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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Corporate Social and Human Rights Responsibilities

Corporate Social and Human Rights Responsibilities:
Global, Legal and Management Perspectives

Edited by Karin Buhmann, Lynn Roseberry and Mette Morsing

Published by Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN: 978-0-230-23089-7

This review was first published on on 22nd August 2011


Corporate Social and Human Rights Responsibilities: Global, Legal and Management Perspectives – what has the law to do with Corporate Social Responsibility? Do Business Responsibilities for Human Rights (BRHR, with an acronym introduced in the book) differ from CSR? This book challenges the separation between CSR and law. It also demonstrates that BRHR may be gradually separating from CSR through emphasis on state obligations. Authors from around the world discuss how businesses engage in CSR and human rights, and how governments and intergovernmental organizations may support businesses in taking responsibility.

In this book, you will find a group of exciting chapters written by management scholars, lawyers, CSR practitioners and business ethicists. Drawing on cases from around the world, they want to set a new agenda regarding divergence and convergence between CSR, BRHR, and the law.


The interrelation between CSR and law is a fascinating subject and one which many have written about. It's kind of chicken and egg, inferring on the practice of CSR a potential to drive standards which ultimately level the playing field for entire sectors and markets while understanding the power of law has the potential to drive more responsible practices of business which have previously been considered entirely voluntary. Some say CSR and the law are completely opposed. Some say they feed each other. Most companies do not understand the complexities of human rights in relation to their business and have tended to associate human rights with governments rather than businesses, despite the many connection points between what businesses do and how this affects people and societies. Partly as a result of the strong focus placed on human rights through the work of John Ruggie and the Protect, Respect, Remedy framework, more businesses now understand a human rights position is an essential part of their CSR framework.

Corporate Social and Human Rights Responsibilities adds a set of perspectives to this entire field, which is still in evolution—and some are quite fascinating and far-reaching for business. The book is a compilation of contributions that were developed for the CSR, Business Responsibilities for Human Rights and International Law Conference, organized by the University of Copenhagen in 2008, supported by the CSR-progressive Danish government. This was an attempt to strengthen the legal influence of CSR on management decisions while retaining the fundamental principle of CSR as a voluntary management policy. (Sort of having your cake and eating it too.) This was also at a time when the Danish Government introduced the pioneering Financial Statements Act in which large companies were required to report on sustainability or provide reasons for not doing so. The contributors in this volume include international lawyers, economists, investment management specialists, accomplished academics and a representative of Danish commerce—an impressive group delivering an equally impressive set of informative, thought-provoking papers.

The book is in three parts: first, an overview of the relationship between law and CSR including discussion of the United Nations Global Compact and the Human Rights Framework developed by John Ruggie; second, regional examples about the way businesses adopt responsibilities for human rights as part of CSR; and third, a view on law and management with CSR Codes of Conduct and more.

An important concept which falls somewhere between CSR and the law is "reflexive law" which, in layman's language, is the way law promotes industry self-regulation, e.g. requiring companies to disclose on sustainability but not prescribing the performance standards they should adhere to (such as the Danish Financial Act mentioned above). This is also the principle upon which the UN Global Compact rests (though it is not a legally binding framework): beyond a declaration to uphold principles, the key commitment companies make is to publish an annual report of their progress. Andreas Rasche, Professor in Business and Society at Warwick Business School, makes the point that criticism of the Global Compact is based on a misunderstanding of the mandate of the UNGC and classifies the UNGC as a "necessary supplement" to more existing and emerging regulatory efforts in the business environment linking business and civil society through learning events, dialogue events and partnership projects and acting as a "moral compass." He describes the UNGC as the largest corporate citizenship initiative in terms of size while admitting there are almost no "empirical insights on the implementation of tem principles in corporations."

Karin Buhman, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Copenhagen, writes about multi-stakeholder public-private regulatory forums, of which the UNGC is one, which function at the level above national lawmaking. She writes that while such bodies are clearly not conventional law-making institutions, they do have normative ambitions. She also points to the UNGC's "reflexive" approach as one of the ingredients in its success.

In another piece, Jette S. Knudsen, Associate Professor at Copenhagen University, looks at the organization of CSR as a means of corporate control (subtitled "From do-gooding to mainstream?"). Using HP and Ben and Jerry's as core examples, with some reference to IBM, Nike and others, Knudson looks at offensive CSR (clear link to business strategy) and defensive CSR (no clear link to business strategy), the role of boards in shaping the CSR agenda and position of CSR management within companies. Ultimately, he shows CSR will grow in importance to boards, and CSR managers need to be much more "business savvy." No surprises there.

