Apple story – Understanding your consumption

The apple story seem to continue to fascinate people and professionals. Even though that Foxconn is not only producing products for Apple that have become the all-time favorite when it comes to poor ethics management and lack of efficient control systems.

It is quite interesting that people can disregard corporate behavior if the brand of a company is strong enough. Most of my own students use Apple products and they are never surprised when I talk about the ethics record of the company. However, this knowledge does not seem to change their willingness to buy their products. Maybe because there is a wide consensus that most of the production facilities making hardware products in China are more or less branded as being in violation of Labour and Human Rights it does not hit Apple as hard. So while we know that Apple is in violation of these Rights at least we know what they are doing and at least it gives us some idea about their actions.

I received this quite informative infographic from Tony Shin, which I think highlight the case quite good. I know that some of my friends that specialize in Chines working conditions would regards some of theses issues as being quite “normal” and not really seen as a big issue inside China. However, the infrographic from Tony does give a opportunity for customers to gain knowledge about how their consumer goods are produced.

iKill
Created by: Tony Shin

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It is the secondary effect that is central

When working with CSR we like to believe that there is a cause effect relationship between the activities that we engage in and the results we can measure. But we often overlook that it is the secondary results that represent our greatest achievements.

Most organisations look at the direct effects of communication technology like CSR systems and efforts to introduce sustainable technologies with a communication component. There is no doubt that there persist other perspectives on how organisations can achieve sustainable business development but in all cases is the communication part central. To illustrate one can look at CSR as part of the branding strategy of companies that in order to boost their image advocate their products as green or sustainable. This I will characterise as a 1st order communication strategy like a cause-effect system of meaning.

 

We can look at communication technology like CSR as “what management wants”. This can be decentralisation into global teams, working from home systems or technologies that enable projects to work cross boarders. The common denominator for these communication technologies is that they enable people to process more data more efficiently or/and with greater ease. However it is often the side effects or secondary effects of the introduction of a CSR systems approach that have the greatest impact on business development, an effect that is often ignored or underestimated in the original prospect. So what management wants is often not what management really gets because the secondary effects outweigh the first order ones.

So what does management need to look out for when implementing a new technology, like CSR. First of all one should not underestimate the effect of cultural changes. Organisations cant implement a new technology without assuming that people will do their tasks differently meaning that they will use or at least relate to the introduction of this new process that is presented. They do not have to embrace CSR but the presence of systems that coerce employees to relate to something than them selves will force a cultural change no mater what. One could say that CSR questions the status quo forcing employees to ask themselves; “who are we as and organisation and how do we interact with people outside”.

Another effect closely related to cultural change is the raise of new types of conflicts. When people question their own ethics they will natural also question the ethics of their fellow employees. This give raise to conflicts that relate to our understanding of the consequences of how we interact and do business with customers or other stakeholders. Are we really doing good? Or are we only doing well? Just look at the banking sector that for a long time did not ask these fundamental questions, but almost exclusively used CSR as a means create a image of “goodness”. But when the ethics were questioned an internal conflict erupted questioning the very fabric of what the business was all about which was mainly grounded in CSR or Ethical framework of understanding.

Lesson is that when starting on the path of CSR it is not only that directly related effects of the system that one needs to take into account of, but also the changes that comes with thinking differently about the organisation. If you ask the organisational members to think (and I mean really think) about the consequences of their actions one should take this into account when embracing a technology. CSR asks employees to think and react to consequences of the actions. So be prepared to embrace rather their input rather than only thinking of CSR as a way create a better image of the organisation to outside stakeholders.

 

People can be ethical organizations can’t

From time to time the discussion of ethics arises in the CSR debate. We would like to think that CSR is a way for organisations to conform to the norms of society and what is expected from companies in terms of behaviour. But can you really directly link ethics with CSR ?

First of all, I would like to make my position clear on what I think of ethics and its relation to organisational behaviour. People can be ethical in the way that they can distinguish between what is good and what is bad or at least most people can do so. That can make a fairly good decision on the consequences of their actions in most cultures around the world even though they have never been there before. There will of cause be differences from region to region based on cultural norms, religion, politics etc. but it would be fair to say that all cultures would not accept murder, theft, or other forms of harmful behaviour towards people.

