The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Strategic CSR - Walmart vs. Apple

The article in the url below discusses Apple’s recent supply chain difficulties and makes the argument that Tim Cook (Apple’s current CEO) is more engaged on this issue than his predecessor:

Mr. Cook’s appearance at a facility where Apple devices are made was an illustration of how differently Apple’s new chief relates to an issue that first surfaced under his predecessor, Steven P. Jobs. Since Mr. Cook became chief executive in August, shortly before the death of Mr. Jobs, Apple has taken a number of significant steps to address concerns about how Apple products are made.

The article got me thinking about an emerging narrative I have seen in recent coverage of Walmart that the firm is beginning to slide on its commitment to sustainability (e.g.,

In October 2005, Walmart announced plans to transform itself into one of the greenest corporations in the world. Then-CEO Lee Scott called sustainability ‘essential to our future success as a retailer.’ I visited with Lee Scott numerous times between 2005 and 2008 to discuss, evaluate and advise on Walmart’s sustainability strategy. Several years after Scott’s departure as CEO, something has gone seriously wrong. … Michael Duke became CEO in February 2009, replacing Scott. Duke joined Walmart in 1995. I believe that, from the day Duke started, the initiatives that Lee Scott championed, but never saw come to fruition, stalled and then slowly unraveled.

The contrast between the two articles identifies the importance of the CEO in supporting a firm’s commitment to CSR (Chapter 5: From The Top Down, p127). In particular, the articles present a stark contrast between two firms that appear to be moving in opposite directions on CSR by demonstrating how a change from a disengaged CEO to an engaged CEO (i.e., the shift from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook at Apple) can alter a firm’s CSR profile, while the reverse shift (i.e., the change from Lee Scott to Mike Duke at Walmart) can ruin a lot of good work.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Strategic CSR - U.S. and China

The articles in the two urls below, together, constitute an interesting snapshot of the relative positions and trajectories of U.S. and Chinese societies. The article in the first url below is titled, “Chinese Warriors Coming to New York …” and reports on an exhibition that will open today of China’s Terracotta soldiers in New York:

The new exhibition … will also include a set of gates from an ancient Han burial chamber, never before publicly displayed, and 20 other artifacts that will be shown in the United States for the first time, among dozens of other pieces.

The article in the second url below, in contrast, is titled “… And ‘Iron Man’ is Going to China” and reports on the recent decision by the Disney-owned Marvel Studios to partner with the Chinese media company, DMG Entertainment, to make Iron Man 3:

Disney, which acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009, plans to release “Iron Man 3” — starring Robert Downey Jr. as the superheroic industrialist Tony Stark — in May 2013. Filming is expected to take place in China late summer. Disney declined to say how much DMG would invest or how the “Iron Man 3” plot would involve China.

The juxtapositioning of the two articles (on the same page in the New York Times, one on top of the other), reminded me of quote I saw a while ago from the Commerce Department about the leading exports between the U.S. and China. I wrote about that quote in a prior Newsletter and saw it repeated recently in a separate article in the Wall Street Journal (

Trash has become America's leading export: mountains of waste paper, soiled cardboard, crushed beer cans and junked electronics. China's No. 1 export to the U.S. is computers, according to the Journal of Commerce. The United States' No. 1 export to China, by number of cargo containers, is scrap.

I am not entirely sure what all this says about both countries’ cultures and economies, but the contrast struck me as interesting.

Have a good weekend

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

Chinese Warriors Coming to New York …
By Randy Kennedy
The New York Times
April 17, 2012

… And ‘Iron Man’ Is Going to China
By Brooks Barnes
The New York Times
April 17, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Strategic CSR - Walmart in Mexico

The fallout from the Walmart bribery investigation in Mexico is interesting on many levels. Principally, why would a company that is so process- and control-oriented allow things to get to this point? Of course, the key questions directly related to the case are: How much did Walmart know, when did they know it, and did they disclose their knowledge to the correct authorities? The initial media reports do not appear to bode well for the firm and its senior executives. As we know from Watergate, it is not the original crime, but the cover-up that does most of the damage.

