Monday, November 25, 2013

The business of modern-day slavery

Events last week in the UK, where three women were rescued from what appears to be a 30 year-long situation of forced domestic labour situation, have focused a great deal of attention on "modern-day slavery". But it is hardly a one-off. Issues of forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery are increasingly gaining public attention. Business, however, has been slow to engage in the conversation.

Perhaps this is no surprise given that no company wants to run the risk of being tainted with the spectre of slavery. But most of the big modern slavery stories involve business. From children forced to harvest cotton in Uzbekistan to labourers enslaved to fish in the waters of New Zealand, hardly a week goes by without a new story of extreme exploitation being splashed across the media. The appalling treatment of migrant construction workers in Qatar the build up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup has gained more exposure than most, likely because of the headline claim that construction for the World Cup will leave 4000 migrant workers dead. It is a heart-stopping statistic.

With all this noise around modern slavery, much of it at the hands of campaigners such as Anti-Slavery International, Free the Slaves, and Walk Free (who are responsible for the recently launched Global Slavery Index), governments at least are gradually starting to act. The UK Government is already in the process of drafting a modern slavery bill to make the complex legal situation around the issue more clear for prosecutors. The US has also launched initiatives to tackle human trafficking in the supply chains of companies and government contractors. Canada too now has a national action plan to combat human trafficking whilst Brazil has perhaps gone the furthest of any country in seeking to tackle the problem.

Such measures are to be applauded, but there's still a long way to go in effectively combating the worst forms of human exploitation. And one crucial player that so far hasn't brought much to the party is business. Compared with many other social and environmental issues, modern slavery has not seen much enthusiastic response from the business community. Although virtually all corporate codes of conduct prohibit any kind of forced labour, the issue is rarely given any particular attention. Most businesses simply assume that it doesn't affect them. However, the torrent of news stories across various countries and industries suggests otherwise. Companies just aren't looking hard enough to find their connection to modern slavery.

David Arkless, formerly President of Corporate and Government Affairs at the global temp agency Manpower, is probably the most visible and articulate member of the business community involved in anti-slavery efforts. He said last week that he was "frustrated by the lack of involvement of corporations in efforts to ensure that their supply chains are verified against the use of abused labour and that most of the big corporations of the world have not amended both their financial, expense and human resource policies.” You can understand his frustration. Most business leaders are simply burying their heads in the sand.

This is a major stumbling block because most forms of modern slavery either involve business or affect it in some way. After all, forced labour is a particular way of doing business - a morally regnant one for sure, but a business practice all the same. Even illegal industries such as prostitution and drug cultivation, both of which have had numerous documented cases of trafficking and forced labour, rely on business principles and come into contact with legitimate businesses at some stage. The bottom line is that we have to understand modern slavery as a business if we are to make any real sense of it and take appropriate steps to prevent it.

The research base exploring the business of modern slavery is especially thin. So I was pleased last week to help launch a new report funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the business models and supply chains found in forced labour in the UK. It was a fascinating project to be involved in, and along with my co-authors, I'm hoping that it really helps to shine a light on the economics of modern slavery in developed country contexts.

One of our main findings is that although forced labour is often described as a hidden crime, it is not as difficult to unearth as many in the UK, including businesses and government, seem to believe. As my co-author Genevieve LeBaron and I say in a recent article for The Guardian: "The problem is not so much that we cannot find forced labour; it is that either we choose not to look where it is most likely to occur or we simply misclassify those being exploited as criminals rather than victims. A new approach to detecting and enforcing forced labour is necessary. To pinpoint its occurrence we need to start by examining the forces of supply and demand."

Much still needs to be done to really understand how these economic forces lead to such extreme forms of exploitation. But the good news is that we're making good progress. The challenge will be getting legislators and business leaders alike to take our findings seriously.


Photo by Junaidrao. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Rob Ford should stay

Toronto, that once sleepy capital of Canadian business, ‘New York run by the swiss’, a city widely seen as boring and ugly (esp. compared to its once-competitor MontrĂ©al) – has made global news: A crack smoking mayor! Match that, London, New York or Berlin! All the mainstream media here (and globally) are pretty unanimous in their call for Rob Ford’s resignation, or at least for him taking a break.

That in itself is a reason for suspicion. In my business ethics course this week I had a vivid exchange with my students. We were discussing discrimination and how it is unethical to apply criteria such as race, gender, sexual orientation, recreational habits etc. to job qualifications and hiring. On that note, calls for Ford’s resignation are not very convincing. After all, on many accounts, he has done a good job as Toronto’s major. The city’s finances are healthy; public services are running smoothly, key infrastructure projects, such as the construction of new subway lines have finally taken off; and the major successfully tamed the beast of an otherwise dysfunctional federal/provincial/municipal layered bureaucracy to get even more public infrastructure projects off the ground. This alone, in a city whose infrastructure is stuck somewhere in the 1970s, is reasonable ground to consider him a success on his job.

Of course, there were other things in the past, where arguably Ford violated the terms of his job. Toronto Star investigative reporter Daniel Dale – a former student of us - digged out a number of occasions where the mayor took advantage of his role for personal issues. But nothing really stuck.

As much as some have made an ethical case here against the mayor, I do not think these arguments really touch the heart of the controversy.

Two things spring to mind to any reflective observer. First, much of the vitriol directed at Ford in my view is just based on the persistent WASPy (as in White Anglo Saxon Protestant) subculture of North America. Ford likes to use recreational drugs, has all the wrong, politically incorrect friends and, yes, is probably an alcoholic. Mind you, at least it was not about sex. But in some ways his fate resembles the one of Bill Clinton or Elliot Spitzer: Ford does not live up to the public morality and style, which is deemed politically correct in Canada. It is worth noting that although possession of crack is illegal in Canada, the lack of concrete proof (in terms of physical substance) means that prosecution is unlikely. But the fact that Ford admits to it in public and simply continues with his job just infuriates all those who either have succumbed to this pubic consensus of stuffy morality or otherwise suppress it and live it out in private. After all, Canada’s alcohol consumption is twice the global average and him talking about his ‘drunken stupors’ as a regular occurrence probably just represents an average recreational practice in this country.

