Democratic deficit and the uneaven playing field

This is the next chapter in my series on Social Risk, enjoy.

What do “doing business” and the degree of democracy have to do with each other?

Well for one there is no doubt that companies that operate in environments where there is none or very few institutions in place to ensure a stable business environment often find themselves in situations where ethic and morality is strained. Just take a look at Shell in Nigeria (Oil drilling), H&M in Bangladesh (Clothing factory) or Maersk in China (Container factory) and one will know what it means to operate in such an environment.

To some degree the democratic deficit is self-imposed or reproduced through the understanding that we are “all on the same boat together”. Businesses blame the business environment, Governments blame international society, NGOs blame international business and the population blame politicians. So what we need is stable democracies that are characterized by good governance e.g. institutional structures in which the individual´s rights and freedoms are respected are a prerequisite for sustainable development. This means improvements in two areas:

  • That Rule of Law is upheld, ensuring a level playing field.
  • Democratic structures in place that ensures that can ensure that power is distributed and not centralized to a few individuals.
  • Cooperation should be undertaken with NGOs and civil society forces that work to achieve openings for democracy. In other cases, such as where civil society is small or non-existing, the focus should be on communicating an awareness of democracy, human rights, gender equality and market economy

In Sub-Saharan Africa, a region where economics determines politics of the day and where a culture of democracy has been absent and if present is under the will of a few elites. Even the smallest democratic opportunities are economically conditioned especially during elections because of poverty, corruption, illiteracy, unemployment and not least a playing field which has been all but level.

As we have celebrated the Arab spring there is no evidence that these old structures are so easily dismantled. We hoped for free-elections and a greater degree of transparency would be present, but it has done little in terms of growing a culture of democratic thinking in the region. For example, the political move by Mohammed Morsi to centralize power around the president in Egypt or the lack of security and move towards radical Islamism in Tunisia. The lesson is that democracy is fragile and needs to be supported by strong institutions that can balance the pursuit for power by individuals with the principles of democracy.  

The Social Democratic concept of democracy views political institutions as a means to offset the natural power of concentrated wealth that accrues in capitalist economies. However, during the economic crisis it has become apparent that individual states can’t handle the burden that they have been put under alone and have to seek assistance from others. In Africa for example there is no strong institution that can rescue countries in need so there are basically left to their own devisees, while we in the western world can draw on intergovernmental institutions like the EBC or others. In essence this means that the developing world is left with institutions like the IMF, EU, EBRD and the World Bank that impose strict guidelines for economic behavior and limits the ability for democratic processes. This again leads to a greater gap between the ones that have and the ones that don’t both on a region by region level but also between individual states creating tensions and eventually conflict.

For companies a democratic deficit means an uncertain future business environment. It means increased risk of catastrophic collapse and it means that what you might think is yours today might not be so tomorrow because there is no state to guarantee tour basic rights.

Links

http://www.economist.com/node/21555927

http://www.africanexecutive.com/modules/magazine/articles.php?article=5441

http://www.princeton.edu/~amoravcs/library/framework.pdf

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Doing “good” also means taking hard decisions and being accountable for ones actions

Some people tend to think that if you are doing good you somehow do not have to be accountable for you actions. It would seem that it is like that ones you are “goodness industry” it is automatically a license to bypass the normal channels of communications and scientific standards. But with the growing number of stakeholders there is however an urgent need for more transparency also on the other side of the fence.
Very few of the stakeholder groups like NGOs or CSOs that I know of have a standardised method and understanding of how to report findings. Most often they god for a headline approach where what ever fits the main thesis is included in the reporting and all that contradicts will be left out. It is not that I think that they do this to be evil or that they are trying to twist the facts in a conscious way it is just that they are unaware that for anything to be true it needs to be transparent and capable of being reproduced. Unfortunately this is frequently not the case.
We often hold the most transparent companies accountable for their actions and dig into their annual and sustainability reports in order to find inconsistencies that we can explore but it rarely is the other way around. The possibility are explored that there is a discrepancy between what the company says and what they are actually doing. And when a flaw is found we make sure that everybody knows about it either through the press of using dedicated campaigns.
The Haitian earthquake disaster provides a good case for. NGOs and to some degree CSOs came under fire from locals who claimed that not enough had been done to transform temporary shelters into permanent homes, or to provide access to drinking water and sanitation services. In some camps run by NGOs, people were still dying from cholera a year after the disaster struck and by that actually doing more harm than good. Of cause it is not all NGOs that are active in Haiti that did wrong but it goes with the case that they cannot be left without some form of control and accountability for their actions.
Another example comes from Cambodia where international NGOs actively contributed to corruption, which was documented in the documentary “The Trap of Saving Cambodia”.

