Monday, June 28, 2010

Another Summit, The Same Problem?

Upon landing in Toronto Saturday I could already see it: The G20 heads of states are in town and their modest means of transportation were neatly parked at Pearson International Airport: Obama's Air Force One, Two Jumbojets each for the Chinese, Japanese and Saudi-Arabian Heads of state, Merkel's and Sarkozy's relatively modest Airbuses, and – how cute – the Virgin Atlantic A340 which must have shipped the new British PM Cameron to TO. Telling array of status symbols...
It looked somewhat different in downtown Toronto. The entire centre, where the convention place for the G20 is located, was fenced off with a 3m high wall – reminding me of my childhood playing next to the Berlin Wall. There was a sizable number of protesters out there – but many thousands more of police. The city was a fortress.
The G20 is another 'tool' of global governance, similar to the Global Compact. But while the Compact receives only scant attention from the public, the G20 is a major event. It leaves you wondering. For me this reflects, once more, the value and benefits of the UN Global Compact. And indeed also the value of the Summit.
Reflecting back, it is chiefly about two things. The first is to legitimize the social role and responsibility of business within the business community. By getting 8,000 players on board, many of them well known brands, the issues of sustainability/CSR/Ethics are now a legitimate concern in the wider business discourse. Of course there is room for ambiguity about individual companies, their achievements and sincerity. But for me the glass is definitely half full. It is mostly about initiating a process, rather than the concrete outcomes, which we should credit the UN Global Compact for. Andreas Rasche (together with Georg Kell) has just published a fine book on the compact taking stock of its achievements and shortcomings. My colleagues and friends Andreas Scherer and Guido Palazzo describe it well in the book: the Global Compact is one tool of global governance, providing a framework for deliberation and learning around the social role of business in a global economy.
The second point for me is that in particular the summit has very much a ritualistic role. As humans, we need rituals and ceremony to visualize, materialize and provide a cognitive frame to inner processes of commitment, of attitudes and thoughts. This is what weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies etc. are all about. The summit provides such a frame. The leading persons of organizations attend (in fact a third of attendees in my count were actually top brass), make statements of commitment or achievement, are together in the room, and do so under the auspices of the highest formal political authority on the globe: the UN Secretary General. That is one of the reasons Ban-Ki Moon's remarkable commitment to the Compact is vital.
Contrasting this to the G20 and its outcomes here should make Georg Kell and his team a little proud of what they have achieved. At the G20, leaders have basically decided to land large chunks of their middle class constituents with the burden of the debt, countries had to take on in saving the global financial system. To halve the debts by 2013 boils down to little else. No wonder such an agenda needs fences and thousands of police to be sustained. The level of 'stationary violence' by the state in Toronto this weekend in my modest view was much bigger than the few incidents of vandalism by protestors – as much as we condemn this violence. The G20 is an example of lack of deliberation and democracy at the global level. The UN Global Compact Summit points to the opposite: smaller or bigger steps towards common solutions to pressing issues on the global level.
That is why I think it was worth it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

For the past two and half days I've felt a strange tension in this conference. It is about the thorny question of whether ethics pays. The business case for CSR. The harmony between economic, social and ecological sustainability.

Most of the time panellists and speakers were hammering it home that joining the UN Global Compact and implementing the principles just makes good business sense. I had a very lively conversation with Peter Solmssen, Executive VP of Siemens about this, who joined the company recently as part of the revamp of the board in the aftermath of the corruption scandals. He was fairly bullish that fighting corruption makes good business sense, 'we are more profitable now' he argued. He argued that in most countries big conglomerates like Siemens or General Electric are doing business with public purchasers who at the top level are not interested in corruption, and that companies who are known for not engaging in it, in fact have a competitive advantage. His view is that big players have indeed the chance of forming a 'cartel of the good' to collaborate on addressing ethical issues like corruption – and be the better off with it.

A similar take I got from talking to Gustavo Grobocopatel, President of Grupo Losgrobo from Argentina. His company works in agriculture and adjacent supplies and services, and he sees the particular value for his organization in engaging with the UN Global Compact in improved stakeholder relations. In particular his customers value this inclusive approach and for him CSR is very much about competitive advantage. His organization is particular interesting as it tries to keep more of the value chain of agricultural products in the country, rather than just exporting commodities and falling victim to what is commonly referred to as 'Dutch disease'.

