Companies: “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly!” – We are looking for “The Good” one!

In the past months my team Viola and Martin and I told in our blog posts many interesting stories, discovered astonishing and shocking facts and criticized companies, systems, developments and so on. It was very interesting to learn more about the topics we researched – which were  almost all related to Corporate Social Responsibility. We reported about bad businesses, for instance Martin’s post who informed us about child labour or Viola’s blog post about bad working conditions. What we  learned during this semester and within this blogging task was that although CSR has become more and more common that there is still a lot to do till our world is becoming more equal and fair-minded.

Background

In my last blog posts “Does a company do well, by doing good?” and “BP = Beyond Petroleum OR Big Polluter” I discovered that many companies do green washing in order to have a better public image. For consumers it is sometimes really difficult to find out, if a company is really ethical and socially concerned or if it is just a marketing strategy. There are more and more companies which want to be “green” as also more and more customers are changing their minds and look for substantial products.  However, life is short and everybody is busy, thus how should we know which companies are “good” and which companies are “the bad” and “the ugly” ones without spending a lot of time for investigations?

The Current Conditions

As you could read in Martin’s last blog Transferring Pity into Creativity about “Lemonaid” there are in fact some positive examples of companies which are acting ethically and environmentally friendly. But how can they be supported and how is it possible for us as a consumer to distinguish between “good” and “bad” companies? Is there any official guide line which works for companies worldwide? As we have no “world-police” there should be something or someone who controls and supports companies which want to act ethically correct.

The Goal – A roadmap for the future

We all have the objective to live in a peaceful world in which also our future children or grandchildren can live in harmony. How can we act together to create more equality and fairness in our world and how can companies be forced to respect human rights? How can “the good” ones survive  in a business world which is so profit-driven and easy to manipulate? Although we can read to a greater extent about green cars, green food and fair trade we also hear so many negative news everyday such as oil spills, corruption and bad working conditions. The goal is to find ways which support and mark companies which wants to act socially responsible and punish companies which are doing not. A very difficult – probably impossible goal, but at least we should find a way which leads into the right direction.

Strategic policy initiative

One step which bring us further could be an organization or authority which is responsible for social concerns in our business world. In the year 2000 the United Nations founded a initiative which is called United Nation Global Compact, which I have already mentioned in one of my previous posts. It is also known as Global Compact and it is a strategic policy initiative which encourages businesses all around the globe to act sustainable and socially responsible by adopting policies and reporting on their implementation.  Companies have to fulfil the following ten principles in order to participate in the compact:

Human Rights
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Labour
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Environment
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Anti-Corruption
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

Besides the principles the UN goals expect catalyze actions in support of other and broader UN goals such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

But why should a company that has already its CSR code participate in the Global Compact?

The United Nation states that it offers the companies a policy framework for organizing and developing corporate sustainability strategies while offering a platform which helps to encourage innovative initiatives and partnerships with civil society, governments and other stakeholders.

Outlook – How will the future look like?

According to the United Nations more than 8,000 participants, including over 6000 businesses in 135 countries around the world participate since 2000 in the project which is a important step in the right direction. However, Global Compact also received criticism in the past. The FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights) reports that the Global Compact would fail to hold corporations accountable due to ineffective monitoring and enforcement provision. Furthermore they argue that companies can misuse the Global Compact as a public relations instrument for “bluewash”.

The ten principles the UN requires are important but they seem to be largely insufficient!

FIDH hopes that UN Secretary General’s warning will be heard and that the activities of corporate participants to the Global Compact will be seriously monitored, and that members found not complying with the principles will- at a minimum – be excluded from the initiative.

by FIDH

As long as the Global Compact initiative doesn’t contain any mechanism to sanction companies for non-compliance with the Compact’s principles there is a long way to go till we can be sure that companies which pretend to be good, really are!

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2 Comments

  1. Hey Kathrin, thank you for sharing such a milestone of Corporate Responsbility.into the right direction. You blog post is well structured, offers several perspectives and also critics. I especially liked the picture of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which gives your post a sylitic device. Writing this blog using the A3 Model is a good way to structure your work. Under the rubric “Current conditions” it would be nice to have some additional information of how the actual situation in enterprises is today. How do they react when get confronted with this issue?

    The global compact is again such a Giga Project of the UN like the MDGs. Unfortunately these goals haven’t been reached yet. Probably the Global Compact faces similar problems which often lie in management and real motivation. The problem is obviously how to make those kind of projects attractive to profit oriented firms which, as you correcly mentioned, do not have big ambtions to integrate theirselves since no profit can be maximized at all.
    If the UN finds a way to increase the attractivenss of those kind of projects they will be successful. Good reputation might be an incentive for them to start with. The UN needs to promote their project so that firms get to know it. 8000 participants globally is not a lot. When they can realize to promote their project in a good manner, firms will get an additional incentive to subscribe for the project so it becomes mainstream.
    Thank you for your post.

    Reply
  2. Saskia R.

     /  February 11, 2012

    Dear Kathrin,
    after being attracted to your post because of the interesting title, I almost skipped it and went to anohter one when I saw how long it was. But then I thougth I should at least read the first paragraph before deciding that I didn’t want to read it. And well, I did it and I just kept reading because it was so easy to follow and I really wanted learn more.

    As Johannes already said the A3 model structure was perfect for this post. The red thread really was visible in your whole post. Every paragraph just connected to the previous one.

    The topic you brought up is really something to think about and in my opinion it really is something important to think about. I consider the United Nation Global Compact to be a good initiative but hard to implement in the sense of who is going to supervise the million companies that exist. It is also not applicable to every kind of company or small companies. The ones that could and should be implementing those strategies are the huge, global, multinational firms. And these firms should actually already have implemented things like “no child labor” and the human rights principles. Concerning the environment issue I think it is hard to supervise them – unfortunately.

    In your post there is actually one comment I would disagree with you. In your paragraph “A roadmap to the future” you say that companies should be punished for not acting socially responsible. I think this is a broad topic and not every firm can be held responsible for not taking initiatives for saving the environment or something like that. In some comapnies it just might not be possible due to lack of money or other factors. Of course I totally think that it is important to care for these kind of things but as I that it might not be possible for every kind of company.

    On the other hand I agree that companies which really put some effort into acting socially responsible should be labeled so people know about it. And even though it just might be for marketing strategies, it is still good. Obviously I think that it s important to have the right intentions behind such campaigns but as long as people and environment profit because of it we should not worry too much about the actual intentions of the firm.

    In conclusion, this is again another controversial topic which can be looked at from many different perspectives. I think you did a good job in structuring your post and keeping it continuously interesting.

    Reply

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