The film puts a spotlight on some of the troubling issues facing this country: government sponsored forced evictions; corruption on a massive scale; the underground trafficking of women and children. And maybe even as disturbing is that local NGOs with the finances of the World Bank, joined by huge donor countries are contributing to the continuation of these problems by providing access to billions of dollars in aid where most of the money is going to officials rather than to the people in need.
There are still NGOs that think the accountability is not for the “Goodness”-industry. Or as Mango a UK based NGO puts it “Research has shown that results-based management is not an effective way of managing and reporting most NGOs’ performance.” And Goes on to list why they should not held accountable for the results that hey produce. To a large extend reminding me of the discussions in the private sector in the 80 ties and 90 ties about quality management.
NGOs need to shape up if they are to continue to be the beacons of truth and uprightness that we have come to know them. They will need to shape up their processes and weed out the organisations that does not live up to the basic criteria of accountability, transparency and good governance or the whole sector will be dragged down into the mud from where it will be difficult of not impossible to escape.

Directions of the CSR movement

For the past five decades we have seen a tremendous development within the CSR movement from a few hippies in the sixties shouting curses at Dow Chemicals to businesses build on the idea of sustainability such as the Body shop and Starbucks. This blog is about what I think will happen in the next few years. The list is far from complete but gives an overview of some of the trends that will shape CSR in the coming years.

Codes of conducts as a “license to operate”. Code of conducts was, a few years ago, seen as a source of competitive advantage, and to some businesses a method to organise its philanthropic efforts. Today they are seen as something that most international businesses have as part of their normal business approach and more a given than an extra feature. Even companies like A.P.Møller-Maersk that until recently did almost nothing within sustainability is now implementing Codes of Conduct and have become member of the Global Compact.

Moving from a fragmented approach to CSR companies now work strategically with philanthropy and stakeholder engagement/management. As described by Porter and Kramer there are real advantages to be gained by working strategically and long-term with the company’ philanthropic activities (Porter & Kramer, 2002). And companies are using philanthropy to gain access to students and other important resources that they will need for their future growth. Apple computers have successfully engaged with university students as part of their strategy, which has moved the company from being marginalised in the market to be directly comparable with Microsoft.

The further evolution of sustainable and social risk management into real tools for business. Where companies engaged with stakeholders because they represented a business risk they would in the future also be part of business development. Globalization have meant that business have expanded its scope and reach significantly. Fuelled by waves of liberation in developing and emerging markets have initiated a significant increase in contact with countries and regions that can be categorized as difficult to do business in. The increased sphere of contact and influence have spread to every coroner of the world and is to a large extend fuelled by the prospect of high returns, first mover advantages and market shares (Haufler, 1997, Mehmet, 1999, Banfield et al., 2003, Gouldbourne, 2003,

Jamali & Mirshak, 2010). According to the World Bank some 1,5 billion people are affected by organised violence or conflicts (World Bank, 2012), this number constitute roughly one fifth of the total population of the world making it one of the world’s biggest social issues. Conflicts are present in all parts of the world and have a direct or indirect impact on the lives of everybody on the planet either through social ties or as part of our professional lives. For people who are directly affected it is an ever-present threat that invades all activities and decision making processes, for the societies involved it puts social lives and development in a state of suspended animation. To a large extend the issues that business needs to confront are outside what can be considered the norm within traditional risk management strategies (RMS) because the issues are socially embedded and complex (Holzman et al, 2003). As seen in the case with Starbucks NGO and companies can work together on areas of common interest and create new products and services (Austin & Reavis, 2004).

Social responsible investments or SRI will become more and more influential on driving investment decisions and thereby the choices of management. It is not argued that investment companies will become more social conscious but customers like institutional investors will become more and more concerned about how they are growing their portfolios (Hawken, 2004). This will not happen because they suddenly become aware that they have a significant social or environmental impact but that the customers of instructional investors are starting to wonder how their pensions are growing.

