CR Blog

Busting the Myth: Corporate Responsibility is NOT a New Phenomenon

Left to themselves companies -- particularly big businesses -- have always been and always will be nothing but profit-pursuing machines, blindly chasing their bottom lines without concern for society.  Thank God for the corporate responsibility movement and the new laws coming down.  These will finally force business to think about more than the bottom line and care about society.

False.  False, and... False.

Actually I will argue that companies -- particularly big companies -- have historically pursued societal goods, that the exclusive obsession with the bottom line is really a very recent phenomenon, and that the "rise" of corporate responsibility is really a return to traditional corporate values.  Moreover, what's changed and will continue to drive change isn't policy or legislation from on high, but greater individual social consciousness from below.

Consider the British East India Company, chartered by the British Crown in 1600 to explore and develop -- some would say exploit and plunder -- what became the British Raj in India.

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When the Angel of Death comes knocking we need Moses, not Pharaoh

A murky fog creeps along, choking the life out of the next generation and the most powerful nation on Earth stands powerless to stop it.  This image could equally come from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico or out of the Charlton Heston classic, The Ten Commandments.  The Mississippi is our Nile.  The secret to our inner strength and resiliency.  Egypt became the breadbasket to the world from the Nile's waters and the waters of the Mississippi form the very jugular that nourishes our heartland, feeding America and the world.  That creepy brown fog, once a bad Hollywood special effect, is now a very real Angel of Death.

At least one-third of the nation's marine food supply comes from the Gulf.  Even more relies on the rich waters that begin at the Mississippi Delta.  This manmade Angel of Death threatens us like no other.  This unmitigated, seemingly unstoppable horror forms a collective challenge that must become our defining purpose.

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How Financial Reform Fails the George Carlin Test

Comedian George Carlin, that classic observer of American life, pointed out that when Americans face ugly truths we cover them with syllables: the more we don't like facing something the more syllables we use to name it.  After World War I we had "shell shock."  Simple, easy to understand.  Just saying the words out loud echoed the booming guns in your bones.  WWII turned "shell shock" into "battle fatigue."  Vietnam gave us "Post Traumatic Stress."  Subsequent conflicts appended "Disorder" to give us "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" and the ultimate cover-over: an acronym.  PTSD.  Nothing sweeps an ugly truth away like an acronym.

We're still left with the ugly truth, though.  We ask our sons and daughters to confront some terrible things in the name of our freedom and some of them come away with scars deep down inside that may never heal.

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Is it the man or the job? The same questions asked about the Director of National Intelligence may apply to CROs.

The front page of today's Washington Post, recounts the frustrations that caused Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), to become the third DNI to resign in frustration.  The DNI and the National Counter Terrosim Center (NCTC) were set up to "address systemic breakdowns" and create a comprehensive approach to intelligence gathering across the multiple agencies charged with intelligence gathering and operations.  Unfortunately, "developments this week underscored the extent to which those two institutions have struggled to carry out their missions, and are increasingly seen as hobbled by their own structural flaws"
"The DNI oversees 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA. But the director has only partial budget authority over the sprawling bureaucracy he leads.

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Where do we go from here? Looking at the BP Oil Spill from the viewpoint of the CR profession.

Some of this blog post originally appeared on my Forbes blog:

I can only imagine the nightmare.  Riding the dark ocean in the pitch of night before all hell breaks loose sending up a cloud of heavy "black rain" and fire, casting men and equipment into the icy water, ultimately to their deaths at the bottom of the sea.  Even in the best of times, the open ocean is one of the harshest, most unforgiving environments on earth.  It takes a particular kind of person to risk their life on a daily basis, facing incredible dangers at almost every turn.

Many have started comparing this disaster to the Challenger.  We owe the term "groupthink" to analysis of the Continue reading →

In cases like the BP Oil Spill should Corporate Responsibility Officers be held liable?

Should Tim Probert, President of Halliburton's Global Business Lines and the company's senior Environment, Health, & Safety Officer, be held liable for the company's role in the BP Oil Spill?  Should BP's Corporate Responsibility officials?  Transocean's?

Notice I didn't ask, "can they be held" liable.  I asked, "should they be."  Right now, they most likely cannot be held personally accountable.  But if Corporate Responsibility aspires to the same level of professionalism of say the medical, legal, or accounting professions, at what point do professionals start to take on positive obligations?

If an attorney knows his client is going to lie on the stand he has an obligation as an officer of the court to stop him or report it.  Attorneys that don't get disbarred and/or go to jail.  If an accountant knows her company is falsifying financial information she has an obligation to report it.

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What’s Chinese for “sustainable”?

I've just returned from hosting the HRO Summit, a global sourcing conference in Singapore.  We started the conference with video on the pace of change in Asia-Pacific and its impact*.  Dr. Chris Chan, Dean of the MBA program at Hong Kong University capstoned the event with his keynote on the Resurgent Asian Economies.  Sprinkled in between were numerous case studies and presentations from Asia-Pac and global multi-national companies.
Any one of these sessions would blow your mind with the incredible growth -- and the incredible speed of that growth throughout the region.  A few fast facts courtesy of Dr. Chan:

  • At 11.9% sustained year-over-year growth China and Hong Kong have the world's fastest growing economy.

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Who do you trust?

I recently got into a Twitter "argument" about the CRO Best Corporate Citizens List with @smellow.  The exchange fascinated me... we weren't arguing so much as sharing different perspectives... and what fascinated me wasn't the actual dispute as the sub-text.  Here's the exchange:

@smellow: ...the folks @TheCROA define "Corporate Responsibility" as transparency (not behavior) so @Monsantoco et al get a free pass.
RT@TheCROA: @smellow Corporate Responsibility = accountability. Holding companies accountable requires transparent data. No data = opinion.
@smellow: Nonsense! Data, particularly corp data is subjective and easily manipulated. Isn't corporate responsibility about action not data?

To decipher that exchange for the non-Twitterific, @smellow (the Twitter "handle" or nickname of my counterpart in this exchange), contends we should judge companies based on their actions, not the data on their actions as data can be manipulated.

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