Corporate Responsibility, Ethics and Good Business Practices

After the hugely damaging Enron et all fiasco and the resulting public distrust and cynicism, once again we find corporate responsibility, ethics and good business practices at the forefront of many discussions.

Business Ethics Magazine lists its 100 Best Corporate Citizens for 2006 (Spring 2006, Vol. 20 #1) and explains that its methodology goes beyond simply measuring accountability to shareholders:

“Traditionally, firms have been judged on how well they serve stockholders. But in the 21st century — a new era of ecological limits, corporate ethics crises, and rising societal expectations — this traditional focus offers too narrow a definition of success. Firms rely upon healthy relations with many stock-holders. That means not only creating healthy returns for shareholders but emphasizing good jobs for employees, a clean environment, responsible relations with the community, and reliable products for consumers.”

Companies that made the list for the past seven years are Brady Corporation, Cisco Systems, Inc., Cummins, Inc., Ecolab Inc., Graco Inc., Herman Miller, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Intel Corporation, Modine Manufacturing Co., Pitney Bowes, Inc., Procter & Gamble Company, St. Paul Travelers Companies, Southwest Airlines Company, Starbucks Corporation, Timberland Company and Whirlpool Corporation.

Writing about the 100 Best Corporations list, Mike Swenson asks us to consider, “could your company or client make this list today?  What would have to happen to make your company or client eligible to be one of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens?”

In the same vein, Ethical Corporation released a special report (PDF here) on Corporate Responsibility and Education. The foreward to the report states that:

“… whether corporate responsibility is a moral and ethical imperative or simply a new factor in doing business profitably, there emerging consensus is that it is here to stay and needs to be carefully managed. This requires new knowledge, skills and values that allow managers to balance profitability with stakeholder interests and social and environmental realities.

Academic institutions have a vital role, perhaps even obligation, to equip the next generation of business leaders with the cross-functional skills to cope with and flourish in an era of globalization in a way that creates economic growth and a sustainable future for people and the planet.”

However, the report also notes that business school students can still graduate without having had to include corporate social responsibility into their studies. What is therefore being envisioned is a “triple-track approach” to incorporating CSR courses into the curriculum:

  • CRS courses offered as electives,
  • CRS courses required as part of the core curriculum, and
  • CRS components included in other core courses.

The report also provides lists of European business schools offering CRS programs (p. 20) and top U.S. business schools for social and environmental stewardship (p. 24).

In Foreward Blog’s Foreward Podcast #3, meanwhile, Trevor Cook discussed the importance of ethics in public relations. Although his interview is geared towards PR students and young practitioners, these two statements apply equally well to all practitioners:

“We’d rather lose a client than an editor… and if we get a reputation of being too slippery with the truth or being too glib… then we’re going to go out of business very quickly…

We in the profession should be thinking about… the context and broader implications of what we do, because sometimes just telling the truth can be an easy way out…”


The Online Disinhibition Effect

For those of us who have blogs and are heavily involved in social media, their benefits are easily recognizable. Their strength lies in their ability to invite and encourage communication or, as Susan Getgood writes,

“The reason blogs have traction is that they deliver on the promise of the World Wide Web. Everybody *can* be a publisher. That completely changes the equation — the ‘printing press’ is no longer scarce, limited to those with deep pockets.”

Of course, along with that discourse comes risk. As Jeremy Pepper has often said, “if you have a thin skin, you shouldn’t blog.” And he’s right. Sharing ideas, taking positions and defending them against criticism isn’t for the faint of heart. Occasionally what’s written on a blog is even challenged via lawsuit, which Kami Huyse writes about here.

But generally one presumes that challengers, critics or detractors are rational and fair responders, albeit passionate ones. However, the blogging world and other forms of social media also has its unbalanced participants.

Perhaps these individuals are a result of what psychologist John Suler (who also has a blog, The Psychology of Cyberspace) terms the Online Disinhibition Effect:

“It’s well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, express themselves more openly. Researchers call this the ‘disinhibition effect.’ It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes people share very personal things about themselves. They reveal secret emotions, fears, wishes. Or they show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. We may call this benign disinhibition.

On the other hand, the disinhibition effect may not be so benign. Out spills rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats…. We might call this toxic disinhibition.

On the benign side, the disinhibition indicates an attempt to understand and explore oneself, to work through problems and find new ways of being. And sometimes, in toxic disinhibition, it is simply a blind catharsis, an acting out of unsavory needs and wishes without any personal growth at all.

What causes this online disinhibition? What is it about cyberspace that loosens the psychological barriers that block the release of these inner feelings and needs? Several factors are at play. For some people, one or two of them produces the lion’s share of the disinhibition effect. In most cases, though, these factors interact with each other, supplement each other, resulting in a more complex, amplified effect.”

Suler then outlines several factors in detail:

  • You Don’t Know Me (dissociative anonymity)
  • You Can’t See Me (invisibility)
  • See You Later (asynchronicity)
  • It’s All in My Head (solipsistic introjection)
  • It’s Just a Game (dissociative imagination)
  • We’re Equals (Minimizing Authority)

Suler’s article certainly sheds light on the inappropriate behavior occasionally seen online and is therefore well worth the read.

 


The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse Accuses McDonald’s of Hiring Convicted Sex Offenders

The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (NFPCSA) is calling for a boycott of McDonald’s restaurants after Nashville station NewsChannel 5 WTVF uncovered that nationwide, McDonald’s restaurants have hired “dozens” of convicted sex offenders.

According to the WTVF report, “McDonald’s says it has a policy against hiring sex offenders at its 8,000 or so company owned stores. But at the 18,000 franchise stores that operate under the golden arches, they’re free to hire anyone they want.”

WTVF’s investigation revealed nine sex offenders in Delaware, thirteen in Indiana and sixteen in Louisiana working in McDonald’s restaurants. But, unfortunately:

“We can’t tell you how many other child molesters or other sex offenders are working at McDonald’s restaurants here in Tennessee or anywhere else. That’s because in most states, including Tennessee, sex offender registries don’t have information about employers. So the public can’t find out — until something bad happens.”

No response yet on McDonald’s Corporate site.