In some ways then it was quite a little 'scratch' (I mentioned my Teflon-ized ears) to hear Klaus Leisinger (President and CEO of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development) say on Friday morning that the talk of 'ethics pays' or 'ethics is just good business' is – in his words – just 'bullshit'. Why, he argued, would companies not do the right thing anyway if it were just good business? Instead he called for a commitment to basic values, brought forward in the 'Manifesto for Global Economic Ethics', by companies a priori, simply because it is morally right, as in some cases it might even cost money in the short term.

I tend to agree with this. Again, we can turn to the ten year old-metaphor: at this age, kids are at the 'conventional' level of moral development (in Kohlberg's theory): they do right and avoid wrong, because mommy and daddy say so and he tries to be a nice boy, and he tries to avoid the smack on the back or wants to get that ice cream as a reward. At least on the rhetorical level, the UN Global Compact members – by and large - seem to be not much beyond the conventional level. Which – don't get me wrong – is quite an achievement. Whole societies have survived on that, so that's fine for our birthday boy.

This apparent reluctance to think about the firm beyond the immediate business case became quite clear today in the sessions dealing with Development. I put the question to Jeffrey Sachs, Georg Kell and Chad Holliday in the final press briefing. Kell re-iterated that we are seeing an 'evolutionary transformation', a re-orientation from short- to long-term and a stronger focus on the (financial) risk which non-financial issues can cause. But 'the basic model remains intact', he said. In a similar vein Holliday, who hinted at further economic incentives to internalize sustainability issues, such as pricing carbon. It was then Sachs, who I think took up the question of whether it is time to move beyond the current framework. He said, that providing malaria medications to poor people 'is not a money making venture'. But still he argued that the business contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals is vital. So he pointed more at models of shared responsibility and sees business getting much more involved in public-private-partnerships. This was re-iterated by Robert Orr, Assistant Undersecretary General of the UN, who moderated the press briefing. For him the UN Global Compact is very much about becoming/being a player in global governance. He stressed there is hardly no issue on the global political agenda, where business is not part of any possibly thinkable solution. I liked that candour and agree.

Followers of this blog familiar with our writings will know that this is where I see the future of CSR going: Business as a political actor, intricately involved in societal governance. In Kohlberg's model of moral development, this would be the post-conventional level: understanding social contracts and universal moral principles – and doing the right thing based on understanding this. So let's wish our ten year old a healthy further development – there are new stages to discover!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

‘Business Schools should be extremely nervous’

One of the benefits of going to big global conferences is that you meet old colleagues and friends. So I was very pleased to bump into Peter Lacy (now Managing Director Accenture, Sustainability Services, Europe, Africa and Latin America). I enjoyed working with Peter while he was Exec. Director at EABIS (an association of businesses and academic institutions to boost CSR in Europe) and built up the organization in the early/mid 2000s.

Peter was here, among other things, to present a Survey on CEO perceptions of the Sustainability topic which I mentioned earlier in another post. I won't bore you with some of the bickering raised here (too small sample of 'converted' companies, CEO rhetoric is no data etc.) since it does not jeopardize the main message of the research: that sustainability is now clearly on the strategic agenda of many major companies and in fact 93% of surveyed CEOs globally see this as a key imperative. No more just an 'issue', a blip on the screen, as it was ten years ago. Though Peter told me, too, that the survey probably just hints at the sheer magnitude of the task ahead, which is implementation. He is a little cautious about some of the statements in the report regarding implementation in these companies as of now, but his main point is well made: what about those non-UNGC members and other companies, who aren't even yet in the strategic stage?
Since Peter knows both worlds, business and academia, I was also interested in his view on what the survey means for us in the ivory tower. Two things emerge. Since one of the findings was, that the investment community cares next to nothing about sustainability, Peter thinks we need to develop tools to make the actual value of sustainability more explicit. This is closely related to performance management as – given current business practices – only if I can give sustainability as a measurable task to my crew, I can reward and assess them on success.
But the main point he made was that in his view, business schools in general have not even entered the first 'issue' stage and are lagging behind their main target audience by – mas o menos- a decade. Of course, he hastened to add - that he is aware that there are a good number of schools out there which have understood the challenge and are able to provide education of managers with regard to sustainability issues. But personally I could not agree more that by and large, business schools are still largely operating within an agency-, efficient markets- and shareholder value-framework. This applies certainly to many of the top North American and European schools. And while this is bad enough I would add that this thinking is still dominating our research by and large – and today's research is the teaching material ten years from now, as Peter put it. He added that from his current work of running a department of 800 staff, in recruitment he finds precious few candidates trained by business schools in sustainability. So Peter's message was that business schools really need to take into account the changing imperatives for business – otherwise business might more and more look for other sources of education (something which came already up in an earlier post).