Little surprise of course, that much of the hunt on Ford – representing the right wing Progressive Conservative Party – is coming from the ‘liberal’ press here. It not only shows how small ‘c’ conservative even Canada’s liberal elites are but also reveals that all those who hated Ford as a mayor to begin with now take whatever moral resource as their disposal to finally finish him off.

This points to a second observation. Rob Ford epitomizes the aches and tensions of a country which has been the most relaxed and forward looking in terms of immigration. His constituency are the ‘905ers’ based on the area code of Toronto’s suburbia. That is also where he is from. These are mostly people with a first generation immigrant background coming from south and east asia. The other lot,  who hate him and are currently fanning the flames of ousting Rob Ford are the ‘416ers’, those who live in the core downtown of Toronto. None of them voted for Ford and they never felt represented by a fat, white, uneducated, loud bloke from the suburbs.

Ford’s approval ratings have soared in the aftermath of him admitting his drug use. This is no surprise. He represents people who struggle to make ends meet; who are sick and tired of commuting to work in a city with the longest commuting time by far; who get little kick out of taxes being spent on things that do not relate to their everyday struggles; and who know from their own experience that fighting your way out of, say, Bangladesh to Brampton (a 905 suburb) – yes – takes determination, hard work and not too much concern for what their then constituency back home thought of them. Rob Ford, the small time entrepreneur, in his stubbornness just represents them.

So what does this amount to? On day one of his election I thought Rob Ford was a disaster. Mostly because I believe in Toronto’s potential as a great global city that deserves a mayor of a different stature and outlook. But at the same time I also believe that a mayor has to represent the city that voted him in. And boy, Rob Ford fits that bill. So rather than trying to get this ugly representation of what Toronto actually looks like out of sight, the real smart reaction to this scandal would be to say that Rob Ford – with all his preposterous faults – is the one that the people of Toronto chose to represent them. So lets allow him to continue to represent us. And if we don’t like what we see - until we can vote him out - maybe we find the courage to address the underlying issues. Rather than killing the poor guy who currently just displays them.
Photo by Eric Parker, reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Corporate social responsibility in a global context - a new free download

The new edition of our textbook on CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility: Readings and Cases in a Global Context, written with our colleague Laura Spence, hit the shelves a few weeks ago - just in time for the new academic year. And we're pleased to see that it's flying off those shelves pretty fast too. In its first month alone, the book sold almost a 1000 copies, which is pretty good going - and a big uptick on like-for-like sales from last time around.

The second edition is quite a change from the first. It's still based around readings of classic and recent articles on CSR, but we've updated more than half of these, written three brand new cases, and overall it has a much more textbook-like feel to it. Along with Routledge, the publishers. we've worked hard at refreshing the design and contents to make the text much more user friendly, more lively and engaging, and with a great new companion website to help students and instructors make the most of the book. This includes a whole bunch of annotated links to CSR in practice which help readers see where theory in the book turns into practice as well as links to career resources for budding CSR professionals. Of course, there are also all the usual instructor resources like powerpoint slides and teaching notes, as well as a cool new "Case Club" which has suggested cases for each of the chapters in the book. It really is as close to the complete package for a CSR course kit as we could get it.

To mark the launch of the book, we are making available, completely free, a download of the first chapter, "Corporate social responsibility: in a global context", over at the Social Science Research Network. This is the exact same version as you'll find in the book, downloadable as a pdf. You don't need to sign in, register, or anything. Just go to the right page and click "Download This Paper". It's that simple.

The chapter is a good basic CSR 101 for anyone trying to get their head's around the subject. Among other things, it includes discussion on the nature and definition of CSR, and its emergence in different national contexts (including developing and transitional economies) and even different organizational contexts (such as small and large firms, and public, private and nonprofit organizations). As with the previous edition, although we discuss a whole bunch of different definitions of CSR, we don't introduce a new one. Instead we try and capture what is common across CSR definitions in order to determine the main unique features of the phenomenon. We call these the six core characteristics of CSR, which are shown in the Figure below.
Six core characteristics of CSR

Reproduced from Crane, A., Matten, D., and Spence, L.J. (2013), "Corporate social responsibility: in a global context." In Crane, A., Matten, D. and Spence, L.J. (eds), Corporate social responsibility: readings and cases in a global context, Abingdon: Routledge (p. 9).

As we are often heard remarking, CSR is a field of "conceptual anarchy". Hopefully by reading the introduction, and who knows, maybe reading more of the book in class, at the library, or just for your own enjoyment and education, we can hopefully help you navigate through some of the confusion to reach a clearer, if no less complex, understanding of a sometimes elusive idea.

See also: Our top 10 tips for teaching CSR

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Top 10 tips for teaching CSR and business ethics

It's time again for the start of the new school year in universities across much of the globe. For us, this typically means updating course outlines, refreshing our teaching materials and getting ready to hopefully engage and excite a new cohort of students looking to learn about corporate responsibility.

There are many ways to teach courses on CSR or business ethics. Some approaches suit particular professors or groups of students better. But over the years, we've discovered that, as far as teaching in business schools is concerned, there are some fairly common do's and don'ts that can make teaching in this field more effective.  Not everyone will agree with all of these, but here's our list of the 10 best ways to ensure a positive learning experience in ethics and CSR.

1. Be clear and realistic about what you can achieve.
All good courses start with a clear set of learning objectives. This is particularly important in corporate responsibility courses because there are so many different types of outcome that an instructor might be aiming for. Do you want to make your students more ethical managers? Do you want to improve their decision making? Do you want them to be able to practice CSR, or to have a more critical perspective on it? Think about not only what is most important to you, but, most importantly, what you think your students hope t learn. But beware of expecting too much - you're never going to change your students' values in a couple of months of teaching.

2. Use current events to engage students.
Teaching ethics and CSR isn't easy, but one thing we do have an advantage in is that there is hardly a day that goes by without our subject being in the news. This is a golden opportunity to demonstrate to students that what they are learning in the classroom has immediate relevance in the real world, especially when those individual events are part of broader trends, such as globalization, shifts in power, public mistrust of business, etc. Don't waste the opportunity!  

