Tuesday, April 24, 2012

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Wayne Visser
CEO, CSR International

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Millennium Development Goals – Are we getting there?

By Ana Svab

When launching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), United Nations Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon said that the “Goals are ambitious but feasible and, together with the comprehensive United Nations development agenda, set the course for the world’s efforts to alleviate extreme poverty by 2015." So how far have we progressed on this journey? The answer is: quite far, but not far enough. According to the 2011 Millennium Development Goals Report, some of the global targets are likely to be met, while others will probably be missed.

The eight MDGs have been agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They range from halving extreme poverty, to providing universal primary education and achieving gender equality. The MDG website states that: “They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.” Obviously, perspectives on progress depend on the part of the globe we are looking at, as well as which goals we are reviewing. So let’s see how we’re getting on:

1. Goal 1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and huger

Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it? However, “sustained growth in developing countries, particularly in Asia, is keeping the world on track to meet the poverty-reduction target”. Unfortunately, this does not mean that less people are going hungry – the number stands stubbornly at 16%, and the report admits that it will be “difficult to meet the hunger-reduction target in many regions of the developing world”.

2. Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education

“To achieve universal primary education, children everywhere must complete a full cycle of primary schooling. Current statistics show that the world is far from meeting that goal”.

3. Goal 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women

The progress made on achieving this goal is clearly dependant on the geographical region. The progress will also depend on the nature of comparison made. “Representation by women in parliament is at an all-time high, but falls shamefully short of parity”. Quite a few of the women I know would claim that this disparity still causes wars, economic meltdowns, and, well, most major world problems in general!

4. Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality

There is steady progress being made to reduce child mortality, with the greatest success being found in Northern Africa and Eastern Asia, though children from rural households are still at a greater risk.

5. Goal 5 – Improve maternal health

Progress has been made, but maternal mortality remains a major problem in many developing countries, due to unskilled childbirth, unmonitored pregnancies, poor reproductive health, low use of contraceptives and adolescent pregnancies.

6. Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

“New HIV infections are declining”! Though there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in some parts of the world, this is good news.

7. Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability

“Global greenhouse gas emissions continue their ascent”. Will we achieve this goal? Maybe. But we will all have to do our bit as individuals to reduce flights and travel, reduce consumption and recycle more. More importantly, we will have to do much more as employees and employers to change the way we do business and influence our supply chain and customers to become more sustainable.

8. Goal 8 – Develop a global partnership for development

With the existence of multinational and “multi-continental” organisations, such as the European Union and the United Nations, one would think we have already achieved this. Yet challenges remain, not least closing the digital divide by enabling internet access to the other two thirds of the world.

To conclude, across the different MDGs, progress is being made, and some of the targets will be met by 2015. However, we still have a long way to go, and most of these targets will only be achieved if we all make an effort. So roll up your sleeves!


1) http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml

2) Millennium Development Goals Report 2011

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nature vs. Nurture: Are Social Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

By Dr Wayne Visser

Part 7 of 13 in Wayne Visser's Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

What do Taddy Blecher, Anurag Gupta, Wang Chuan-Fu and all of the other social entrepreneurs have in common? Is this a special breed of human being? Are social entrepreneurs born or can they be made? In the academic literature, there is an interesting thread of research that is around the concept of ‘champions’ in organisations, especially ‘environmental champions’. The idea draws on prior conceptions of the human resources champion in the 1970s and 1980s, before HR became institutionalised.

Academics define environmental champions as people who can attractively express a personal vision about environmental protection that is in tune with both industry’s needs and wider public concern and who convince and enable organisation members to turn environmental issues into successful corporate programs and innovations. Environmental champions have been showed to imbue a combination of characteristics, including being a catalyst, champion, sponsor, facilitator and demonstrator. Their skills include the ability to identify, package and sell environmental issues within their organisations. Their effectiveness in engaging others rests heavily on expertise, top management support and a strong appreciation for the problems that every business unit or operations manager faces.