The fact that reaction to these allegations has been so swift and the prospective consequences so extreme (Walmart shares were down nearly 5% on Monday, alone:, however, speaks to the particular nature of the ethics transgression—bribery.

This phenomenon struck a chord with me because it is related directly to the research I did for my dissertation. Part of my study involved constructing a comprehensive list of all the actions a firm can commit that an Ethics & Compliance Officer (ECO) would consider to be an ethics transgression. The list was created in close consultation with the Directors of the Ethics & Compliance Officers Association (ECOA,, all of whom are senior ECOs in their respective firms. In addition to creating the list, I also asked the ECOs to score each transgression in terms of severity from 1 to 5 (with five being most severe). The ethics transgression at the top of the list in terms of severity is “bribery (in the U.S. or overseas).” The complete list of all the transgressions is below FYI.

The increased vigilance with which the U.S. government is prosecuting Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA) cases (e.g., may well be a driver of the heightened attention being given to bribery; it would also explain the market’s reaction to the allegations against Walmart:

Enacted in 1977, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits American companies and foreign companies whose securities are traded on exchanges here from bribing foreign officials to attract or keep business. For many years, there were few prosecutions under the act. In 2003, for instance, not a single person was charged. But in the last four years, a total of 58 companies have paid a combined $3.74 billion to settle such corruption charges. Since 2009, some 67 people have been charged, 20 are still awaiting trial or are at large, and 42 have been convicted, some from charges prior to 2009. A total of 22 have been acquitted or had charges dismissed.

For an interesting interactive map detailing FCPA prosecutions regarding corporate actions in countries all over the world, see:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Strategic CSR - Employees

The article in the url below profiles one of the best ideas I have seen in a while—a new approach to allocating annual performance bonuses among employees:

Coffee & Power, a San Francisco odd-jobs start-up, granted each of its 15 full- and part-time employees 1,200 stock options this past January, to distribute among co-workers in whatever way they chose. A worker can plunk all his options onto one colleague or split them among the group, so individual bonuses are tied to how co-workers perceive each other's work.

Personnel decisions taken within companies (e.g., decisions to hire, fire, reward, and promote employees) are extremely subjective. We all are motivated by non-rational biases, prejudices, and misinformation. What this idea is doing is substituting individual self-interest for the non-meritocratic decisions of managers and executives. Of course, such ‘investment’ decisions by employees will also be guided by the same biases and prejudices, but by democratizing or ‘crowdsourcing’ the process (by extending it to all employees), the opportunities for abuse are diminished. The program’s rules reinforce this ethos:

Workers cannot reward themselves, nor can they give options to company founders, who already have sizable shares. (The money or shares allocated to employees each quarter varies depending on company performance.) Employees only know what bonuses they receive, but don't learn who allocated what. The company makes public a distribution curve of all the bonus grants, with no names attached, so workers can see what the highest and lowest bonuses were. … The biggest surprise: the third-largest allocation went to the ninth-highest-paid person in the firm, a remote developer who handles small tasks and spends a lot of time helping others.

It is an interesting thought-experiment to see what applications this concept might have in other areas of the firm.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Strategic CSR - Earth Day

Here are some interesting thoughts to keep in mind over the weekend in observance of Earth Day on Sunday ( In particular, the article in the url below presents some updated facts on the amount of waste that is generated in the U.S.:

The nation's official trash tally [found in the Environmental Protection Agency's exhaustive annual compendium "Municipal Solid Waste in the United States] … maintains that the average American tosses out 4.4 pounds of trash a day, with about a third getting recycled and the rest going to landfills. … Americans actually throw out much more than the EPA estimates, a whopping 7.1 pounds a day, and that less than a quarter of it gets recycled.