3. Start with a problem or issue, not with a theory
In our experience, business school students respond best when they recognize there's a problem to be fixed and then you give them some theories or concepts to help them do so. So start with a problem - whether a case study, a news story, or your own experience - and then use this to hook them on why theory matters - not the other way round! Starting with the theory and then showing how it applies runs the risk of losing the students' interest too early. It might work for some, but it's a risky strategy.

4. Students’ own experience is valuable class material – don’t waste it!
We are constantly surprised by the rich variety of  experience and opinion that our students have had in corporate responsibility, even without ever having a formal CR position. This is a real treasure chest for teachable moments, when you can flip what you're teaching in the classroom to help students make sense of their own past or current experience. And the rest of the class can learn so much from this too. It brings everything into such clear focus about the here and now rather than some abstract case in a textbook.

5. Don't preach.
In our opinion it is important to avoid imposing a single theoretical position or set of values on students, regardless of what your own perspective on corporate responsibility might be. There are few unequivocal right or wrong answers in this field. So the goal should be to help students understand the breadth of perspectives on the issues at hand and enable them to find their own position not to impose one on them. The professor's job should be more like that of a coach than a preacher.

6. Don’t confuse ‘there are no right and wrong answers’ with ‘there are no better and worse answers’.
The first statement is largely true. The second one is not. One of our most important jobs is to enable students to make better decisions, and to come up with better answers than just simple moral relativism : "my opinion is just as valid as anyone else's". A valid opinion, or a good answer, is one supported by fact, reason, evidence and logic. This may not mean that the answer is right from any universal moral perspective, but is should mean that it gets an A when you're doing your grading - even if you don't agree with the answer!

7. Use (but do not abuse) the business case 
Rightly or wrongly, the business case is the most powerful tool for any corporate responsibility advocate in the workplace. If you can show how a CR initiative will create business opportunities or reduce risks, it has a much better chance of getting approved. So teaching the business case is a crucial part of any course. But there is more to responsibility than only the business case. A good course needs to consider other social and ethical arguments for corporate responsibility beyond the business case so that students do not get trapped inside a purely self-interested mindset.

8. Be mindful of the limits posed by particular forms of business and business system. Not all companies are publicly-held corporations, and not all systems of governance work like the US where the shareholder is king. When teaching corporate responsibility it is essential to help students recognize this, especially if they are using a US textbook. Small firms, privately held companies, co-ops, mutuals, B Corps, social enterprises, etc - these all operate by different rules that give rise to different limits and opportunities for social responsibility. Likewise, the governance of large companies in continental Europe, Asia and and Latin America is quite different from in the Anglo-American system. Corporate responsibility is best understood as a practice than happens within particular constraints - and students need to know exactly what those constraints are in different parts of the world and in different parts of the economy.

9. Provide a good structure for learning. 
This is true for any course, but its easy to forget how important good structure is for good learning when there are so many juicy issues to get your teeth into in our field. An effective course will use a clear relevant organizing framework (such as themes, stakeholders, theories), not just a list of issues. Think about a course as series of building blocks - what's the foundation and what are you aiming at reaching at the pinnacle?

10. Remember to link with other business subjects and courses
Corporate responsibility is not an island. It needs to be linked and embedded with the other subjects that students are taking. Hopefully some of this will be happening in those other courses, but our job as a corporate responsibility professor is also to make those links clear for our students so that they don;t see ethics and social responsibility as add-ons separate from "real" business. So bring in elements of strategy, or marketing, supply chain management, accounting, finance - whatever it is that makes sense in the context of what you are teaching. A joined-up curriculum leads to joined-up thinkers - and one way or another we need a whole lot more of them out there.

Photo ©Schulich School of Business

Friday, August 23, 2013

The “IT-Industrial Complex”

A while ago we commented on whistleblowing in the context of Edward Snowdon’s revelation of the current practices of the NSA. The entire story though is much bigger and has been ongoing for a while now. Just Monday this week, Glenn Greenwald’s partner got detained at London’s Heathrow Airport in a rather unusual manner. Greenwald, as most of us will know, is the journalist who was contacted by Snowdon and has been publishing the crucial pieces of Snowdon’s material in The Guardian.

While in essence the ongoing revelations have the political sphere as the key target, it now more and more emerges that the role of private businesses is far bigger than so far known. From the perspective of scholars interested in business ethics then this case, as it unfolds, raises some rather daunting questions, which – besides being troubling from a normal citizen’s point of view – offer some challenging questions for further research.

1. A new industry

Ever since the Washington Post published Top Secret America we are aware of the fast growing security industry which was created by the US Government in the aftermath of the terror attacks of 2001. What was not that clear is however how far the reach of this industry has gone.

The fact that phone companies provide their records to the NSA, that in principle all our email traffic is public and stored somewhere - just to name a few aspects - takes the entire debate to a new level. It now emerged that in fact most wireless phone providers, many internet service providers (including Google and Facebook) share data with the NSA, as do many classic IT hard- and software producer such as Apple and Microsoft.

When these revelations were made it was conspicuous to see the rather muted reaction of these companies. For long we thought that Google, certainly in their varied approaches to Chinese censorship struggled for an ethical approach here; with regard to their own government though very little of these, in essence similar, concerns obviously played a role. The main defense of these companies overly seems to be the need of compliance. While that argument might carry some way, it is not understandable how for instance Apple, who as a ‘footloose’ company manages to deal with ‘compliance’ to tax legislation in very creative ways just caves in with regard to the privacy of their ‘users’ when the NSA asks for access to their accounts.

So what we see here is not only the emergence of a new industrial sector, which combines rather diverse set of companies (see the list of companies in Top Secret America); it is also not clear anymore where the lines between private business and public administration/government lie. After all Snowdon himself was employed by a private company many of us would primarily remember as a strategy consulting firm (Booz Allen Hamilton). While the blurring of lines between sectors is nothing new, the level and dimensions of the 'securocracy' currently dismantling in front of our eyes in the context of the NSA takes it clearly to a new level.