Secondly, organisations are made up of people but this does not mean that the sum of their ethics can describe the decision making process that it goes through. Rather an organisation lets say a company, will develop it own rational for make decisions. In this case it can be profits as the raison d’etre is to make a profit for its owners, it is what one could call a fundamental condition of being a firm. So even though people might bring ethics in to their workplace it will be overruled by the condition that they have to make a profit.

This it where it becomes interesting because what CSR is trying to do is to make the organisation receptive to other conditions or the ethics of other stakeholders. Remember that stakeholders can be other organisations as well as individuals that have a stake in the actions of the firm. These stakeholders might have other raison d’etre than the firm such as reduction pollution or creating better work conditions. They might not regard profit as a very noble goal at all or they might even think that the whole concept of profit before people is an unethical condition. But with CSR the two create a platform from which that can communicate in a meaning full way. As one can not talk to an organisation like wit people so what is needed is the creation of a language that both parties can think of as meaningful and as a way that it can express its ethics through. In terms of CSR this language have become expressed through the use of systems.

CSR systems are in my mind the codification of ethics that enable organisations and stakeholders to communicate with each other in a meaningful way. With my almost 15 years around different management systems I have come to believe that the only way an organisation is effectively able to communicate with it self or with its surroundings is though the use of systems. Mind you I have used the word effectively as individual are able to communicate outside the management system but it will always less effective in relation to reaching organisational goals. Codification means that the organisation negotiate and in some cases just accept the norms which a stakeholder present. F.eks. is the ten principle in the Global Compact a codification which a large proportion of firms are willing to accept and subscribe to. Or a firm can subscribe to the code in SA8000 that communicate to stakeholders that this organisation is upholding the Human Rights, Rights of Children and ILO declarations and conventions. This does not mean that individuals can make mistakes and break the rules or that decisions can be made which are poor or bad, but like “people” this is what is to be expected.

So back to the question if you can directly link ethics to CSR. If one accept the sentence that; “people can be ethical but organisations can’t”. Then one needs to invent some form of bridge between the two that gives meaning, but at the same time accept the conditions that each must function under. For people this means the ability to distinguish between good and bad, and for organisations their raison d’etre eg. Profit (firm), knowledge (education), helping the poor (NGO?), survival (the poor), etc. Bringing these two together is done through the use of systems that enable toe codes from one stakeholder to be understood and acted upon by the other. This bridge or translation systems is continuously negotiated between the parties involved based on their individual understanding of what is good. So can you directly link ethics and CSR? Well yes if you accept that CSR is a coding system for effective communication between stakeholders that would otherwise not understand each other.

Business ethics at a all-time low

Eventhough we live in a time were ethics seems to be one of the most important issues that business needs to take into consideration it would seem that the field.

After a search on the word “Business Ethics” on google trends it looks like that ethics is just not what it used to be. We have seen a small increase on business ethics searches in the later part of 2011 but it is still a long way from where I would like it to be. Maybe it is as Godin says “There is no such thing as business Ethics”

Getting to the early adaptor using IMC – Strategies for implementing CSR

When trying to implement any kind of new innovation within an organisation or in a social context it is not without importance how and with what tools this is done. With CSR or Business ethics it is even more important because it is hard if not impossible to remove or erase what has already been done. What is important is that you get the ethics of your business into the DNA of your organisation, as Wayne Visser would put it. While this might not seem a like an enormous task it is not as complicated as it might seem. It might take a while for it to sink in but if you keep it simple and stay close to your strategy at hand you will get there eventually.

First of all one needs a holistic but structured approach. What you need to do is to answer the What, Why and How and When of your organisational CSR. This is not to say that this is a simple four step model or the only way of finding out what is important but it makes sense to establish a clear platform from were your business ethics can be expressed.

You need to define what is important to your organisation. If you are consulting company it might make much sense for your organisations members to talk about carbon footprint even though it is a very ‘hot’-subject in the CSR community. What might make more sense is to talk about how you see your relationship with the customer, how far will you go in coaching them, and at what point will it be important to say stop or escalate a issue to your management. If you are a designer it might be important to look into the people who produce your cloth. Are their any child labour and what about women’s rights in the factories that produce your unique designs? It is the ‘What’ is important to my company, and to me that should be in focus not what is the hot issue in the news or what the marketing department tells you will sell.