The consequences of the amount of waste we produce is significant:
  • “At 7.1 pounds of trash a day, each of us is on track to produce a staggering 102 tons of waste in an average lifetime.
  • American communities on average spend more money on waste management than on fire protection, parks and recreation, libraries or schoolbooks, according to U.S. Census data on municipal budgets.”

In addition to the waste itself, however, our current disposal systems are inefficient. There is a great deal of value discarded along with the remnants of our materialistic society:

The chief executive of Waste Management, the world's largest trash company, estimates that there is at least $20 billion in valuable resources locked inside the materials buried in U.S. landfills each year, if only we had the technology to recover it cost effectively.

Needless to say, it doesn’t have to be this way:

Other countries with big economies and high standards of living have rejected the disposable products that make up so much of America's garbage—in part because European countries hold manufacturers, not taxpayers, responsible for the costs of packaging waste. With that sort of incentive, toothpaste tubes need not come in redundant cardboard boxes and television sets can leave the store with no boxes at all. The average Dane makes four pounds of trash a day, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; the average Japanese generates 2.5 pounds. … Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark all send less than 4% of their garbage to landfills; Germany does no landfilling at all. Recycling rates there are two to three times America's, and the rest of their trash goes to waste-to-energy plants.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Strategic CSR - Diversity

The article in the first url below falls under the category of good intentions, but unintended consequences. The article reports on a recent announcement by the Obama administration to create minimum requirements (up to 7%) for the number of disabled workers as a percentage of overall employees of federal contractors. While not mandatory, those contractors who do not meet the requirements could have their contracts revoked:

The good intentions:

The proposal could reshape hiring at roughly 200,000 companies that generate $700 billion a year in contracts with the federal government. They include defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., aircraft maker Boeing Co. and firms across the health-care, construction and information-technology industries.

The unintended consequences:

Companies have flooded the department with complaints that the rule amounts to a first-ever government quota for hiring disabled workers that would expose them to a thicket of legal pitfalls. Some employers say there might not be enough qualified disabled workers in their fields to meet that target and that they may have to fire nondisabled workers to achieve the ratio. Others say that existing federal law actually prohibits them from asking whether a job applicant is disabled, potentially forcing firms to violate one law in order to comply with another.

The directive is particularly confusing, given that:

The scope of what would constitute a disability also isn't clear since the Labor Department's proposal doesn't include a specific list. The Americans with Disabilities Act, updated in 2008, says that workers are disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of their major life activities. Lawyers who represent employers say that could include hundreds of possibilities from blindness to deafness to the less apparent such as asthma or mental illness.

The issue of hiring discrimination against the disabled is very real and firms should be incentivized to ensure equal opportunity applies to all who want to work. It is not clear, however, that a hard and fast number will achieve the stated goals. As the article in the second url below notes, this is particularly true if the federal government itself is unable to meet the standards it is imposing on for-profit firms:

… as HR Policy, an association of chief human-resource officers, notes, the federal government itself has only 5% disabled on its payrolls—and the Labor Department's percentage of disabled employees has decreased every year since President Obama took office, despite a sharp increase in the number of department employees.

Take care

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

U.S. Pushes Target for Hiring the Disabled
By Melanie Trottman
February 29, 2012
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final

The Wrong Way to Help the Disabled
By James Bovard
April 9, 2012
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final

Monday, April 16, 2012

Strategic CSR - Chiquita

Two recent articles about Chiquita Brands, the multi-national banana producer, gave me pause for thought. The article in the first url below reports that Chiquita will be forced to face charges in Federal Court in the U.S. regarding its role in making payments (opponents say ‘bribes,’ defenders say ‘payments to protect employees’) to terrorists in Colombia:

Chiquita, the global banana producer, was ordered this week to face a federal court over their role in paying off right wing death squads in Colombia. … Cincinnati-based Chiquita has been growing bananas in Colombia since 1899. For over four decades these operations have been under attack … . Court documents show that Chiquita executives paid off [two terrorist] groups. FARC was paid between $20,000 and $100,000 a month. Chiquita has also admitted to making over 100 payments totaling $1.7 million to the AUC or affiliated organizations over seven years.