The raise of the corporate citizen. The idea of corporate citizenship was first seen a few decades ago (Crane & Matten, 2010). The idea of corporations as citizens with obligations and rights really saw its emergence with several big international finance scandals such as scandal around Enron and Arthur Anderson around the turn of the century. The idea of a corporate citizen comes from the notion that companies like people have an obligation to the community they are part of. This means that they are obliged to behave in accordance with ethical norms formulated by society. In many ways the corporate citizen come from the idea of engagement with salient stakeholders and acting in accordance with their expectations and wishes. While there are many companies that claim corporate citizenship a very have moved beyond mere rhetoric.

The inter-linkage between CSR and development studies. Will further develop and as we will see in this book gender will be one of the lessons learned from the field of development studies that will define corporate behaviour in the years to come. For decades development practitioners have known that economic growth, democratisation and security does not happened in a vacuum and that development a sustainable business climate is linked to society and governance structures. As companies increasingly becomes global even at very early stages of business lifecycle so does the issues that they have to confront. But as older companies have had time to cope with different cultures and business environments young entrepreneurs does not have the same privilege. In essence this means that they will have to experience a much steeper learning curve of they are going to survive on the global marketplace. The tools that have been refined through years of development studies will be an integrated part of creating a sustainable business platform for the future.

Since the 80’ties have seen large-scale privation of traditional state enterprises in areas like transportation, communication, healthcare, energy and infrastructure. Mostly influenced by neoliberal thinking in United Kingdom and United States were large-scale privatisation programs were implemented under Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (Bhagwati, 2007:98, Harvey, 2005:57ff). As this happened private business also found its way into areas traditionally controlled by the state and as time have progressed more and more areas have seen either total takeover by private business as we have seen in telecommunication, part privatisation with majority state ownership as with railroads or private companies in direct competition with or as a alternative to state institutions as we have seen in Healthcare and Private security companies (Harvey, 2005, Dicken, 2003, Klein, 2000, Friedman, 2007).

The concept of CSR have found it’s way into the business world largely due to the weakening of the state and as a result of pressure by stakeholder groups to act as information have been more widely available from even the most remote part of the world. Word like ‘Sweatshop’ and ‘child labour’ would not have found its way into everyday language if it had not been for the increased transparency and persistence of stakeholders who have come forward within the last two decades.

It’s all about what you do – from gender equality to strategic benefits

Most international surveys rank the Scandinavian countries among the very best in terms of women and men’s equality. At the World Economic Forum are all the Nordic countries among the top 10 and the independent NGO, Women Watch the small group of countries in northern Europe is also among the very best. So there is little doubt that there is something at the Scandinavian approach to gender equality, which rings true.

Although we are close to being world champions in the equality discipline it has not been something we have been particularly good at exploiting in a commercial sense. Instead we have resorted to toasts and speeches and we highlighting the individual women who have actually been able to beat their way through the glass ceiling.

In Denmark we have come up with initiatives such as charter for more women in management which is a set of principles like the Global Compact that is meant as tool for strategic gender equality development within originations or the torch campaign were individual companies communicate how they work with equality within their organization. While these initiatives are very fine they have the drawback that they simply perpetuate women and femininity as a handicap.

It is not because equality is not a real problem and that for many women means that being thirty is also de-facto means the end of their professional career in management. I just think that if we continue to regard the female gender as a handicap, we will never move beyond the challenges that both the country, but more specifically the individual companies are facing in terms of organizational development and continued competitiveness. A novel approach towards gender equality that has not exactly been dominant in the current debate neither here in Scandinavia nor to my knowledge anywhere else in the world.

Companies in charge know how to use sex

Men and women are in many ways different and in many cases, the direct opposites, like Mars and Venus, if I had to take a familiar example. Yet we are out unable to function without dealing each other’s good and sometimes bad sides.

Take, for example the trait of being entrepreneurial and the willingness to assume risk. Here is one of the traits that we perceive as being masculine and it is something we as a society appreciate. It turns out also that around. 2.5 times more men are entrepreneurs than women. Of course there are also female entrepreneurs and we are lucky to have them, yet it is a trait we usually put in connection with being a man.