Research on champions is not confined purely to the environmental dimension of sustainability. Others have written about socially responsible change-agents, as well as managers’ individual discretion as a component of corporate social performance. British academic Christine Hemingway, for example, finds that CSR can be the result of championing by a few managers, based on their personal values and beliefs, despite the personal and professional risks this may entail. Individual managers are also often mediators in corporate philanthropy and stakeholder influence. Hence, the notion of CSR champions has emerged as an important concept, which I will return to this in the final chapter on individual change agents.

Bill Drayton, who has been involved in selecting and tracking the progress of the 2,700 Ashoka Fellows, believes social entrepreneurs ‘focus everyday on the “how to” questions. How are they going to get from here to their ultimate goal? How are they going to deal with this opportunity or that barrier? How are the pieces going to fit together? They are engineers, not poets. ... The entrepreneur’s job is not to take an idea and then implement it. That is what franchisees do. The entrepreneur is building something that is entirely new – by constantly creating and testing and recreating and then testing and recreating again.’ [i]

There are other characteristics as well, according to Drayton. ‘The true social entrepreneur also has an almost magical ability to move people, a power rooted in exceptional ethical fibre. He or she is always asking people to do things that are unreasonable – and people do them. ... The entrepreneur has an inner confidence that most sense but do not understand. While others think entrepreneurs are taking risks, entrepreneurs don’t see it that way because they have thought things through extremely well. They also believe in their ability continuously to adapt the idea as they drive toward a goal that they know is a huge win for everyone, and ultimately to reach that goal. They know, in other words, that they have the gift that brings the greatest happiness in the world, the gift of being able to give at the highest level. Once one grasps who the true social entrepreneur is,’ concludes Drayton, ‘one would have to be crazed to bet against him or her ultimately changing the world at large scale.’

The question remains: Is such social entrepreneurship a random and unpredictable phenomenon, or is there some underlying rationale or theory that we can use to better understand and advance sustainability innovation? I did a research project with my colleagues at Cambridge University to answer this question.[ii] In our attempt to ‘map the territory’, we created a model that looked at the Enablers, Processes and Agents of sustainability innovation. There were a number of interesting findings.

First, of the four Enablers of innovation that we identified – government, finance, technology and culture – most people are focused either on finance or technology. For example, in the SustainAbility survey of over 100 social entrepreneurs, 72% cited ‘access to finance’ as their primary challenge, and much of the report is dedicated to understanding this issue.[iii] Furthermore, many typical cases held up as innovation success stories – whether they be GE’s EcoImagination programme or Vodafone’s M-Pesa service – are almost inevitably technology solutions.

The corollary of this finding is that the role of government and culture is being neglected. Government, by setting clear, long term policy targets on social and environmental issues like biodiversity, climate change or access to health and sanitation, can create an enabling environment that allows business to innovate. Likewise, fostering a corporate and national culture of innovation – of opportunity orientation rather than risk obsession – is a necessary precondition for innovation.

In the area of Processes, of which we identified three – individual actions, management systems and tailored approaches – most of the focus has been on individual actions. This mirrored our findings for Agents, where individuals were favoured over companies and non-business agents. Hence, the notion of a sustainability champion or a social entrepreneur trains our hopes on the creative, business-savvy individual. This overlooks the important role of innovation within large companies – what the second in the SustainAbility series of reports called ‘intrapreneurship’ – as well as the potential for NGOs like Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) to be part of the innovative solution.

Another interesting finding from my Cambridge research was that most cited cases seem to be innovation processes specifically targeting sustainability issues, rather than efforts at embedding sustainability principles in core innovation processes. This is a fundamental distinction, because it means that most R&D going on in companies – and hence most innovation – is not systematically building in social and environmental criteria. As a result, much like CSR more generally, innovation is a peripheral, project/product specific activity, which is exactly what is preventing scalable solutions from emerging in the mainstream economy. Until CSR is built into every organisational process – and especially into strategic functions like R&D or new product development – we will always be playing on the fringes of the Age of Responsibility.