A cloud of well known words with some rays of sunshine

This morning the Summit opened. It was a well organized and well choreographed session. Our ten year old is a well behaved boy indeed (sorry for masculin-izing the UNGC, I just go by the blue colour of the UN...).

Ban-Ki Moon opened, followed by a number of panellists and it were the usual, well meaning speeches by many leaders in business, and civil society. Moon announced the goal of raising the membership from currently 8,000 to 20,000 by 2020. Bloomberg ventured to step out of his role as Mayor and into that of a concerned citizen by pointing to two of the major challenges for future sustainability: 1bn deaths due to tobacco consumption over the next decade, and a similar level of road fatalities, given the current trends in automotive growth. These were quite daunting, but nevertheless refreshing new angles on the issues.

Maybe i am hanging out too much on conferences that my ears are by now a bit teflonized for much of the sustainability rhetoric. But reflecting back on this opening session, I feel quite good about the UNGC. It has certainly changed the game for many of the companies involved, most of them – which I did not know – are in fact SMEs.

So the ten year old gives us some reason for pride and satisfaction. But you keep wondering if the bigger worry in fact are not those little friends of our laureate who he hangs out with. In other words, the biggest worry still are those companies who haven't even signed up (or the 1,300 which had to be expelled). I think this aspect highlights the magnitude of the underlying issue and in fact one reason why what has been achieved by the GC is undeniably a success.

I liked Philip Jennings, the General Secretary of the gobal federation of trade unions (UNI Global Union). He highlighted the persistent plight of the trade union movement and the apparent tensions between a company publishing all sort of niceties on employees in their CSR report while at the same time busting their unionized workers. Point well made.

The agenda for the future was probably best put by John Ruggie (Harvard University) in the afternoon plenary, posing that the era of 'declaratory CSR is over' and companies now have to 'know and show' concrete progress. He argued that sustainability, as suggested in the new Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership is not a 'technocratic fix' but rather an active engagement with stakeholders in concrete situations. This new Blueprint is probably becoming a rather influential tool in the future, the Director General of the Norwegian Oil Fund pointed out: they will use it as a guideline in talking to companies and aligning their investment decisions on it. It seems to be a step closer to what many businesses are calling for: a more level playing field.

Live Webstreaming of UN Global Compact Summit

See it here:

What about politics?

Those of you who have followed this blog and our work over the last years will know that we have taken a special interest in the political role of private corporations. So what are the vibes here at the UN Global Compact Summit?

Well, the general gist seems to be that most of whom are quite happy to pass on more responsibility for the environment, human rights etc. (i.e. the ten principles) to the private sector. The most poignant role in this probably put forward by the UK's new Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan. I liked him when I lived in the UK, but was a bit underwhelmed by what he said. Basically he is a pink Thatcherite, talking about shareholder value and how companies can combine this with development. He ducked questions on BP and whether there is a role for governments in preventing these disasters, which was a bit weak, I found.
A refreshing accent was set by Mike Bloomberg and what the City of New York is doing. He was kind of cool, I found, saying that the City's carbon footprint is now at a third of the average American city. He said the City is willing to lead, but he expects business to do its part as well.

So far well and good. If we release corporations into this sphere though, what about democracy and political principles. There is next to no discussion on this here, apart from the occasional reference to more accountability and transparency. Maybe that should be put on the agenda for the next decade. But this will make it a really warranted area of further research for the academic community. How to make this shift in governance of societies one which is really in the interest of those who are governed? Currently, our best hope is that we will be governed by all those 'benign dictators', which are currently gathered here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Birthday Party Begins

Ten year olds are in a funny age. Not quite children anymore, they are not grown ups either. They have learned the basics, reading and writing and calculus - but there is still a lot ahead of them.