2. The business model and its ethical implications

Ethical issues in the IT industry have garnered attention for a while in business ethics. Given the numerous court cases, for instance Google and Facebook had to weather recently in the US and Europe it is clear though, that with the growth of the internet and the degree, to which the internet is morphing into a social space, many more questions will arise.

Given that we now know that Google, Facebook, Apple and others are not only basically supplying the government with information but have been monitoring, searching, and organizing our data all long it raises some new questions. In particular it raises the question about the very essence of their business model from an ethical perspective.

Lets stick to the Facebook example. We are told that basically the company will make its money through advertising. Looking at the pathetically annoying adds on our Facebook feeds, for instance, the question really is whether this is the whole story? $800bn for some potentially ingenious advertising platform?

As Facebook ‘users’ we know that we are not their customers. We are their suppliers. What they ultimately want to ‘sell’ is information. This, rather than advertising, is ultimately the business case. This similarly applies to Google, Yahoo, Apple and other who store and ‘use’ many of the data we create through our various internet usages. Most of it is ‘free’ so far, yet still these companies are worth billions of dollars.

This raises some questions, which admittedly can easily be confounded with conspiracy theories. The most important of which is that under the post 9/11 legislation the ‘harvesting’ of our data which for long had been prohibited, is now in full swing. These companies are not primarily in the business of social media, web search or email hosting – they are sources of data about the most intimate details of our lives. While this was always clear to those who bothered to read the small print of the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of these companies, it emerges more and more that this is not just material of value for marketing purposes.

Just today we read in The Guardian that in fact many IT companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft made millions out of providing the NSA with our data. The euphemistic term for this is to see it as a reimbursement for ‘compliance costs’ – but from the perspective of those companies’ CFOs, what else is this other than ‘revenue’? This is certainly the first hard proof that there are clear financial ties between the US government and these companies. But could this also be another hint at what the real business model of these companies is about?

3. The Political role of business

That corporations are political actors in societal governance beyond their direct economic role is by now well established. Looking at the IT-industrial complex though adds some aspects. First, and very much on the surface, it strikes one to see the close ties between senior executives in the industry and the current US government. Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) had and still has key roles in the Obama administration to the degree Google has been called the 'Halliburton of the Obama Administration'; Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook CFO) worked for years in Washington, most notably with Larry Summers.

These are just two examples. Looking at the ferocious reaction to whistleblowers recently, one cannot overlook the commonality of interests between the US ‘government’ and the IT industry. Obama winning a second election was seen by many as a proof that maybe – despite of new campaign financing laws for corporations – business influence on politics is limited and that money alone cant buy campaigns and determine election outcomes. But maybe Obama’s re-election is just THE showcase of what ‘Citizens United’ has done: it got the very president elected whose campaign was crucially supported by Silicon Valley, but whose government now appears to be all long deeply engaged and intermingled with this new industrial network.

As business ethics scholars we see here a new opportunity for research. It is foremost about understanding the structure and value creation models of this industry. But it is also about evaluating the implications of these changes for our democracy, for how society is governed and what the rights and status of citizens in this context morphs into. In short, it is a research field rife with ethical question and issues.

Artwork by Susanne Waldau-te Brake, reproduced under the Creative Commons License

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Academy of Management Conference in Disney World: ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ or ‘Back in the USSR’?

Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse and Cinderella Castle

Crane and Matten spent the last 5 days in Disney World Orlando. Which had nothing to do with recent fatherhood or anything like that. Who would have guessed: it was the venue of this year’s Academy of Management Annual Meeting – the biggest conference of management academics in the world, which takes place every August – in five of the Disney Hotels in Orlando.

As if this is not ironic enough, listen to the title of this year’s conference: ‘Capitalism in Question’! Whaow. Questioning capitalism in Disneyworld – for some a joke, for others hypocritical, for most of us simply absurd.

But wait a second. Once I arrived there, it took me only a few hours to think that Minnie & Mickey’s world is actually the best place to understand what is wrong with contemporary global capitalism. And, I love to add, nothing like what you would expect to be a capitalist experience; I rather had vivid deja-vu’s to my frequent visits to communist East Germany before the wall came down in 1989.

To begin with, the treatment Disney gives you as a consumer is rather dismal. I did not have a single meal where I did not had to join a long line. Even if you reserve a table, you are still kept waiting for a good half hour. Where i stayed (Coronado Springs) there was not much choice to begin with. Just one restaurant, and one snack bar. The latter had some 15 items on the food menu – but every lunch we could just chose between two types of pre-packed sandwiches. So, by and large, a pretty socialist experience. Bars closed at midnight sharp, and off it was to bed, just in the same way as you had to rush to checkpoints at midnight when visiting relatives in East Berlin back in the day.

The inefficiency was just hilarious. Even my welcome package arrived by UPS just in time on my return back to home…

The GDR claimed to be the worker’s paradise (‘Arbeiterparadies’), just about the same as Disneyland tells us everywhere that we are in the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’. Trained to be happy, wishing you a ‘magical day’ each and every second – the Disney ‘cast members’ (no workers here) have to push that message and play that role 24/7. Of course it’s mostly fake – and with dismal wages most of these actually rather nice people feel more like ‘mouse trapped’.

Slightly spooky is the extreme focus on security: tight controls and ID-ing at every (gated, of course) entrance. One colleague wanted to just walk between the different conference hotels; no such thing: all of them are heavily fenced in. He was warned that stepping off the main paths would immediately call security to the scene – so he joined the lines for the shuttle buses between hotels.

Now, I could rant on like that. The interesting question is what this all has to do with capitalism. It struck me, that at the end of the day, going to Disneyworld for five days of conferencing gives you a flavor of what it would look like if our life would be completely controlled by private corporations.

Its worth looking into the outline of the Conference to understand what we are talking about: Here is what it says:
“Three features differentiate capitalism from previous economic systems in history: (a) market competition among profit-driven firms, (b) wage employment within these firms, and (c) limited government over them.”
 If we look at (a), Disney shows what large corporations have always tried to do: Once you are lured into the resorts, life is controlled by one monopolistic corporation. That’s why ‘choice’, free competition or freedom of movement no longer exists once you are there. This experience meanwhile is rather ubiquitous, certainly in US style capitalism: fewer brands and chains control growing market shares and choice with regard to our IT software, our air travel or our means of commuting is often only symbolic. Yes, we can chose between different 30 different washing powders. But at the end of the day, it’s all the same thing.