[i] Drayton, B. (2010). Tipping the world: The power of collaborative entrepreneurship. Published on the McKinsey What Matters site, 8 April 2010.

[ii] Blowfield, M., Visser, W. & Livesey, F. (2007). Sustainability Innovation: Mapping the Territory, University Cambridge Programme for Industry Research Paper Series: No. 2.

[iii] Growing Opportunity: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Insoluble Problems (2007)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Impact of Ruggie’s Guiding Principles for Human Rights?

By Sabrina Basran

The world is no stranger to human rights abuses committed by companies – Union Carbide (taken over by Dow Chemical) in India in the 1980s; Shell in the Niger Delta; Nike and sweatshop labour in Vietnam the 1990s; Trafigura dumping toxic waste in Côte d'Ivoire in the 2000s; and Vedanta Resources in India today – these are a few among many examples.

In March 2011 John Ruggie, then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) submitted his final report for consideration by the UN Human Rights Council. The report set out Ruggie’s Guiding Principles for implementing a ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework for human rights. The Council officially endorsed the Principles in June 2011. They were six years in the making.

Ruggie’s Framework rests on three pillars:

  • The state duty to protect human rights
  • The corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
  • Access to remedy (provided largely by states, but also by corporates).

A year on, what impact has Ruggie’s Framework (particularly the second pillar) had on business behaviour? Not much. Beyond a stated commitment to the Guiding Principles in a few CSR reports and Code of Ethics, there has been a conspicuous lack of activity by companies in implementing the Framework. This is not to say there has been none, but examples are few and far between. One of the difficulties with such voluntary guidance is there is no body to take ‘ownership’ once it is complete. As such, it tends to ‘drift’ and have little success in effecting genuine change.

This is perhaps why the EC announced earlier this year that it is developing guidance to support Ruggie’s second pillar, in conjunction with the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and Shift. We will have to ‘watch this space’. Meanwhile, there is evidence of some change. Recent cases of corporate human rights abuses highlight that there is another ‘player’ in the human rights game besides states, business and regulatory bodies – the general public.

A case in point is Apple, which, in February 2012, admitted it had a human rights problem and agreed to investigate working conditions in its supply chain. The decision was partly due to growing pressure from consumers and the general public, including calls to boycott Apple products. This was especially the case in China, where one of Apple’s suppliers, Foxconn, had experienced a spate of suicides at its factories since 2009.

Another example is Hershey’s. After more than 100,000 consumers lobbied Hershey’s online as part of the ‘Raise the bar, Hershey!’ Coalition, the company agreed in March to buy Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa. The Coalition began in response to forced and child labour problems in Hershey’s supply chain.

These examples raise important questions around the role of guidance and regulation as drivers of corporate responsibility for human rights. The shift of power from state governments to multinational corporations suggests that we need a shift in thinking on human rights and how to effect positive change and progress. Is guidance sufficient? Does it place enough ‘pressure’ on companies? Does it really drive change in business behaviour? Compared to issues around corporate social responsibility, sustainability and ethics, human rights have long been the focus of regulatory bodies such as the UN. Yet, whilst there has been a definite shift in business attitudes towards these issues, companies have been reluctant to take much action.

This suggests regulation and guidance are not the best way forward. Where there has been company action this has been partly in response to public pressure. Ultimately, companies are pragmatic; they care about their future. If society is pushing for change, business will generally (albeit sometimes rather slowly), respond. This is increasingly the case as business realises the power of societal pressure to influence corporate reputation - and so the bottom line.


