fragile fortifications against a relentless tide of oil-slicked growth and car-jammed urbanisation. I was there during the scheduled first weekend of elections, but these were postponed due to printed ballot papers not arriving in time. The Nigerians take it all in their stride, as if fighting the behemoth of inefficiency is as futile as cursing the manic traffic.

One encouraging initiative is the Social Enterprise Reporting Awards (SERA), run by Trucontact …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/blog_nigeria_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR in Nigeria (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) CSR in Nigeria, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 26 April 2011.

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CSR and the Financial Crisis

CSR and the Financial Crisis:

Taking Stock

Blog by Wayne Visser

The Scale of the Crisis

There is nothing small or trivial about this financial crisis. According to the Bank of England’s recent Financial Stability Report, governments worldwide have already pledged more than $7 trillion in loans, guarantees, capital injections, and other assistance in their coordinated effort to prop up the global financial system. And the ILO estimates the crisis will cost 20 million jobs by next year.

This is not the first financial crisis the world has seen over the past century. The worst, of course, resulted in the Great Depression in the 1930s. But there have been numerous others, all of which carried painful economic and human costs. For example, the crises inArgentina (1981-1990), South Korea (1997-1999) and Thailand (1997-2000) all cost more than 30% of those countries’ GDPs.

But even by historical standards, the 2008 crisis is BIG. In what’s been dubbed “Wall Street’s Red October”, the S&P 500 plunged 16.9%, or 198 points, for the month. That’s the worst-ever monthly point decline for the S&P 500. The Dow similarly dropped 14.1%, or 1,526 points. And the ILO estimates that the crisis will bring the total unemployed to more than 210 million for the first time in history.

The key difference is that, unlike the Asian and Latin American crises in the 1980s, this crisis is truly global. Some countries, like Iceland andPakistan, are threatened by bankruptcy. Others, like Japan, have been hit by huge volatility in the markets. And even the cash-rich, high-flyers like China are seeing their growth suffering as a result. But what does any of this have to do with corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

The Links to CSR

Irresponsible banking

I’d like to suggest a multi-level approach to this. At the first and most obvious level, we can say the financial crisis is a direct result of irresponsible banking. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the number of sub-prime loans offered to risky borrowers increased more than 15 times since 1998. Essentially, the banks got greedy and compromised good banking practices of credit risk assessment.

Irresponsible financial markets

At another level, the crisis is the predictable consequence of irresponsible financial markets. Since the deregulation of the 1980s, the derivatives market has grown to around $600 trillion dollars, almost 10 times the value of global GDP. This speculative trading (which some call the “casino economy”) is meant to hedge risk, but it also increases the volatility and systemic risk of financial markets.

We would do well to recall economist John Maynard Keynes’ warning: “Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.”

Irresponsible corporations 

Others argue that the crisis is the inevitable consequence of irresponsible corporations. This is linked to the short-termism of shareholder value driven public companies …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/blog_financial_crisis_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR and the Financial Crisis (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2008) CSR and the Financial Crisis, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 4 November 2008.

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