The result is rather surprising: the actual ‘capitalist’ experience resembles life in ‘communist’ times. Of course I know that East Germany (or the Soviet block in the cold war) was more a state capitalist system, but still. Disney – once you are there – gave me snippets of a socialist experience.

Including the ‘regime critique’. How I enjoyed ranting about the place with my colleagues – in the flesh, on facebook or in other ways of making fun of the ‘jail’ in which we all felt trapped. Someone even wrote a little manifesto! Anonymously of course, Disney might share it with the NSA maybe?

It was great for the spirit. Back to the cold, free world out there, I kind of miss it already. Just in the same way ‘Ostalgie’ crept up to many of my fellow countrymen after the fall of the iron curtain…

Photo by gwaar, reproduced under the Creative Commons License

Monday, July 22, 2013

The future of CSR

Our collaborator on the forthcoming second edition of our CSR textbook, Laura Spence from Royal Holloway, University of London, has been musing recently on the future of CSR. So we asked her to pen another guest post for us about where she thinks things are going. Here's what her crystal ball says...
I’ll let you into a secret. Sometimes, as I travel from conference to conference, I wonder if we are getting anywhere at all in the study of CSR.  As the field has developed, there are some topics and theories which have somewhat of a stranglehold on our thinking. With every new conference presentation that yet again tackles the well-trodden ground of large, Western multinational corporations, corporate social performance, stakeholder theory, or institutional theory, my heart sinks a little, though I also work on some of these. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of good work on these topics coming out, but we are in danger of throwing all our energies at an ever-decreasing circle of subjects when there is so much more out there to do. Couple that with the assessment by some that CSR has come to its natural end and it is sometimes hard to stay positive for the future of CSR.

And yet, in the last few weeks, I have had to rethink my doubts. It all started with an event on Gender and Responsible Business at Nottingham University’s International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. Somehow CSR – of all subjects - has more or less overlooked the gender perspective despite some pretty long standing powerful contributions.  Every presentation I saw contributed something refreshing, different and relevant, demonstrating a huge potential to shine a new light on CSR in the future. It is well worth joining the continuing conversation through the LinkedIn group: ‘Gender & Responsible Business Network’.

The inclusion of marginalized voices was to my delight also explored at the ‘Corporate Responsibility: Towards Inclusive Development’ stream at the European Group of Organization Studies (EGOS) conference in Montreal.  In a field dominated by US and European corporate perspectives and authors, this stream surfaced a young, vibrant and diverse group of scholars working on regions that constitute most of the world but a small proportion of CSR publications. We heard about CSR in Asian, South American, Middle Eastern and African countries, drawing on important cultural, political, economic, social and religious perspectives that are usually sidelined. Is the future of CSR in Europe or North America? I doubt it. The level of social need, different governmental roles, critical challenges and changing economic structures in developing and emerging economies should encourage us to look well beyond the usual contexts.

And I was not the only one pondering the future of CSR. At a special workshop at the EGOS conference, Christopher Wickert (VU University Amsterdam) and Arno Kourula (University of Amsterdam) led a focused workshop ‘Debating the Future of CSR’. Bringing together PhD students and early career researchers (and let’s face it, they should be the ones that determine what’s around the corner) with a few more established academics, we had the opportunity to really dig in to three key aspects: contextuality in CSR; theoretical criticism of CSR; and stakeholder perspectives and marginalized voices in CSR. The topics discussed were wide ranging and included the role of non-governmental organizations, CSR as a political project, activism, the role of the state, frustration with the ‘business case’, the performativity of language around CSR, listening to the polyphony of  voices and the dangers of stereotyping.  I really hope that the participants at the workshop go on to publish on some of these perspectives in more detail – it will make fascinating reading.  

Some of these waves of CSR research are captured in an earlier Crane and Matten blog and a brand new chapter in our second edition of CSR: Readings and Cases in A Global Context (Crane, Matten & Spence, Routledge, July 2013). There we add to the debate on the future of CSR in terms of new business models such as social entrepreneurship and social innovation, the influence of new social movements, forms of regulatory rather than voluntary CSR, the outcomes of CSR, and the positive prospects of CSR as a profession and an academic subject.   

So, as summer starts in earnest in the UK, I am optimistic for the future of CSR. If space is made for the rising waves of research I have been privileged to see in the last few months, you never know, we might actually make a difference. 

Laura J. Spence

Photo by eelcowest. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Top 10 tips for publishing CSR research in top journals

Contrary to popular belief, most university faculty don't spend the whole summer lounging on the beach or sitting in the garden. For most of us, summer is the time when we can really focus on our research without the usual distractions of teaching and university administration.

Although many academics do this research because they enjoy it, it is also a critical part of our role. Success in publishing our research is often the number one reason why we get hired or not, or whether we get that promotion or pay rise that we're after. Publish or perish is a mantra that is very real for many of us.

Publication, however, is no easy matter. There is great competition for space in the best scholarly outlets, like high ranked journals and prestigious book publishers. Those of us doing research on corporate responsibility issues, whether CSR, business ethics, business and sustainability, or whatever else sometimes struggle to meet the kinds of standards expected by these outlets. This is not because we're any less smart than other researchers, but we do have a complicated subject that doesn't always lend itself very well to the demands of the top tier journals. There is also just simply lot to learn about the publishing process, especially for PhD students, junior researchers or those relatively new to the demands of publishing their work in premier English-language journals.

As a result of this, we often find ourselves giving advice to other CSR researchers, especially at the many workshops and conferences that crop up over the summer. We tend to tailor this advice to the different audiences we speak to, but we also thought that it might be helpful to give a more general list of top tips that anyone doing work in the area could hopefully learn something from. Our thoughts are particularly relevant to publishing in high ranked management journals, but most of the lessons translate beyond this. Let us know if you find them helpful or if you have your own suggestions, just add them in the comment section below.