  1. Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie, ‘Guiding principles on business and human rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and RemedyFramework’, 21st March 2011.
  2. Institute for human rights and business press release, 13th January 2012. See: http://www.ihrb.org/news/2012/new_project_to_develop_business_and_human_rights_guides_for_three_european_business_sectors.html
  3. Ethical performance, ‘Foxconn factory first in Apple’s supplier labour practices review’, March 2012.
  4. The Independent, ‘Apple admits it has a human rights problem’, 14th February 2012. See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/apple-admits-it-has-a-human-rights-problem-6898617.html
  5. http://www.raisethebarhershey.org/

Sunday, March 18, 2012

CSR 2.0 as a New DNA for Business

By Wayne Visser

Part 6 of 13 in Wayne Visser's Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

By May 2008, it was clear to me that the evolutionary concept of Web 2.0 held many lessons for CSR, and I began to develop my thinking around CSR 2.0. It quickly became clear, however, that a metaphor can only take you so far. What was needed was a set of principles against which we could test CSR. These went through a few iterations, but I eventually settled on five, which form a kind of mnemonic for CSR 2.0: Creativity (C), Scalability (S), Responsiveness (R), Glocality (2) and Circularity (0). These principles, which will be explored in detail in the next blog posts, can be described briefly as follows:

Creativity – The problem with the current obsession with CSR codes and standards (including the new ISO 26000 standard) is that it encourages a tick-box approach to CSR. But our social and environmental problems are complex and intractable. They need creative solutions, like Free-play’s wind-up technology or Vodafone’s M-Pesa money transfer scheme.

Scalability – The CSR literature is liberally sprinkled with charming case studies of truly responsible and sustainable projects. The problem is that so few of them ever go to scale. We need more examples like Wal-Mart ‘choice editing’ by converting to organic cotton, Tata creating the affordable eco-efficient Nano car or Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen microfinance model.

Responsiveness – More cross-sector partnerships and stakeholder-driven approaches are needed at every level, as well as more uncomfortable, transformative responsiveness, which questions whether particular industries, or the business model itself, are part of the solution or part of the problem. A good example of responsiveness is the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.

Glocality – This means ‘think global, act local’. In a complex, interconnected, globalising world, companies (and their critics) will have to become far more sophisticated in combining international norms with local contexts, finding local solutions that are culturally appropriate, without forsaking universal principles. We are moving from an ‘either-or’ one-size-fits-all world to a ‘both-and’ strength-in-diversity world.

Circularity – Our global economic and commercial system is based on a fundamentally flawed design, which acts as if there are no limits on resource consumption or waste disposal. Instead, we need a cradle-to-cradle approach, closing the loop on production and designing products and processes to be inherently ‘good’, rather than ‘less bad’, as Shaw Carpets does.

I believe that CSR 2.0 – or Systemic CSR (I also sometimes call it Radical CSR or Holistic CSR, so use whichever you prefer) – represents a new model of CSR. In one sense, it is not so different from other models we have seen before. We can recognise echoes of Archie Carroll’s CSR Pyramid, Ed Freeman’s Stakeholder Theory, Donna Wood’s Corporate Social Performance, John Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line, Stuart Hart and C.K. Prahalad’s Bottom of the Pyramid, Michael Porter’s Strategic CSR and the ESG approach of Socially Responsible Investment, to mention but a few. But that is really the point – it integrates what we have learned to date. It presents a holistic model of CSR.

The essence of the CSR 2.0 DNA model are the four DNA Responsibility Bases, which are like the four nitrogenous bases of biological DNA (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine), sometimes abbreviated to the four-letters GCTA (which was the inspiration for the 1997 science fiction film GATTACA). In the case of CSR 2.0, the DNA Responsibility Bases are Value creation, Good governance, Societal contribution and Environmental integrity, or VEGS if you like. Each DNA Base has a primary goal and each goal has key indicators.

Hence, if we look at Value Creation, it is clear we are talking about more than financial profitability. The goal is economic development, which means not only contributing to the enrichment of shareholders and executives, but improving the economic context in which a company operates, including investing in infrastructure, creating jobs, providing skills development and so on. There can be any number of KPIs, but I want to highlight two that I believe are essential: beneficial products and inclusive business. Does the company’s products and services really improve our quality of life, or do they cause harm or add to the low-quality junk of what Charles Handy calls the ‘chindogu society’. And how are the economic benefits shared? Does wealth trickle up or down; are employees, SMEs in the supply chain and poor communities genuinely empowered?

