Thursday, November 24, 2011

How many CSR experts are just cheats and plagiarists?

CSR experts, people that write about, research, and practice CSR day-in, day-out are a pretty responsible bunch, right? After all, who would listen to anyone talking about responsible business who they didn't think was, well ... responsible?

Uh, wrong. Unfortunately, if our recent experience is anything to go by, there are some decidedly irresponsible CSR experts out there.  Actually, worse than that; not just irresponsible, but flat-out cheats and plagiarists. And we're not just talking about the usual CSR snake-oil salesmen who are simply out to make a quick buck from some dishonest greenwashing. No, we're talking the supposed purveyors of something resembling objective truth - academics and journalists.

How do we know? Simple. In the last couple of months we've run into several glaring examples of so-called experts simply stealing our work and passing it off as their own. Consider this one that has only just come to light. Jaquelina Jimena, a journalist and CSR adviser, wrote a nice article in the Canadian Mining Journal back in 2009 titled "Is Corporate Engagement Possible Through CSR Blogs?" Well, we would say it's nice, because it is almost word-for-word copied from one of our own blog entries "Corporate Engagement through CSR Blogs", published the year before. She changes our use of "we" to "I" of course, but that is about it. The rest is almost entirely plagiarized from our post. Well, except the last paragraph, which we she didn't copy from us. But that's not her work either. It's directly stolen from a post from our fellow blogger Fabian Pattberg.

Jimena has published other pieces in the Canadian Mining Journal about CSR, all of which, as far we can tell, contain substantial portions of text just cut and pasted from other people's articles and websites. Our friends at Ethical Corporation are a particularly popular source, it seems. Of course, she claims on her LinkedIn page, to be a "professional journalist" as well as a CSR adviser and lecturer, with experience among others advising at the Global Reporting Initiative and Anglo-American.

Now, we're not saying that Jimena isn't an expert in CSR,or in her specialist field of stakeholder engagement and communication. But as a potential editor, employer, client, or reader of hers, would you really put your trust in someone who, from time to time, made a living by stealing other people's work?

It's not just journalists though. While plagiarism in academia is usually discussed in relation to students (and we have to say, this continues to be a big problem in the sector), there are no shortage of cheats standing at the front of the classroom too. Again, our own experience is instructive here.

A few months back, it came to our attention that an article published in the journal Management Decision under the title "Sustainability managers or rogue mid-managers? A typology of corporate sustainability managers" and suppposedly written by professors Tang, Robinson and Harvey, was in fact almost entirely plagiarized from a working paper written by Andy and one of our long time friends and collaborators, Wayne Visser. After someone had kindly pointed this out to us, we informed the journal who did some checking and then retracted the offending piece, acknowledging that "a large proportion" of the article had been copied from ours.

We also did a little further digging and discovered that one of the ostensible authors, Kevin Tang, had even plagiarized almost his entire PhD thesis. It took about 5 minutes to find this out given that he'd copied almost word for word Jennifer Lynes' dissertation about environmental commitment in the airline industry which was easily available on-line. So we informed Lynes (who was suitably shocked) and Bond University in Australia, who had awarded Tang's PhD. They've now taken the online version of Tang's PhD down and informed us that a thorough investigation into the allegations is underway. So you can't check now this one yourself, but believe us, it is a cut-and-dried case of plagiarism, even down to the personal acknowledgments page!

We'd love to believe that these are just isolated incidents, but realistically we think it is just the tip of the iceberg. Both of these cases came to light by accident just in the last few weeks and we only noticed them because they were rip-offs of our own work. Who else is blissfully unaware of getting their CSR research stolen by a so-called expert? And how many other CSR experts are out there passing off someone else's work as their own that we haven't discovered yet?

Academia certainly has been getting into all sorts of cheating scandals recently. Earlier in the year we witnessed the forced resignation of the German Secretary of Defence after revelations of his plagiarized PhD thesis. A few weeks ago, an investigation confirmed that  the noted psychologist Diederik Stapel, the former Dean of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, had falsified data and made up entire experiments over the course of the past decade. Unethical journalism has also been in the news of late, especially around the News International phone hacking scandal. Both professions are clearly in need of clean-up.

At the moment, none of these more high profile scandals have been concerned with CSR experts. Not yet, anyway. But if our experience is anything to go by, it's probably just a matter of time.

Photo by loop_oh (Robert Ganzer). Reproduced under Creative Commons licence


  1. Great article. PhD plagarism is clearly on the rise. I have seen two PhD reviews in recent months largely copied from PhD's in other Universities (neither at Bath thankfully). The reality is the Universities themselves appear unwilling to put processes in place to check this. All our Master's dissertations get put through turnitin (or other plagarism software) but PhDs rarely do relying entirely on the Viva to ensure originality.

    Consultants are particularly bad for IP theft however - and as academic we need to be more willing to step up and challenge them when they clearly present others work as their own. The number of times I have seen academic models copywritten in documents as belonging to major consultancy firms is wild. Please feel free to check any big 5 consultancy CSR documents for at least 8-10 examples of this per "white paper".

  2. By way of update, the Canadian Mining Journal article by Jacquelina Jimena has now been taken down from the web by the journal and according to the editor, Russ Noble, the journalist "has been fired". Kevin Tang no longer appears as an employee on the Bond University website. Maybe crime doesn't pay...?


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