I like the metaphor for the UN Global Compact ten year anniversary Summit. In the opening ceremony it became quite clear that indeed much has been achieved. To talk about business responsiblities is now widely legitmate and the guest list shows, that many companies have grown with it. This is also visible in who - next to Ban-Ki Moon (UN Secretary General) - was invited to give the major talk in this afternoon's opening ceremony: Wang Zhongyu, President, China Enterprise Confederation - China of all countries. Its nice that ten year olds still don't care too much about what the world around them thinks. And in fact one has to give Chinese businesses in the UNGC a lot of credit, certainly for their commitment and also for successes.
CSR is a world full of ambiguities, but today China's and Chinese businesses' record on the achievement of the ten principles was not on the agenda. Fair enough, this can come at another time.
Equally ambiguous I felt about a 5mins videoclip which was shown in the opening ceremony. I forgot the details, but it was incredibly cheesy, happy-clappy and goosepimply-emotional. Showing this at, say, the Christian Womens Knitting Association of South Arkansas' annual charity dinner - fine. But in a room with over a 1000 people from business (300 of which CEOs or the like)? I don't know. But hey, where shall a ten year old have already got a sense of style?

By the way, who started that fashion of showing a video clip with people talking in the clip while they are sitting in the flesh on the podium? This happened twice today. Why not just talk to each other?
Which happened finally, when we were told by Lord Hastings, the master of ceremonies for the Summit, to say hello to the person right of us and the person left of us. I was so relieved we did not have to kiss them. My neighbor on the left was from Uruguay, btw. He contgratulated me on Germany's win today in the Soccer World Cup. So it was nice after all...
Ambiguity also came up with the terminology in the world of CSR. CSR for most people who spoke today is still seen largely as philantropy while 'Sustainability' - the title of the Summit - in their view looks more at making operations and core business processes socially responsible. It all goes to show that language and concepts are, at the end of the day, all ephemeral and relative. Like ten year olds and their slang today. Would I understand a text message from them? Probably not, but if it means something good, I don't care.

'Business Education has Become an Industry'

So here we are. As hot as the weather is in New York, as hotly contested is the role which business education has played recently in making for more responsible companies. At the PRME 'side event' of the UNGC Summit some rather soulsearching questions were raised. Rakesh Kurana from Harvard made it quite clear that one of the dilemmas of b-schools in fact is that they have come to see their students rather as ‘customers’ then people who need education and at times been served a diet that needs some acquired taste. Just to blame the business world for lack of demand for issues of CSR and ethics is not enough in a world where the public increasingly worries about the status of wider societal impacts of business.

While the Accenture Study (in cooperation with the UNGC) of the opinion of more than 800 CEOs suggest a slightly different picture, it leaves us with one general problem: Since business education, certainly at postgraduate/MBA level is in fact privatised and ‘purchased’ by students or their companies, this inherent tension cannot be denied. One of the reasons I personally have started to dislike teaching on MBA – or worse – executive MBA – programs is exactly that it is a tough challenge to make students think, reflect about things unknown or strange to them and, most notably, to read. And the issues the UNGC is concerned about fall exactly in this category.

Interesting comments came from India, delivered by Jamshed Irani, Director, Tata Sons Limited. In his view, since business schools don’t do a good job (in general) at talking about climate change, ethics etc. corporations should have their own universities and b-schools. Yes, you havn’t misheard. I guess this reflects a tradition of a great company with a long tradition of philanthropy and ethics, such as Tata. But what about a b-school run by AIG, BP or Lehman Brothers? Just imagine the type of ‘leaders’ we would get from there...

So far the UNGC summit (i.e. this fringe event) put the finger on one important thing: with delegating responsibility for public goods (and education used to be one) in the hand of private actors, we have opened a pandora’s box. Its irreversible, I think (as the Hewlett Packard Chair in CSR, no less). But we need new criteria for private responsibility for public goods in order to change this focus within b-schools. How this will be achieved – no real answers so far from New York.

UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2010

What do you bring to the birthday party of a ten year old? Especially if it has pretty posh parents and throws the party nowhere less than at Times Square in New York?

Crane and Matten have been invited to be the official Summit Bloggers for the 10 year anniversary Conference of the United Nations Global Compact this week Thursday and Friday in New York City. Over the next three days Dirk will keep you posted with news and updates on what is going on here.

I have never done such a thing, so expect a colourful medley of comments, lifeblogs from the sessions or just thoughts. Let me know what you think, too, so that we can learn as we go. I have no real idea where this will be going. In the spirit of the party, I am not in the mood of only talking about how naughty the boy has been over the last 10 years. This job is done by others already in the bloggosphere.