Good Governance is another area that is not new, but in my view has failed to be properly recognised or integrated in CSR circles. The goal of institutional effectiveness is as important as more lofty social and environmental ideals. After all, if the institution fails, or is not transparent and fair, this undermines everything else that CSR is trying to accomplish. Trends in reporting, but also other forms of transparency like social media and brand- or product-linked public databases of CSR performance, will be increasingly important indicators of success, alongside embedding ethical conduct in the culture of companies. Tools like Goodguide, KPMG’s Integrity Thermometer and Covalence’s EthicalQuote ranking will become more prevalent.

Societal Contribution is an area that CSR is traditionally more used to addressing, with its goal of stakeholder orientation. This gives philanthropy its rightful place in CSR – as one tile in a larger mosaic – while also providing a spotlight for the importance of fair labour practices. It is simply unacceptable that there are more people in slavery today than there were before it was officially abolished in the 1800s, just as regular exposures of high-brand companies for the use of child-labour are despicable. This area of stakeholder engagement, community participation and supply chain integrity remains one of the most vexing and critical elements of CSR.

Finally, Environmental Integrity sets the bar way higher than minimising damage and rather aims at maintaining and improving ecosystem sustainability. The KPIs give some sense of the ambition required here – 100% renewable energy and zero waste. We cannot continue the same practices that have, according to WWF’s Living Planet Index, caused us to lose a third of the biodiversity on the planet since they began monitoring 1970. Nor can we continue to gamble with prospect of dangerous – and perhaps catastrophic and irreversible – climate change.

In this blog series, I will explore what a different approach – CSR 2.0 – may look like.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How Reliable is Corporate Social Responsibility?

By Lorna Taylor

Pressure is increasing on large organisations to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability across the three pillars of economic performance, social equity and environmental protection. There are many good stories of CSR in practice, but many others are undermining the principles of CSR.

Think back 15 years. The organic and fair-trade industries were small niche markets for dedicated sustainability enthusiasts. Nowadays they are found in every major supermarket with a huge following.

However, along with this boom in sustainability and CSR came ‘greenwash’ - “disinformation disseminated by an organisation, so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” The term greenwash may now be outdated but the problem remains; it encompasses not just misleading environmental claims but also ethical and social ones.

Time and again we hear how large organisations that have caused social or environmental damage rapidly take up new CSR initiatives to counteract the bad press and encourage perceptions of ‘good’ corporate citizenship. But CSR should not be a cover up, or a PR tool; it should be embedded in the organisation at every level. Corporate actions need to match CSR claims.

Christian Aid in 2004 named and shamed large organisations involved in greenwash, revealing CSR projects that were misleadingly marketed as ‘the right thing’, when in fact they were not feasible; unsuccessful or detrimental to local communities. Commenting on Shell in the oil producing region of the Niger Delta, their report states, “The region is now a veritable graveyard of projects, including water systems that do not work, health centres that have never opened and schools where no lesson has been taught.”

CSR should be about companies outlining their social and environmental goals and committing to follow through. However, there is very little independent regulation to monitor such commitments. Should governments control companies’ efforts through increased legislation, or in the true spirit of CSR, should organisations be regulating themselves? Unfortunately, whilst self-regulation may be preferable, it does not always occur. Corporate statements of CSR no longer guarantee good practice.

Greenwash is not always deliberate; laziness and ignorance are common causes. CSR, or sustainability, is a difficult term to define and definitions tend to be vague due to its broad nature. Stakeholders have adapted and moulded the CSR concept to work for them; but ulterior motives have also resulted in confusion, greenwashing and the compromise of long-term sustainability goals.

Despite some progress, governmental regulation and political action is required to rebuild faith in the concept and monitor CSR delivery. Sustainability in its current form is not sustainable. CSR needs to evolve, becoming more accountable and embedded in core societal changes in order to provide truly sustainable benefits for society.