One of the more fascinating articles is by Dominique Bé, deputy head of the European Social Fund, who compares the way human rights are reflected and upheld in corporate Codes of Conduct and International Framework Agreements (IFAs). The first IFA was between Danone and the International Union of Food (IUF) back in 1988 in which agreements on social responsibility and employee rights were reaffirmed. IFAs are not collective agreements, though they are often established with union bodies. However, there is no legal requirement for companies to sign an IFA. Most IFAs therefore build on the commitment of signatory MNEs to respect them worldwide, over and above adherence to national regulations – a kind of voluntary acceptance of a legally binding agreement, going beyond the unilateral nature of corporate Codes of Conduct.

Another interesting article by Lauren Caplan, counsel to an investment company, refers to the way CSR considerations are or are not integrated into the process of raising capital. The author notes the lack of disclosure in corporate social responsibility reports on risks relating to corporate social responsibility. No surprises there either.

All in all, the book Corporate Social and Human Rights Responsibilities does what it promises and more. It provides some engaging perspectives on CSR, human rights and the law, as well as some detailed discussion of the finer issues most CSR practitioners would be wise to have on their radar.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Green Executive

The Green Executive: Corporate Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy

By Gareth Kane

Published by Earthscan.

ISBN: 9781849713344

This review was first published on on 8th August 2011


The Green Executive: Corporate Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy provides everything you need to know to develop a winning sustainability strategy and the leadership skills you require to implement that strategy.

The first part of the book explores the business case for action taking into consideration opportunities, threats of inaction, risks of action and the ethical dimension. This is followed by an overview of global environmental problems, including the big three: climate change, resource depletion and toxic materials, and global solutions – including eco-efficiency and industrial ecology. The third part translates these large-scale solutions into practical actions for a single business ranging from simple housekeeping measures through to innovative business models. The final, crucial part introduces the sustainability maturity model and provides an insight into how the highest level of that model can be achieved.

A range of personal views is provided in the form of 18 exclusive interviews with senior level executives from a wide range of sectors including retail, transport, manufacturing, logistics and the service sector, from small businesses through to international giants like Canon, BT, Marks & Spencer, National Express and GlaxoSmithKline.


Having attended a fascinating webinar where Gareth Kane, author of The Green Executive: Corporate Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy, presented some of the key themes of his book, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. There are many books around that talk about what it means to be green, how to do it and what insights can be gained from all of them. What's so appealing about the way Gareth goes about presenting this subject is not only his skill in covering all aspects of green and sustainable business with clarity but also his very down-to-earth, pragmatic and plain language approach.

The Green Executive is structured logically: first comes the business case for becoming a green executive, next an explanation of what creating a sustainable economy actually means, then the actions required and finally the processes that need to support the actions. Each chapter closes with a helpful summary and is followed by an interview with a range of senior executives from a diverse group of companies. Each chapter is fairly short and almost can be taken as a standalone lesson in sustainability.

Rather than using this review to describe the details of how to become a green exec (yes, sometimes you just have to buy the book!), I thought I would share some of the insights from company execs. Here are my faves:

"The mainstream consumer wants performance and value and sustainability." Peter White, Procter and Gamble.

"Initially we wanted to develop a feel good factor among the staff." Julie Parr, Muckle LLP.

"The sustainability programme saved Northern Foods £2 million last financial year." Paula Widdowson, Northern Foods.

"We launched 31 new products during the recent recession." Nigel Stansfield, InterfaceFLOR.

"Give responsibility for sustainability to someone with a real passion for it." Sally Hancox, Gentoo Housing Group.

"The most important driver is to protect and enhance our brand." Richard Gillies, Marks and Spencer.

"Reputation has become a much more important part of the corporate structure than it was in the past." James Hagan, GlaxoSmithKline.

"The single most important quality in this game is perseverance." Roy Stanley, Tanfield Group.

"We've received many awards for reporting, diversity, and for specific sustainability projects." Chris Tuppen, formerly BT.

"Senior management commitment is essential." Roberta Barbieri, Diageo.

"Our next big challenge is water." Stephen Little, The Sage Gateshead.

"We have been instrumental in the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles." Martin Blake, Royal Mail.

"You have to start breaking all the old rules of business." Vic Morgan, Ethical Superstore.

"We see the low carbon future as a really exciting, positive future." Nick Coad, National Express Group.

"We have found it very useful to get an external set of eyes to come in and do an audit – this gave us an action plan of how to move forward." Glen Bennett, EAE Ltd.

"A big challenge is to motivate middle management. The top level management can be committed, the general staff can be committed but middle management have sales targets, costs targets and organization to run…." Surrie Everett-Pascoe, Canon Europe Ltd.

"Sustainability is fast becoming a reputational issue for our clients." Chris Jofeh, Arup.