And besides, its not how I feel about the compact. In a world with serious governance deficits on the global level I think we can do with all we can. And here the UN Global Compact has changed the game remarkably, I feel. Thursday and Friday this week, around 1200 senior executives from member companies, some of them top brass, will talk about ethics in business, CSR, sustainability etc.. I still have vivid recollections how things were 10 years ago. The laughter and raised eyebrows of my colleagues in the German bank I was working at the time, when I told them I would take a job teaching and writing about business ethics: 'Business ethics: hahahah. What will you do in the afternoons?'. That was '99, so things have changed.

This being more a meeting of members of an organization rather than a normal conference I expect this to be quite exciting. I have also scheduled some interviews with senior managers, so lets see where that takes us.

Today I will first go to the meeting of the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME). The PRMEs are an offshoot of the UNGC which have been signed by many institutions of business education worldwide and which aim at implementing business responsibility firmly into the curriculum of business education.

So I have not yet decided on the birthday present. I have to see how the party goes and how the birthday boy looks from close. I will share my impressions with you.

Argentina, or: Neoliberalism with Benefits

Argentina, according to activists such as Naomi Klein and others, can be seen as a textbook case for what often is vilified to as ‘neo-liberalism’. In Argentina, this alludes mostly to the presidency of Carlos Menem and its aftermath, which ended 2001 in the bankruptcy of the Argentinean state. It was a period of rampant privatization, radical free market policies, most notoriously boosted by the conditions which the IMF and the Word Bank dictated to the country for its loans. Unforgotten are the decrees allowing every citizen to withdraw from their bank not more than $250 per week. Many lost their pensions and savings and the devaluation of the currency has led to an economic downturn from which the country is only slowly and partly recovering.
Looking at Argentina now (Dirk has just spent 6 weeks there) provides a rather fascinating picture. Yes, it cannot be overlooked that the country shows signs of deterioration: In Buenos Aires, the stunning architecture, the layout of the wide streets and parks clearly indicate that the country has seen better days. But the crumbling sidewalks, the empty high street buildings (at the former Harrods they couldn’t even bother to remove the signs) and the state of public buildings are only some examples of what makes the recent decline palpable.
But in the main, the recent years have brought to the surface some phenomena which make the country very different from other places in the world. If one goes out or does shopping it is stunning that apart from a two, three fast food chains one has a hard time to find any of the global brands which makes high streets anywhere else look all more and more the same. Instead, the absolutely cool shops of BsAs’ Palermo or Cordoba’s San Telmo barrios boast a richness of home-grown brands, designers and artists which offer a truly unique experience. In some ways this can be seen as a consequence of the crisis: since the decline of the currency foreign products have become unaffordable, stimulating domestic talent.
Another interesting phenomenon is the sheer number of bookshops. Argentineans seem to be not only fairly well educated and intellectually vibrant, but they certainly display that their hearts beat on their left sides. The number of demonstrations, often using symbols one remembers from university cafeterias in the 1970s in Europe, is sheer staggering, often including public debates and talks. It looks that recent events have politicized a whole generation of mostly younger people.
While the Argentinean state has still maintained some core elements of what used to be European-style welfare state, it is interesting to see though that many social tasks are now increasingly addressed by private corporations and NGOs. In a similar vein it is the private sector now which has taken first steps and initiatives to address corruption, which is fairly rampant and endemic as part of a colonial heritage under Spanish rule. Argentina has a history of military dictatorship, human rights violations by governments and, more recently corruption and rent-seeking of government officials. No wonder then we see that corporations are increasingly stepping into a quasi governmental role, which we have written about extensively. It is interesting that many business schools have become leading hubs in addressing these social issues, be it corruption or broader social responsibilities.