In contrast, the article in the second url below bemoans the fact that, although Chiquita has made great strides in becoming more socially responsible in recent years, it has not received nearly sufficient recognition for its efforts: 

Chiquita traces its origins to the late 1890s and the United Fruit Company, which treated some of the Central American countries it operated in as banana republics. In recent years, however, the firm has made huge efforts to promote social responsibility and sustainability, working with activist groups such as the Rainforest Alliance. … Chiquita has signed and largely upheld a global agreement with local and international food unions. It has embraced sustainable farming techniques and allows products to be certified for environmental and other standards. Last year it promised to promote more women and to ensure there is no sexual harassment on the plantations it owns and buys from.

The second article also notes that Chiquita’s progress is particularly notable in contrast to the absence of similar efforts by its main competitors, Dole and Del Monte:

Chiquita’s conspicuous lack of reward is beginning to worry some veteran campaigners. Neither Dole nor Del Monte has been interested in following Chiquita in signing a global union agreement, says Ron Oswald, head of IUF, the international foodworkers’ union.“It’s not sustainable for any company in a competitive sector to make progress and gain no recognition for it,” he grumbles.

So, what are we to make of this? It is true, for example, that Chiquita volunteered the information about its activities in Colombia that are now being used against it in court (information the firm’s opponents would not otherwise have been able to get hold of). Chiquita’s actions appear genuine, along with the claim that HQ was taken by surprise at what was going on in the country. It is also true that rumors suggest it was not the only firm engaging in such activities in the region, but it is the only firm that has come forward. Should we punish firms for revealing flaws as part of their effort to become more socially responsible (thus, discouraging other firms from making similar commitments)? Or, should we be lenient on past corporate actions that flouted laws, regulations, and social norms?

Hmmmm ……… , not easy. The conundrum reminds me somewhat of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up in the aftermath of Apartheid in South Africa to encourage a full accounting of all the crimes and atrocities that occurred during that period ( While at times being very hard to swallow, such institutions can allow for the sort of progress and change that we need to see in firms today. But, as I said, the process is often hard to swallow.

Nevertheless, if we believe that social responsibility will be more effective when it is perceived by firms to be in their best interests, rather than bluntly mandated by government regulators, we will need to start swallowing and reward those firms that are willing to stick their necks out with our encouragement.

Take care

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

Chiquita Banana To Face Colombia Torture ClaimChiquita, the global banana producer, was ordered to face a federal court over their role in paying off right wing death squads in Colombia that are alleged to have used “random and targeted violence” against villagers in exchange for financial assistance and access to Chiquita’s private port.
By Pratap Chatterjee
CorpWatch blog

Going Bananas
Chiquita has tried hard to be good—and got no credit for it
The Economist
March 31, 2012,

Friday, April 13, 2012

Strategic CSR - Financial Crisis

The article in the url below contains an update on the prosecution by the Obama administration of the recent financial crisis (Issues: Financial Crisis, p235):

Four years after the disintegration of the financial system, Americans have, rightfully, a gnawing feeling that justice has not been served. Claims of financial fraud against companies like Citigroup and Bank of America have been settled for pennies on the dollar, with no admission of wrongdoing. Executives who ran companies that made, packaged and sold trillions of dollars in toxic mortgages and mortgage-backed securities remain largely unscathed. … In contrast, after the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s, more than 1,000 bank and thrift executives were convicted of felonies.

Given the level of resources invested in solving the problem, it is not clear that any of this is likely to change:

Meager resources have been applied to investigate the financial assault on our country, which wiped away trillions of dollars in household wealth and has resulted in 24 million people jobless or underemployed. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which Congress created to examine the full scope of the crisis, was given a budget of $9.8 million — roughly one-seventh of the budget of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations did its work on the financial crisis with only a dozen or so Congressional staff members.

The author, a former state treasurer of California, was the Chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Strategic CSR - Auditors

The article in the url below centers around a straight forward question:

Should accountants have term limits?