The Green Executive is an essential book for those who want a leadership view of how to make a business sustainable, from how to address the risks to how to exploit the opportunities. The book is nicely populated with models, frameworks and ways to advance, and is pitched exactly right to make it interesting without getting bogged down in academic texts. Using tools that include Gareth Kane's Sustainability Maturity Model or his summary of new and emerging green markets, green executives may just become a mainstream feature of business.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Embedded Sustainability

Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advantage 

By Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva

Published by Greenleaf Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-906093-58-7

This review was first published on on 29th July 2011


In Embedded Sustainability, authors Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva explain and predict how companies can better leverage global challenges for enduring profit and sustained growth. They introduce the marquis concept of embedded sustainability: the incorporation of environmental, health, and social value into the heartbeat of the product life-cycle with no trade-off in price or quality – no social or green premium. This book helps readers to comprehend and implement the notion of embedded sustainability. At its best, embedded sustainability is invisible, similar to quality. In addition to delivering socially and environmentally conscious products for consumers, it is capable of considerably motivating employees. Most of all, it enables smart companies to create even more value for both their shareholders and stakeholders.
Although I didn't, in many ways, it makes sense to start reading this book at the penultimate chapter, Chapter 9, entitled "The world in 2041." Now, 2041 is not all that far away, but the description of the fictional young Jake Marstreng attending an interview with "Septad Corp" is as futuristic as the best sci-fi movies, as surreal as the best fantasy productions and as realistic as the best documentaries on National Geographic. It's a future which is so far-fetched as to be a perversion of the authors' imagination and yet so possible as to be just around the corner. Detailed descriptions of the radically changed global economy, sci-fi lifestyles and new technologies are truly exciting: solar cell conversion of light into electricity, PCB destruction using photozymes, Virtual Retinal Display contact lenses, 3-D virtual conferencing, vertical farms using hydroponics and crop stackers powered by methane digestion, vehicles powered by solar photovoltaic thermoelectric generator hybrid systems, construction incorporating zero-energy technologies and hydro botanic water treatment and more. And all this happens after the Water Wars and the Dark Years. All that's missing is Dr Spock (who, in 2014, is probably Indian, Chinese or Brazilian). Reading Chapter 9 helps you make sense of what Embedding Sustainability is all about. It's not another shmoozy look at how companies are "doing well by doing good." It's not another collection of glowing MNE case studies that have more reputational value than sustainability substance. It's not a how-to-succeed-at-sustainability-in-3-days recipe. It is a highly intelligent (and intellectual) roadmap of the gearshift in corporate thinking and actions that are needed to transform sustainability bandaids into sustainable business.
Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva do a magnificent job of whetting our appetites for creating sustainable value. They describe the book as organized around "central themes of business strategy and change management, with two bookends." The first "bookend" is about the mega-trends that are driving the new business environment and the last "bookend" is about a future vision of business and some of the key questions we often wrestle with as we move forward on the sustainability journey.
The authors shape the mega-trends around three core issues: declining resources, radical transparency and increasing expectations, offering compelling arguments relating to each. For example, blue fish tuna has become so rare that a single adult fish fetched $396,000 at an auction in Tokyo; use of Google Earth to view the plantations where bananas are grown by Dole; the sale of 190,000 organic cotton yoga outfits by Walmart in the first 10 weeks of launch; or which exposes environmental impacts of anything manufactured.
Now convinced, the heart of this book provides an excellent backdrop for envisaging sustainable value creation. Seven key drivers are discussed: risk mitigation, efficiency opportunity, factor of differentiation, pathway to new markets, protect and enhance the brand, influencing industry standards and driver of radical innovation. However there are many paths to Rome and strategic approaches may differ from company to company. Embedded Sustainability then takes us on a journey of strategy development using three strategic frameworks: Porter's Generic Strategies, Kim and Mauborgne's Blue Ocean Strategy and Clayton Christensen's Disruptive Innovation, showing how all these can have their place in the ways in which companies create superior sustainable value.
Finally, even if you are on board so far, there is still much to debate. The final chapter of this book is an articulation of some underlying questions (the authors' "starter-kit of Big Picture questions"):
  1. Growth or No growth? Is growth itself sustainable?
  2. What is the role of government and the nonprofit sector? Can regulation achieve what voluntary initiative cannot?
  3. Stopping the bad or creating the good? Is your agenda bright green or dark green?
  4. Having or being? Is a moral awakening imperative?
  5. Evolution or revolution? Can we expect a global breakdown and rebuild to occur within a few decades?
  6. Restoring or transforming nature? Should we aspire to the preservation of nature in its untouched state or use our technologies to "fix" and "improve" nature?
  7. Fear or enlightened self-interest? Are we motivated to change by fear or by positive images of the future? Does inspiration drive us more than the threat of an impending disaster?
Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advantage truly stretches our minds and turns sustainable value into a compelling direction which is within our capability, though not without fundamental repositioning of the way we perceive sustainable value and the routes to achieve it. This book is both delightful and frightful. The vision of an accessible sustainable reality created by Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva is delightful. The effort needed to get there is frightful. But, no gain without pain, right?


elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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