As a counterweight to the enterprising men we see the risk averse women. The ability to understand and devise strategies to avoid risk is something we associate with feminine traits. It would be wrong to say that men can’t be risk averse but as we traditionally have favored the risk-taking in men and given credit to women who understand and is able to avoid risk it is the traits we see now as being most prominent. Remember that I do not judge if these traits are good or bad if they have come from the creation of stereotypes or if it is something in our genes, but only look at how people actual act.

There are many companies that have discovered that women are good in the role of risk monitors. Thus, more than 45% of audit committees in the Swedish OMX companies of women, which is in contrast to that is somewhere between 10 to 20% women on boards in general. It turns out also to companies with a gender-differentiated Board of Directors and generally cope better with the crisis at least the first one in 2008. These organizations have been able to respond quickly and consistently to market changes and have implemented the changes needed to make money in a difficult market. Examples include the Swedish Hennes & Mauritz (clothing and fashion), or the Danish firms Carlsberg (beer and soda) and D/S Norden (shipping), who all have women in both the Board and executive management. All three companies have fared well through the crisis and although it has been difficult, they have been able to exercise constant care in very troubled waters.

I’m not sure that these businesses have completely understood the significance that gender has had on their ability to adapt to its environment in an efficient manner, but in any event, it worked.

The patriarchal business is stalled

In contrast stand the less diversified firms, or said in another way, those who either did not want or have failed to attract other than male employees into their strategic management group. These companies have not been able to get rid of their risk as the market they operated in changed. This can obviously be due to many factors, but the interesting thing is that they generally perform worse than their more diversified counterparts. As a consequence of their inability to understand the organizational risks that they faced, they have not been able to show a sufficient earning capacity or have had direct losses. Both of which have been penalized by the stock markets to a degree where some of theses companies are valued less in terms of market price than the value it has according to its books.

An example of a company that has a high organizational risk seen with a gender perspective is firm Vestas. Time after time, Vestas has disappointed the market mainly because they have not had a good feel for what their stakeholders wanted to know and therefore could not live up to expectations that primarily professional market analysts and portfolio managers had. As a consequence, we have seen share prices today are at the bottom even when compared to its tangible value. As I have blogged about Vestas before there is no doubt that they have a good product, excellent production and are market leaders so there is no reason why there share price should not be much higher than it is today.

Two typical strategic moves that male-dominated companies have been using are first, to try to save themselves out of trouble by cutting costs; secondly to dismiss its leaders. It is not because this is a particularly patriarchal features that organizations use in times of recession, but the strategies only aims to reduce costs and simultaneously makes them unable to think further ahead, the whole exercise ends up in an actual fight for survival. To use an analogy it is like beating the body into submission and when that does not bring results we cut of the head. Not that some companies do have a lot of fat which can be trimmed but if there is no strategic thinking behind the cost reduction it will mount to little less than the ultimate loss of the business.

Everything else being equal, companies that have come through the crisis by adapting to and cultivating new markets perform better than those who are just coming through to save and reduce their organizations as the only means of maintaining a solid balance sheet.

The Scandinavian competitive advantage

Both here in Denmark but also in particular the rest of the countries were gender equality is high we have a resource that is not only unique but also virtually impossible to copy. By using our human resources to its full potential, we can provide competitive advantages in both the short and long term that will enable companies to navigate more safely and with less risk on the global market.

Universities and business schools produce far more women than male candidates. If business continues to let this resource remain unused and under utilized, we must compete on parameters where do not have many chances such as production costs and human and labour rights areas were we are unable or unwilling to compete.

Today there are already well-developed tools that can contribute to positive gender development in private and public organisations. The question is whether the HR departments, executives and board members are willing and have the courage to embark on an organizational debate about strategic consequences that extend far beyond the words and cheers and speeches in for example Charter for more women in leadership, Torch and other kinds of woman leader priced which reduces the debates to centre around gender quotas or not.

As individual and members of organisations we have to come to terms with the fact that women and men bring different approaches, viewpoints and perspectives to organizational development. And that these differences can be utilised strategically by organisations that know how. Through an understanding the differences that gender contribute with, we will be able to attract and retain skilled employees and thus be able to reap the benefits found in the fact organisations consist of people that think and behave differently. Female and male employees contribute, for better and for worse, to the development of companies and that the sexless organisation does not exist and that it is better to work to exploit these differences rather than ignoring them.