1. Make time for research. This is the critical starting place. Good work requires a substantial investment of time and energy and lots of researchers spend a lot of their time on teaching and service. In the CSR space, in particular, many of us are so passionate about our subject that our available research time is easily eaten up by working with our students or lobbying our colleagues to include more CSR content in their courses. Carving out the necessary space and time for research is critical. There are no shortcuts.

2. Find great co-authors … but select them carefully. OK, so maybe there is one shortcut: finding other people to do some of the research with you. But co-authorships go wrong as often as they go well. So choosing carefully is critical. Find people with complementary skills, who understand the subject in different but related ways to you. Remember, CSR issues are complicated, so just as we always advocate partnership by organizations, so too do we need to partner to understand a phenomenon. But if we go too broad, we risk losing the all-essential focus that the top journals aim for. Our no.1 piece of advice for selecting co-authors - find someone you can go for a drink or a coffee with and feel energized afterwards.
3. Write for a clearly defined audience, with a carefully targeted paper, that joins a specific conversation. Research doesn't happen in a vacuum. Who do you want to read your work? No, really, who exactly do you have in mind? What have they written about your subject? Answer these questions and join an ongoing conversation rather than trying to start a whole new one. It may seem like CSR issues are new and exciting, but many of the issues, problems or concepts that we find interesting have been addressed by others in other ways. Some scholars live by the maxim that if you think an idea is really new then you probably just haven't read enough. So make sure you do read enough and make sure that your work is crafted for a particular audience. If it helps, think of it like a product that has to fill a clearly defined need.

4. Be clear what the research gap is that you are aiming to fill, and what your contribution is. Probably the number one reason that editors reject corporate responsibility papers is that they don't make a clear enough contribution. Typically, this means, a contribution to academic theory. So nailing down the research gap and deciding for yourself what your unique contribution is will reap rewards. Especially if the contribution is one valued by those other researchers that you're aiming to write for.

5. Try as far as possible to be theory rather than phenomenon driven. This is one that many CSR researchers struggle with. We're doing research in this area because we find the issues themselves fascinating. This means we tend to phenomenon-driven. But the higher ranked journals all typically look for a theoretical contribution and so they expect the research they publish to be theoretically-driven. So if you don't want to take too many risks with that limited amount of research time you have, work out how to make the translation from phenomenon to theory and start as you mean to go on.

6. Different contexts have to be theoretically distinctive (revising/extending theory) not just new applications of existing theory. This is particularly relevant for those doing research on or in particular countries or industries, which is so common in the CSR field just because it has become so ubiquitous. The key thing to remember here is that just because no one has done research on your country or industry before, that doesn't mean it needs to be done now. If you're following the advice we've already laid out, you'll be thinking - what is it about this country or industry that is sufficiently different that it renders existing theories inadequate to explain it. If you can answer this, you have a shot at extending or revising that theory rather than just applying it to a new area. And that's what the reviewers will be looking for.

7. Test out your ideas with working papers, conference presentations, workshops, etc – do not submit too early. Research is a process, and the great thing about that is there are lots of opportunities to get feedback on what you're doing before its too late. Take your time to see if your ideas have the potential for top tier publication before you commit to doing the research. And then as you're doing the research get feedback from the best people you can about your emerging results. Finally, circulate your work and get feedback before you submit to that tier 1 journal that rejects 90% of the papers it receives. You want to be as sure as possible that you're going to be in the rarefied 10%.

8. Beware of avoidable ‘incompetence cues’ . This is one that the former editor of Business Ethics Quarterly, Gary Weaver, always explained very convincingly. If editors and reviewers find sub-standard English, spelling mistakes, poor referencing, formatting that doesn't meet the journal's specification and other minor errors in a paper (especially in the first few pages) you are going to activate the editor's 'incompetence schema'. That is, he or she will already be thinking that you're in some way incompetent before they even get to evaluating your ideas. Don't risk it. Get the basics 100% right, every time, without fail. This will give your work the best chance it can of being judged in the way you want it to be.

9. Remember that reviewers are there to help you improve your work. The community of researchers around CSR and business ethics are a pretty collegiate and supportive group. But it can feel like completely the opposite when you're holding three reviews which all appear to rip your work to shreds ... but are still offering you the chance to resubmit something different (well, actually, better) in the future. But believe us, they do actually want to see your work published, so you just need to work with them, not against them. The most successful researchers spend almost as much time on revising their work as they on the initial preparation. Take criticism on the chin and use it constructively as just another stage in the research process. In the end, you'll appreciate the advice because it almost always improves your research if you're working with a good journal and good reviewers.

10. Get used to criticism and rejection – and don’t forget the bigger picture of why you want to publish in the first place. We all get bucketloads of criticism and we all get our work rejected. Its a part of the job as a researcher. Some people say that if you're not getting rejected from time to time, you're not aiming high enough. So don't take it personally. And remember, the reason you're putting yourself through all this is that you think the issues are important and that you have ways of thinking about it that need to be read. The best journals are regarded a good because they have a higher impact than the others. If you really want your work to be read by other researchers - if you want to leave a mark on the field - you'll need to face the trials and tribulations of aiming for the best journals. So grow a hard skin along with that smart mind and warm heart.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why all these whistleblowers recently?

Whistleblowing, this obscure practice discussed in most business ethics textbooks (we do so in Chapter 7), has become a big topic of discussion these days. The latest incident is Edward Snowdon and his revelation about the ongoing surveillance of phone and internet usage of American citizens by the US government. But he is not alone: currently on trial is Bradley Manning, who provided Wikileaks with the material for exposing the diplomatic correspondence of the US government.

The general contention with whistleblowing is becoming clear in both cases: are these individual traitors who defaulted on their duties by breaching the rules and codes they had agreed to abide by when entering their job? Or are they ‘heroes’ whose behavior is governed by higher, more general, and persistent ethical standards than their day-to-day job environment would allow them to follow?