The inertia in firm relations with their auditors is shocking:

Since the Securities Act of 1933, public companies have been required to get independent audits each year, assuring investors that a fresh set of eyes has inspected the books. But those eyes aren't always the freshest. According to Audit Analytics, a research firm in Sutton, Mass., 30% of the 1,000 leading U.S. companies have used the same firm to audit their books for at least a quarter-century. Fully 11% have used the same audit firm continuously for 50 years or more. Eight companies haven't changed auditors in at least a century.

Corporate governance best practice suggests that this degree of longevity does nothing to increase active oversight of executive decision making. Vested interests within the auditing profession, however, indicate that meaningful change will be difficult:

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which regulates auditing firms, is asking whether long tenure might lead to complacency. Late last year, the board sought opinions on whether it should require listed companies to rotate their accounting firms every few years. The last of those 611 public comments came in to the PCAOB earlier this month. An overwhelming 94% were opposed to term limits. The common refrain: Rotating audit firms every few years would raise costs, reduce the familiarity of accountants with a company's books and impair the quality of audits.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Strategic CSR - Jeremy Grantham

The article in the url below is part biography/part interview of Jeremy Grantham. Grantham is an investment manager, like Warren Buffett, but while Buffet buys companies, Grantham invests in various asset classes (

Also like Buffett, Grantham releases regular letters to the investment community that detail his analysis of current markets and future trends. The article in the url below covers one of his 2011 quarterly letters, which focuses on Grantham’s predictions of commodity shortages (and, therefore, higher prices) in the decades to come.

I will not summarize the content of the article here (it is long), but quote some highlights that I thought were particularly insightful:

“… most economists see global trade as a win-win proposition, but resource limitation turns it into a win-lose, zero-sum contest.

Unemployment and interest in environmental issues move inversely.

Global warming is bad news. Finite resources is investment advice.

One passage that caught my eye, in particular, was Grantham’s comments about a 1980 bet between a biologist who believed that commodities would become increasingly scarce as world population increased (Paul Ehrlich) and an economist who believed that humans would continue to innovate to overcome any shortages through increased efficiency or the development of viable alternatives (Julian Simon)—see Wikipedia for more background (

The two men picked five commodities and wagered on whether their prices, taken as an indicator of scarcity, would be higher or lower in 1990. Simon won, 5-0, even though the world’s population grew by 800 million during that decade. Malthusians have been trying to live down that defeat ever since, but, as Grantham points out in his July letter, if we extend the original bet past its arbitrary 10-year limit to the present day, Ehrlich wins the five-commodity bet 4-1, and he wins big if the bet is further extended to all important commodities.

In short, our current economic growth is unsustainable. We are drawing on non-renewable resources at rates that exceed the planet’s ability to keep up. While this information may allow investors like Grantham to profit, it carries graver consequences than missed investment opportunities for the rest of us!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Strategic CSR - Fidelity

A recent ad by Fidelity Investments contains an interesting fact that puts into perspective our growing demand for meat and the environmental consequences of what should be a luxury product:

It takes 635 gallons of water to make one hamburger.

The ad, which is reproduced in the article in the url below and is part of a larger campaign (, discusses the changing access to resources which will increasingly become a factor of day-to-day life as global population and rapid economic growth make resource access a central concern in coming years:

It takes 35 gallons of water to make one cup of coffee. Why? Because of all the water used to cultivate coffee beans. Similarly, it can take about 635 gallons to make one hamburger because of all the water required to grow feed for the cows. … Because global water consumption is expected to increase by 40% over the next 20 years, water shortages may get more acute and widespread, spurring more reliance on desalination technologies, water reuse, and conservation. The results could have massive economic, ecological, and geopolitical consequences, creating investing opportunities in places you may never have considered.

Of course, Fidelity wants to make money out of the uncertainty. For the rest of us, it is worth considering the hidden costs (environmental and social) of the purchase decisions we make every day.