Accountability is the key to addressing the issue of greenwashing and ensuring that CSR is sustainable. Corporate Social Responsibility has to grow into Corporate Social Accountability, measuring the impact of actions, not just what actions have been taken.


Christian Aid, 2004. Behind The Mask: The real face of Corporate Social Responsibility

Jim MacNeill, 2007. Our Common Future: Advance or Retreat? Sustainable Development: A New Urgency. Geneva: EcoLomics International.

John Drexhage and Deborah Murphy, 2010. Sustainable Development: From Brundtland to Rio 2012, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Futerra Sustainability Communications, 2008. The Greenwash Guide

Sustainable development Innovation Briefs, Issue 1, February 2007, “CSR and Developing Countries: what scope for government action?”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

CSR: Altruism vs. Enlightened Self-interest

By Jessica Friend

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be justified either in terms of altruism or enlightened self-interest. On the one hand, definitions of CSR typically contain altruistic elements – such as unselfish concern for the welfare of others – requiring corporations to acknowledge their obligations to stakeholders. On the other hand, enlightened self-interest advances the belief that ethical behaviour can be good for business – for example, gaining a competitive edge by adding value to an organisation’s products or increasing the company’s public reputation.

Of these two approaches, it appears that enlightened self-interest is favoured most strongly by companies. For instance, over 70 percent of CEOs interviewed by Springpoint Consultancy agreed that CSR was essential for making a profit.

To illustrate this approach, Google’s CSR strategy is openly motivated by enlightened self-interest. Hence, according Axel Marrtinez, assistant treasurer for Google, the company invested US$28 million in 240 affordable housing units for low-income families in Boston, Massachusetts, not only to be a good corporate citizen, but also to benefit from an improvement in societal standing by being seen to contribute to social problem solving.

Often, CSR programs like Google’s are justified by enlightened self-interest enthusiasts purely on the basis of their utilitarian benefits – in this case, the material benefits of low-cost housing enjoyed by Boston residents is equal to the reputation gains and societal standing afforded to Google. Hence, CSR beneficiaries are viewed only in terms of their intrinsic value for the company.

This is where the donor-recipient relationship can seem exploitative and enlightened self-interest can damage the integrity of CSR. To reduce cynicism and to avoid producing exploitative-prone CSR strategies, altruism must be embedded within the corporation’s core purpose and the interests of all stakeholders must be taken into account, not only those of shareholders.

Aygaz, Turkey’s leading gas provider and a CIPR Excellence award winner, is a good example of a company with altruistic orientation. Their Climate Change Education Program aimed to increase awareness amongst Turks of global warming. Aygaz centred their program around the recipient, involving their customers in pilot projects, eventually achieving a 51 percent increase in climate change awareness. The 21 percent increase sale in gas appliances was an added bonus, rather than the sole focus of CSR activity.

Aygaz showed that CSR strategies motivated by genuine concern for the common good are less open for criticism. Accountability of CSR strategies is improved when beneficiaries are actively involved within the CSR design process and are seen as ‘ends’ in themselves, not simply a ‘means to an end’.

In conclusion, strong CSR strategies are those where altruism is deeply embedded within the organisation and places beneficiaries at the centre of programs, increasing both organisational accountability and transparency. Although enlightened self-interest provides a logical business reason for pursuing CSR strategies, these tend to produce weak programs open to accusations of ‘greenwashing’, PR-spin or stakeholder manipulation.


CIPR, 2011, ‘Excellence Award Winner Case Study – Aygaz with Lobby PR’ [Online] Available at http://www.cipr.co.uk/content/events-awards/excellence-awards/past-winners [accessed 5th January 2012]

Godelnik, R., 2011, ‘Google Investing in Low-Income Housing – Good Cause, Bad CSR?’ [Online] Available at http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/10/google-investing-low-income-housing-good-bad-csr/ [accessed 5th January 2012]