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Friday, May 6, 2011

Strategic CSR - Citizenship

This will be the last CSR Newsletter of the Spring semester.
Have a great summer and I will see you in the Fall!

Along with Christopher Caldwell in the FT, David Brooks (NYT) is one of the columnists who I try and read every week. Brooks’ recent columns have been heavily influenced by a book that he has just published, The Social Animal, which is an effort to use more social science research (particularly sociology and psychology) to inform policy making. For those interested, Brooks was interviewed about the book recently on PBS’ Newshour:

I am forwarding Brooks’ column in the url below because he has some thoughts on the relatively recent rise in self-centered individualism in U.S. society and what implications this may have for the broader concept of citizenship:

Citizenship, after all, is built on an awareness that we are not all that special but are, instead, enmeshed in a common enterprise. Our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the nation. I wonder if Americans are unwilling to support the sacrifices that will be required to avert fiscal catastrophe in part because they are less conscious of themselves as components of a national project. Perhaps the enlargement of the self has also attenuated the links between the generations. Every generation has an incentive to push costs of current spending onto future generations. But no generation has done it as freely as this one. Maybe people in the past had a visceral sense of themselves as a small piece of a larger chain across the centuries. As a result, it felt viscerally wrong to privilege the current generation over the future ones, in a way it no longer does.

I suspect this same effect translates to the organizational level of analysis and explains much of the resistance to the changes necessary to establish a more sustainable and socially responsible society.

Interestingly, Brooks’ view of the younger generation runs counter to the more popular narrative I see often repeated that the Millennials are more concerned with sustainability, more keen to take ethics classes at university, and more willing to hold corporations to account for their levels of social responsibility. While this greater concern regarding issues such as sustainability, on the surface, appears to be genuine (higher levels of recycling, etc.), in terms of self-perception (self-importance) and the role of the individual in society (rights versus responsibilities), I see more evidence in support of Brooks’ perspective.

Have a good weekend

Instructor Teaching Site:
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at:

The Modesty Manifesto
851 words
11 March 2011
The New York Times
Late Edition - Final

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Strategic CSR - Agribusiness

If anyone doubts the hold that agribusiness has over the regulation of the U.S. food industry, the article in the url below presents food for thought (pun intended). It reports the passage of a bill through the Iowa legislature that is designed to prevent the release of illicitly-shot video by animal rights activists revealing the conditions under which animals are raised and our food supply produced:

In Iowa, where agriculture is a dominant force both economically and politically, such undercover investigations could soon be illegal. A bill before the Iowa legislature would make it a crime to produce, distribute or possess photos and video taken without permission at an agricultural facility. It would also criminalize lying on an application to work at an agriculture facility ‘with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner.’

The article reports that:

Similar legislation is being considered in Florida and Minnesota.

The bill has stalled in the Iowa legislature, but not due to a lack of political support:

The Iowa bill was approved by a wide margin by the House and was passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee. It stalled after the attorney general's office raised concerns that prohibiting the possession and distribution of images … infringed on free speech. Supporters are working on compromise language.

That the first amendment right to free speech is seen as a stumbling block that needs to be worked around indicates that it is business interests, rather than the sanctity of the food production process, that is the politicians’ primary concern. As John Kibbie, Democrat and president of the Senate, puts it:

‘Agriculture is what Iowa is all about,'' Mr. Kibbie said. ''Our economy would be in the tank, big time, if it wasn't for agriculture.’

Take care

Instructor Teaching Site:
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at:

States Look to Ban Efforts to Reveal Farm Abuse
1197 words
14 April 2011
The New York Times
Late Edition - Final

Monday, May 2, 2011

Strategic CSR - BP

The value-laden complexity of decisions taken by firms on a day-to-day basis indicates the precarious foundation on which much of the argument in favor of CSR rests. Progress depends on things improving month-by-month, year-by-year; over time, firms and individuals will continue to become more socially responsible.

But this optimistic viewpoint depends on individuals/firms making broadly responsible decisions among the myriad choices and conflicting interests that buffet us every day. As long as the intentions are net positive (i.e., more responsible than irresponsible decisions are made) we are making progress. Given the many opposing temptations, however, ‘progress’ should not be taken for granted. In this light, consider the article in the url below, where Mallen Baker (Foreword, pxvii) suggests that:

Don’t take it for granted which tendency will win out. It is possible we may have passed the high mark for corporate responsibility and it’s downhill from here. But there is still everything to play for.

Baker argues that it is difficult economic times “that is the real test of which companies will hold the line on their values when things get tough.” To illustrate his point, Baker discusses BP’s recent decision to explore for oil in Russia in partnership with the Russian oil firm, Rosneft – a rational decision:

“… so long as you’re not overly concerned about where Rosneft got some of its assets, and are prepared to go through meetings without mentioning the word “Yukos”.

Resources are becoming increasingly scarce worldwide. As a result, firms have to search for them in increasingly difficult to reach locations. Who do we want in charge of extracting these resources – BP, or another, potentially less law-abiding firm? Even if you are willing to grant BP a second (third, fourth…?) chance, the difficulties are apparent:

“… what happens when it’s do or die? When you need to secure those resources, and the only people that have got them don’t much care about anything other than lining their own pockets? Are you prepared to turn to the people that work for you and tell them that you’re laying them off in order to remain consistent with your values?

As the man said:

“… there is still everything to play for.

Take care

Instructor Teaching Site:
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at:

Corporate values: Keep hold of hard-won business responsibility
Making ethical choices is harder in touch economic times, but we still need to make them
Mallen Baker
January 27, 2011
Ethical Corporation Magazine