One can’t escape the impression that the rough economic legacy and palpable discontent with governments has not only led to a generation of younger Argentineans which are highly reflective, ready to speak up and march out for their views; it has also led to remarkable forms of social activism and entrepreneurship. One of the most interesting examples is the ‘El Castillo’ Hotel in the beautiful hills west of Cordoba. It’s Argentina’s first and so far only eco hotel and caters to corporate and private customers with longer, custom designed holiday programs with a host of activities, including all sorts of sports, art, music, acting, games or cooking. The owner-managers, the three Fabrega siblings Adriana, Edgardo and Fabian, set the place up in a derelict old mansion when they were in their mid 20s and have turned it into a viable business. From exclusively employing locals, skilling indigenous workers (discrimination is otherwise rather common), pursuing environmental goals up to diligently delivered events – the owners brim of pride not only about economic success, but most notably about contributing to social change. After all, its the home country of Che Guevara...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

McDonald's comes back out of le closet

The fast food chain McDonald's has recently released an interesting TV ad in France featuring a young gay character talking with his father. It's notable not just because it features a gay character in a big multinational company's commercial, but also because the character is actually hiding his sexuality.  You can see the spot with English subtitles here:

The ad has gained a lot of online attention. The spot itself has been seen by nearly 2m people on YouTube and there are countless sites (including repostings on YouTube) where commentators have made their views known about the ad. These views range from a positive appreciation of McDonald's for acknowledging the gay community to some pretty nasty homophobic vitriol. Somewhere in between there are those who are asking why a fast food company should even be mentioning someone's sexuality, and those that are questioning whether McDonald's is trying to reach out to a new, and potentially prosperous targt market. As we have explored in a recent paper (downloadable at SSRN), corporations have increasingly been involved in identity politcs, and this raises a number of critical debates about the intermingling of business and politics.

To understand the significance of McDonald's 'gay ad' though, we need to put it in context. The ad is one part of a larger campaign launched by the company last year featuring the strapline 'Venez Comme Vous Etre' (Come as You Are). The campaign includes film and print ads, viral videos and other stuff. The basic message of the campaign is everyone's welcome at McDonald's, however you're dressed, whatever your age or race. And whatever your sexual orientation. The official company line is that series "recognizes the diversity of McDonald's customers in France."

It's all part of the cosmopolitan identity that multinationals like McDonald's are increasingly seeking to create. Remember that not that long ago, anti-globalization campaigners in France saw McDonald's as a symbol of American big business and global injustice - and were wrecking their restaurants from time to time to prove the point. So in that context a campaign that presents the company as a broad church that welcomes one and all makes a lot of sense. So much so that in food-loving France, the chain enjoys growing popularity and has become, according to The Times newspaper, the country’s ‘worst-kept dirty secret’. Everyone loves McDonald's (at least that's what the company is telling us). Even gay people. Even closeted gay people. And even clueless Dads.

It might seem odd that the company has chosen to portray a young man who is cute and confident, but at home at least, firmly in the closet. Why not present an out and proud gay character? One answer could be that the company is looking to represent a realistic picture of gay identity, not just a handy stereotype of sugar-coated camp beloved of Hollywood. It's also worth remembering though that back in 2008, McDonald's got itself in a bit of hot water back home in the US over its purported support of the gay community. Following a $20,000 sponsorship donation and the appointment of a McDonald's VP to the board of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the American Family Association (AFA) and other groups from the christian right called a boycott. The company had refused "to stay neutral in the cultural war over homosexuality" the AFA claimed, and was "promoting the homosexual agenda, including homosexual marriage."Eventually McDonald's duly pulled out of its support of the NGLCC.

 McDonald's American experience shows just how problematic it can be for companies to get involved in representing different minorities. It can place them in a world of identity politics that they are unprepared and ill suited to deal with. Promoting diversity or targeting the lucrative gay market may make good economic sense, but its also a political act with political implications. Pro- and anti- groups may both use corporations to help them achieve their political goals, just like the NGLCC and the AFA have. McDonald's may claim it is simply about diversity and inclusiveness but others see it as the frontline of identity politics.

So this may help to explain the somewhat ambiguous messaging of McDonald's"gay ad" in France. The company is putting out a welcome whether you're in or out of the closet, or even if, like the father in the ad, you don't recognise or support gay identity. Come as you are, as they put it in the campaign.

That said though, running the ad is quite a risk for a company still smarting from a controversial boycott that riled up a significant chunk of their core customer base in conservative middle America. As several commentators have suggested, the ad is unlikely to run in the US, but even so it's starting to cause waves, as this clip of Bill O'Relly shows. The company can hardly be pro gay in France and neutral in the US. At some stage, like it or not, the embracing of diversity means you just have to take some kind of political position. As much as companies like McDonald's may be more comfortable talking economics, they simply can't afford to ignore the politics.

Photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence