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…”

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