When you have made it clear what you stand for you need to investigate why these issues are important to You and not somebody else. It might seem trivial but if you can’t answer why something is important it will be really hard to persuade your employees, management, customers and suppliers why change is such a great idea. There is no one-size-fits-all on the Why of CSR and Business ethics. You might have personal reasons why this issue is important or it might be part of the collective memory of your organisation the central issue is that it is an ethical issue that you feel strongly about. This dos not mean that you should be blind for other would be subjects out there, but if you are going to build you business on ethical grounds than it should at least have a strong foundation and answering the Why will help you do just that.

What you have looked at the What and Why you turn to How. You have gathered some thought on how you are going to interpret the issues, which are important to you into some kind of guideline for the whole organisation. The How can have many forms it can be codes of conduct or code or ethics or it can be less visible as part of the standard operating procedures that you ask everybody to follow. In my experience the later is the better because it directly influences human behaviour, but one as an organisation you might have to make a clear statement both inside and outside its boundaries and then a code could be a good option. Both because it create a clear statement to your employees and management on what is acceptable behaviour but also because it tells your external stakeholders and not least your customers what you stand for.

Last one in the initial exercise is to plan the When and this is where you need to think about your early adaptors. You now know your What, Why and How of your organisational ethics now you need to let your invention grow. You know that your idea about the ethics of your organisation is founded in its DNA and the idea behind and know that it is rooted in your product and cultural heritage.  This means that you need to identify who you want to communicate with and find an appropriate channel that will enable you to reach these people.

However, you need to communicate the same message to all stakeholders not only the ones that you want to adopt your innovation. As you only have one opportunity to communicate your message and reach the people who will act as agents for change you have to use all the channels at your disposal. Integrated Marketing Communication is concept that is designed to make all aspects of marketing and internal communication such as advertising, publications, sales promotion, public relations, issues management, media relations, direct marketing and not least CSR to work together as one unified and powerful force, rather than permitting each to work in isolation. The combination of marketing and public relations tools lets an organisation influence for instance the image, public reputation and employee attitudes through the consistence and persistence of a few powerful messages.

“[IMC] is a process which involves the management and organization of all ”agents” in the analysis, planning, implementation and control of all marketing communication contacts, media, messages and promotional tools focused at selected target audiences in such a way as to derive the greatest enhancement and coherence of marketing communication effort in achieving predetermined product and marketing communication objectives.” (joep Cornelissen, 2008 among others)

The selected audience in this case is your agents of change. So even though all members of your audience will have the information at hand about what you are communicating it is the agent who is in your mind when you design your message. He or she properly already known to you or at least your vision of such a person, he is competent both as a person but also as a technician. It is a respected person who has their own values but is loyal giving the person credibility among his peers. It is a person who lives for the future and is willing to take a limited risk in trying something new her or his fuel is passion and the willingness and ability to transform a vision into something more tangible (such as your vision for a ethical business platform). It is a self-starter and motivator that do need fuel to run but ones started will interpret your vision and make it his or her own.

One of the main features about the change agent is that it does not have to be a employee it can be a customer who likes your product and buys in to your corporate culture and want to be evolved. It can be a supplier who sees the long-term benefit of a close relationship with your organisation or a junior member of your staff who buys into your idea. The innovation can get hold anywhere where there is a change agent present who displays the features that you are looking for.

Next week I will try to have a go at how you can use different types of communication channels including social media to get your change agent motivated and not least engaged in your strategic CSR efforts.

Stakeholder Theory explained

Here is a video by Edward (Ed) Freeman on stakeholder theory and what he means by organizations need to engage with the community, customers, business partners and other interested parties. I think the stakeholder theory is central to the concept of CSR and if one wants to understand business ethics, corporate governance, triple-bottom line, and other concepts within the CSR discourse one also need to understand how stakeholders and stakeholder theory plays a central part. Enjoy.

What are the best Blog and News sites to follow on CSR and sustainability issues?

Every morning I check my RSS feed and IGoogle on some of what I believe is some of the best sources of current issues on CSR and sustainability. The list is far from complete but form the basis of what I think I need to know to follow some of the issues that I’m concerned with.

Of cause the list is not complete and if you think that a link should be added then drop me a comment.