It is useful to look at some historic cases of whistleblowing – and indeed cases, where certainly by hindsight the general agreement seems to be that the whistleblowers are in the second category of ‘ethical hero’. Think of Jeffrey Wigand, the executive of tobacco company Brown&Williamson who exposed the practice of enhancing the addictive potential of cigarettes of his employer (famously turned into the movie The Insider). Or think of Sherron Watkins, who initially blew the whistle on the practices at ENRON and contributed to the uncovering of the scandal in 2001. Turning to the political sphere, currently many references are made to Daniel Ellsberg who in 1971 leaked the ‘Pentagon Papers’ disclosing that the US government for years had systematically mislead the public about the impact, casualties and costs of the Vietnam war.

Whistleblowing commonly seems to occur in a situation where the moral status of organizational practice – be it a private company or a public institution such as the NSA or the Pentagon – deviate from the wider moral values which society deems appropriate. And crucially, it has to be added, these actions also deviate from the professed moral standards of the organization against which those individuals blow the whistle.
This is rather evident in the case of Ellsberg: by the early 1970s, the public in the US all long thought that the war in Vietnam had lost its moral cause; his revelations proved that the US government, too, was all along aware that what it did in Vietnam no longer could live up to the public mission and norms according to which the American government professed to act. Similar are the cases of Wigand and Watkins: in the same way the Tobacco industry outwardly professed that they were not aware of the addictive impact of cigarettes, ENRON had always claimed to be an ethical company. The same applies to the current Manning and Snowdon cases: Obama ran on the promise to stop the abuses by the previous Bush administration and to restore basic civil liberties – and is now found out to do the same or worse.

The dilemma of whistleblowers all points to the fundamental differentiation established by Max Weber a century ago: Members of a social group (incl. an organization) can act according to an ethics of responsibility or according to an ethics of conviction. The first looks at the consequences of an action and basically suggests that a virtuous individual is one that lives up to the expectations of all who are affected directly by the consequences of an action. In practice, this boils down to abiding by the rules and procedures of the organization. The main arguments against whistleblowing then all come in the shape of what the effects of the revelations are on other people (that was the big argument against Wikileaks) or how it affects the general functioning of a secret service where everybody potentially can leak anything (the current debate on Snowdon).

What justifies whistleblowing then is Weber’s ethics of conviction according to which an individual makes an ethical choice based on personal moral convictions. The act is based on principles, rather than anticipated consequences. In most cases whistleblowers refer to general principles of either good business practice regarding customers (the tobacco case) or shareholders (ENRON) or good government based on some basic democratic principles (such as the Ellsberg, Manning or Snowdon case).

Historically, such reasoning based on an ethics of conviction always becomes more relevant at a time when fundamental values of society are in question and challenged. The Vietnam war raised basic questions about the moral limits of the cold war; the tobacco scandals exposed the lack of basic moral rules of consumer protection; ENRON initiated the ongoing moral scrutiny of a shareholder value dominated form of capitalism; the Manning and Snowdon cases now raise fundamental moral questions about civic liberties, civic rights to privacy and protection of personal data and the appropriate powers of the state in protecting these liberties.

It is somewhat tragic – as probably the cases of Ellsberg and Wigand best illustrate – that whistleblowers are mostly recognized as moral, conviction-driven human beings quite some time after the events. At the time of the whistleblowing defenders of the status quo always wield two crucial tools: they can either invoke arguments following an ethics of responsibility and point to the potential harm and the anarchic nature of the act; Bradley Manning’s trial can be followed as a textbook example of this reasoning.

Or, they can try to discredit the ‘convictions’ of the whistleblower. Since these often reflect a wider moral consensus in society it is hard to attack those principles or norms directly. More effective seems to be an approach that discredits the whistleblower on a personal level. In Ellsberg’s case the CIA broke into his psychiatrist’s office to obtain information on his mental health and love life; in Wigand’s case a similar smear campaign was initiated. Currently with regard to Edward Snowdon, it is conspicuous how the entire political spectrum in the US is more or less embarking on this trajectory. From Bill Maher’s jokes last Friday night on Real Time to David Brook’s notorious profile in the New York Times - most seem eager to present him as some sort of self-aggrandizing nerd.

Whistleblowers turn up at a time when societies or organizations are deviating from commonly accepted and widely shared moral values. Whatever our concrete judgment about individuals and their motives - the fact that whistleblowing occurs at this point in history clearly points to a wider epiphany. Ironically, Snowdon relocated to the very country which for so long has been accused by the West of not respecting the human rights of their citizens in exactly this issue arena – much to the distress of Google, Yahoo or other companies. It looks like Obama currently has a bit of a hard time to explain to China, Russia or even his European allies, how his approach to privacy and data protection still reflects basic values of liberal democracies.

Picture by DonkeyHotey, reproduced under the Creative Commons License.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Canada's corruption problem

Barely a day goes by at the moment here in Canada without a new twist or turn in a corruption story hitting the headlines. Last week we got news of SNC Lavalin offering an amnesty for any employees providing information about their huge ongoing bribery scandal. The police also announced last week their intent to extradite Dr Arthur Porter for his part in allegedly receiving $22m in return for granting a contract to SNC to build the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper's government is embroiled in a major, and very persistent, scandal involving an attempted cover-up of some dodgy expenses claims by a conservative senator. This involved Harper's (now resigned) Chief of Staff giving a "gift" of $90,000 to Senator Mike Duffy to reimburse his questionable claim and stave off any further the investigation. Oh, and who can ignore the now internationally ridiculed mayor of Toronto, who in the wake of allegations about him being caught on video smoking crack, has now had 5 members of his administration resign or get fired for, so far, unspecified reasons. Add to that the other revelations trickling out of the ongoing Charbonneau Inquiry into corruption in Quebec, and a second Laval city mayor in a matter of months accused of taking bribes and clearly all is not well in the country formerly known for peace, order and good governance.

On the face of it, Canada has a serious corruption problem. So it was refreshing to hear last week at the aptly timed Spotlight on Anti-Corruption organized by Transparency International Canada that actually, with respect to upholding its obligations for combating international bribery, Canada is actually in the midst of a major upswing. Following years of apathy and a failure to prosecute any violations of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, in the last few years we have seen the setting up of a dedicated and fully resourced police department responsible for anti-corruption, and since 2011 the first handful of persecutions. Remarkably, the Canadian police are now investigating no less than 35 cases of alleged bribery by Canadian companies overseas.

The general consensus among the anti-corruption community here is that, if not a leader, Canada is no longer a laggard. So one way of explaining away what might seem like a major corruption problem is to put it largely down to increased enforcement and in general a greater attention to corruption in the country. As delegates at TI's Spotlight event last week put it, the 'moral compass' on corruption has shifted for the better.

This view has some truth to it. But in our view, there is more to it than that. After all, the corruption that is hitting the headlines is of a very specific variety. It's not just petty corruption but is in fact involving some of our most senior business and political leaders - CEOs, hospital directors, city mayors, even the PM's office. And many of these leaders are not seemingly ready to take a public stand condemning the practice and doing all they can to root it out. SNC Lavalin is still aiming for a 'rogue employee' defense, whilst the approach of Harper's government seems to be one of secrecy and a refusal to admit any kind of wrongdoing.

This is the kind of corruption that in terms of 'tone at the top' is sending a very dangerous message to the rest of us that no amount of increased enforcement is going to compensate. Corruption, these leaders are implicitly saying, is something we are immune to.

So what is to be done? Well, rather than necessarily seeing this as an intractable problem, all the attention around corruption at the moment also offers a couple of important opportunities.

First, now is the time for our leaders to take a genuine leadership position on corruption. The public is ready to support it, there is a renewed vigor in the anti-corruption community, and Canada has a genuine opportunity to start staking a place closer to the head of the table rather than just aiming for not being quite so bad.

Second, now is also the time for a rethink about the regulatory environment around corruption. The Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act was a good start and the amendments proposed in the 2013 Bill S-14: Fighting Foreign Corruption Act will make some incremental improvements. But as several delegates at the TI Spotlight pointed out, one reason why the US and other countries are so much more effective at prosecuting corruption is that they can also prosecute through civil law through the SEC. This makes the burden of proof lower and the likelihood of a successful prosecution higher. Institutions like the Ontario Securities Commission should be playing a much greater role in enforcement. Consider that 70% of all of the equity raised for the world's public mining companies happened on the Toronto Stock Exchange last year. This is a real concentration of financing for a major corruption risk industry which means that greater devolution of powers to prosecute corruption here could help enhance the reputation of an industry integral to Canada's economic prosperity.

As the old saying goes, never let a good crisis go to waste.

Photo by IntangibleArts. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence

Friday, May 24, 2013

Danger due to: ethics

John Dalla Costa, the renowned business ethics writer and consultant teaches with us at the Schulich School of Business. He's also an occasional blogger at his site We love the piece he's just posted on the dangers of thinking that because you're doing ethics, you're going to be more ethical. With his permission, we're reposting it here since its a conversation we agree that needs to happen.

Are ethicists more ethical than their peers in other disciplines? It’s an interesting question. A recent study published in the journal Metaphilosophy provides a limited data point, but the news, at least if you’re an ethicist like me, is not good. Comparing how university professors engage students, the researchers found no difference between ethics professors and other faculty. Even though the ethics experts set an ideal, and acknowledged that not following through on that standard was morally wrong, in action, the experts in ethics were indistinguishable from fellow academics.

Are you surprised? I’m not. But I am distressed.

I’m not surprised, because if ethics were truly relevant, or if we really understood them to be effective, we’d be invoking them with much more frequency and rigor. Canada is knee-deep is scandals, with Senators whitewashing expense reports, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff paying for the white paint, and the Mayor of Toronto careening from one violation of the public trust to another. Ethics are AWOL, and no one seems to be missing them.

The same is true in business. Ethics have become IKEA-like contraptions for compliance. All the imagination and enquiry have been purposefully engineered away, so that all ethics and compliance officers need to do is follow the illustrated instructions, and assemble the pre-cut pieces.

Before Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns imploded in 2008, I managed to download the codes for ethics and conduct from their respective websites. It turns out that they were derived from a boilerplate, following numerically identical categories, and using mostly similar jargon, with only one or two cosmetic flourishes reflecting idiosyncrasies of corporate history. It would inconceivable for these global finance behemoths (or their peers) to use Quicken to do their taxes. But that’s basically what they did for their ethics – adopting a four-page template, in the name of the Board of Directors, to set the terms and scope for their ethicality. Not surprisingly, both companies got full return on their investment.

There is a good reason why we’ve talked so little about corporate ethics since the financial crisis: most corporations had already subscribed to compliance projects pre-2007, and nothing has changed since.

I’m distressed because ethics-without-ethicality repeats the diminishment of restraint and responsibility, which led to previous market failures and economic crises.

As bad as were the deceptions perpetrated by Enron, it was much worse that these accounting lies were intentionally papered-over by its auditor, Arthur Anderson. Similarly, as irresponsible as were mortgage tactics and securitizations floated by the banks in the run up to the financial crisis, it was much worse that the ratings agencies, like Standard and Poor’s, assigned Triple AAA credit value to derivates that their own in-house experts considered junk-grade. When sentinels sell-out, when they simultaneously over-estimate their virtue and under-deliver on the promise they are entrusted to uphold, bad things happen to everyone.

In his book, Confronting Vulnerability, Jonathan Schofer reminds us that moral laws and ethical rules need continuous replenishment. His point is that, while established as bulwarks against human vulnerability and exploitation, ethics are themselves vulnerable and exploitable. We fall-back on ethics as if on auto-pilot, with such doctrinaire rigidity that we cease using any critical thinking as we apply them in life’s complex ambiguities. Or, perhaps worse, we take them for granted until they become easy take-over targets for other ambitions or motivations. Principles share with practitioners the fragility of our human finitude. The most unethical thing is often denying our personal limitations for seeing what is right, and deciding what is true.

We don’t know if this research confirms that ethicists too have ceased being reliable sentinels. But it is the question that should distress and challenge us – ethicists and non-ethicists alike.

John Dalla Costa

Photo by blind dayze. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence