Archive for Business

links for 2009-03-22

Comments

links for 2009-03-19

Comments

Finance after the Turmoil: Markets, regulation and Bruce Almighty

The rather optimistic title of this forum (… after the Turmoil) says it all: Host Ackermann sees “the dust settling”. What is the response to crisis, how can this lead to an “optimal system”?

The main challenges, according to Axel Weber, President of Deutsche Bundesbank are institution-specific approaches and all the mistakes that have been made. To the EU, this is even more pressing than to any other: we have to prevent happenings such as Lehman, *and* deal with the ones that happen in the US - including “fire sales”. The German response was a systemic approach, recapitalisation is within the remit of governments. In crisis, banks have much higher capital demands. You need to raise capital buffers, and this can only be done through the government.

Ackermann asks: Should there be one global accounting standard? Quick answer from Cerberus (apart from that this was that doggy in front of Hades, where these not the guys highly involved in M&A a la KKR?) Senior Advisor Cees Maas: Yes. Every country feels it has its own structure and therefore have their own interpretation. That is not helpful, so that within 3-4 years we might be there. Sounds like Lafontaine’s intimus Flasbeck speaking. Nice.

Thunell, CEO IFC, assumes that by spring, “we might be at an employment crisis including political tension”. It would therefore be essential to focus on the safety net for the very poor. So, Ackermann follows up with a question on if there should be an Early Warning System - distant from the aim of making money and who could this be (I had always thought that this is the role of central banks? Never mind). Weber takes this up with that there probably is “too much hope in EWS indicators” and if these would be successful, the people developing them would no longer be in academia (a bit telling, this statement from former Prof. Weber, or is it not?)

To put it politely: it probably rings true from all of the above that things in this forum were not really all to substantial. Another Erkenntnis was that Banks have departmentalised and thus minimised their risks even before the crisis, and, basically as Weber says “Banks are not Bruce Almighty” (well, bankers certainly thought about themselves in these terms, or did they not?).

Does this speak against accountability? I would say so, but then: I am not a banker. It certainly does not speak for the quality of this forum, hosted by the guy who had only six month ago the goal of reaching a 25% yield on its equity. I would have another thought here: If this is the summit of top European bankers, it’s a pretty low one. Certainly not Mount Everest. More like Kleiner Feldberg

They seem to feel this too: Ackermanns final apercu (accompanied by the famous Ackermann grin) ironically mentions Reagan’s statement “I think we should keep the grain and export the farmers”. You got it, man.

Comments

links for 2008-09-08

Comments

On the Ruggie-Report

As the smoke seems to have cleared by now, I thought it would be good to sum up the major developments about the Ruggie-Report on Business and Human Rights. Here is the report as well as the collated comments - a fascinating and in my opinion quite convincing example of multi-stakeholder statements.

In a nutshell: Business and government must adhere to three principles - the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and develop more effective access to remedies, when human rights abuses have occured. Currently, business conduct produces what the report calls “governance gaps”, refering to differences of corporate behavior overseas and back home. These gaps and legal loopholes provide “the permissive environment for wrongful acts by companies of all kinds without adequate sanctioning or reparation”.

However, according to the Global Policy Forum and Misereor (download), the report does not have global governance solutions to the global governance gaps it notes. Instead, it is limited to what its author deems politically achievable. This above all includes incremental steps, such as Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and export promoting via Export Credit Agencies (ECAs). On a positive note (made by Oxfam Australia), Ruggie is in favor of strengthening judicial capacities to hear complaints and enforce remedies against corporations, thus demanding a stronger role for government. Even stronger, Ruggie states the opportunity and in fact necessity that corporate misconduct should be dealt within criminal courts such as the ICC - a primer in regards to business responsibilities. Still, Ruggie categorically rejects the UN Norms or any other global legal instrument to establish a fixed framework of human rights duties of corporations.

A critical look by Ethical Corporations’ Peter Davis led to a raging response by Professor Ruggie. So maybe the smoke has not cleared after all - which might not be such a bad thing in any case, as it will at least ensure that - and this is on what most stakeholders agree - the work goes on …

Comments

Is there life after work in China?

clock.jpgCSR-asia.com - probably the most comprehensive source on CSR-issues as they emerge within Asia - ran a research on work-life balance that got prominent coverage by a number of chinese newspapers. After CSR-asia had reported about serious lack of work culture regards w/l in 2004 and called again for it in 2007, a significant improvement have seems to have happened since. And it did not go down unnoticed: Not only that South China Morning Post ran a big report (scanned in, as not linkable), so did Wen Wei Po, The Oriental Daily, Macao Daily News, and Metro Hong Kong. Other unlinkable sources include Other unlinkable sources that carried reports are the Hong Kong Economic Times and The Sun.

The blog of CSR-Asia comments: “Even though the research is excellent and the issue is topical, I am still surprised at the depth of coverage it’s received; editors clearly think that work-life balance is an issue people want to read about.”

Comments

links for 2008-04-09

Comments

Don’t break my China?

china-oil.jpgA couple of weeks ago, the pension fund of the MEP (Members of European Parliament) divested from Petrochina, China’s state-run oil firm and Sudan’s largest oil partner. The move followed after one of Europe’s largest pension fund PGGM divested. PGGM made the decision only after extensive efforts to have Petrochina engaging over Sudan.

Other large pension funds which have divested from companies because of Darfur include Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett – USA), Fidelity Investments (USA) and CalPers (USA). However, Petrochina still is a participant in the UN’s Global Compact.

On another note, I wonder if it’s just another case of Fausts “Two souls, alas, are swelling in my breast”, as the concept of the “Harmonious Society” was enshrined as one of the party’s mainstream ideologies at the 17th National Congress (2007):

Guided by the scientific outlook of development, the whole country, from the top authorities on down, is on board for building a harmonious society.

(Please read the entire article in the Voice-of-China’s “China’s Daily” - and let us know if you think that there’s some condescending note buried in there).

Maybe it’s the shiny happy people concept that instigated the membership - only that the top-dogs rather cash in as long as they can. Sounds familiar? Think Enron and Co., just on a slightly larger scale and with a few more casualty. Just a few.

Comments

links for 2008-03-09

Comments

One Laptop Per AAAScientist

xo

Stage: A ballroom in Boston, Godards “Alphaville” meets American Public Space Style ca. 1940s - the style with massive Walt-Disney coloured chandeliers, gold rounded corners (the original, not the Trump copies). Audience: some 2000 professors from all over the place. Acting salesman: Nicholas Negroponte.

… In 1982, Negroponte and his colleague Seymon Peppard had invited themselves to Africa, to see what difference computing power could make in developing countries. They brought some computers to Dakkar, given “a bunch of kids more computer power than the government had at the time”.

More than two decades later, Negroponte sent his son to Cambodia, into a village with no electricity, no proper road to get there. He brought over the first OLPC laptops (see more on this here and here), and the kids learnt “English”: Their first word being “google”. They learnt, too, that the laptops were the best (meaning: only) source of light in the rooms at night.

According to Negroponte, the biggest decision they had to make: doing it as a non-profit or not. Most people told him: “make it as a for profit, otherwise people won’t stay put, you won’t get credibility and so forth”. He decided against it and is still convinced that he’s right.

However, he now he gets into the 21 century stuff:

1. Reducing power intake, get 30-40watt down to 2 …and at the same time have the screen bright enough to be seen at equatorial sunlight (my mac would love that too, she says).

2. Getting a wifi meshed network worked out - laptops connecting to each other, thus 1. broadening the reach of the central classroom/school server - the one that is connected to the internet and 2. enabling all sorts of collaboration between the kids. All of this, of course, slimming down necessary resources. Another point against the 20th century SUV-mentality. I like.

3. Making it as rugged as the Panasonic toughbook - but charge 100 USD and not 5,000.

So that’s the points that matter. Don’t forget the Jackalope look — he calls it “the pretty cool design”…

They got 500k already produced, the bulk pictures from inside some factory look pretty impressive — 110k per months compares to the 5m sold laptops worldwide per months, he says — where does he have this figure from? Sounds tiny to me, with all guys I know upping their computer power at least every 18 months… Never mind.

What I like about OLPC: on one hand side it’s ’soooo much 20th century’ - all this talk about “Moore’s law” and “economies of scale”. Which actually sells well and makes it work. On the other hand, it reaches out to those 21st century thoughts such as slimming computer powers on to a lower level because no-one needs SUVs i.e. full-blown computing power in each ones laptop. And, of course and to quote Tim Robbins from Hudsuckers Proxy: “‘You know - for kids! - and you know - costing less!”

My question, though: If they so decidedly follow the law of economies of scale (which is in my opinion just another euphemism for “race to the bottom”), do they take care of a proper supply-chain management… resources such as Nickel, Cobalt as well as manufacturing doesn’t exactly come off the shelf?? And, what about the lifecycle management, i.e. recycling? Just asking.

Ah well, another nice thing he mentions: They’ve got some nifty ways for generating power, too - not the cranky cradle they had initially, rather a jojo, or an eggscrambler… Again: this would have helped a lot, as my battery is just saying “bye bye” just now. Well timed, my dear SUV.

Comments

Lighting the Bottom of the Pyramid

philly.jpgGood news - the IFC/Philips project (see IFC+Philips, a presentation from a 2005 Ethical Corporation conference) takes off now: bogolight!

And there’s even more from Philips: During the “Live Earth” concert, you could text your support, got a text message back that pointed you to a website asimpleswitch.com and invites you to “take action” (well… what do you expect? Buying some lightbulbs, of course), measuring the “impact” and getting “viral”. Great idea of social marketing :(

Hmm. You do wonder why they don’t use this expensive but maybe successful marketing lever for actually pushing the bogolight. Like, suggesting a “2 for 1″ deal, in which every single nifty gadget (would’t that sell that LED-light like hot potatoes to the T3-Generation?) bought with a 100 per cent top-up premium, allowing to ship one for each bought to the development world. But maybe I’m just being facetious here.

Comments

Just a thought in between all the music

It’s actually worthwhile to stop for a second and remember that poverty and climate change are intrinsically linked. As we have seen, World Bank, IMF and lots of UN efforts are not producing results on eradicating poverty and in creating sustainable livelyhoods. That’s not a criticism against them, but rather against their role as being a political football (thanks to Michael Hopkins for that term) in a game that still has too many bad actors, bad governments and of, course, bad business.

However, Hopkins stresses, and I couldn’t do more than repeating, that

“the future catastrophe will lead corporations to focus more on their carbon footprint than on their development footprint”.

As conflict is not only intrinsically linked to both climate change and development but indeed the work on it may often provide the missing link itself, we all know that there’s still some way to go on that road of “the role of business in conflict”.

Comments

Broaden the net?

grow.jpgA nice thing about a day of music around climate change: there’s plenty of opinions around, the topic seems to be paramount (I’ll look forward to the evening news…). N24 interviewed a climate change expert from Potsdam. He referred to a study from ISET/Kassel that shows that shows - from engineers as well as ecologists perspective - proof of concept to provide energy for all of Europe through wind power.

And, indeed, why not using the decentralised powers of networked economies in a susidiarity manner - the IT-power for that should be there, if not now than certainly within the next few years.
He says, all it needs is to extend the network and rely thus on a grid that would ensure energy reliability even in peaks - so that whenever there’s no wind in the North there would be some in the South. Again: the big energy utilities do have that, but only on a national basis - clumsy, to say the least, as has been proven a few times already.
That entire debate comes nicely in time with the ongoing discussions in Germany about disowning the four large power utilities (RWE, E.ON, Vattenfall, EnBW) of their network - leaving them with production and sales only. btw this is not a socialists idea, but one that has support from Chancellor Merkel as well as the EU. The big four control about 95 percent of the German power grid. Europe’s most powerful business women, competition commissioner Kroes doesn’t approve with that, as well as a majority of German energy users (err… who’s that again?). Interesting, innit?

Comments

Voluntary Sector Initiatives and other New Partnerships

ethical_corp.jpgI attended a conference on Business and NGO partnerships last week. Good for readers of this blog that there was an off-the-record policy which blocked all WLAN and thus prevented me from live-blogging! So you won’t get every breath they took as in that CSR-Conference in October, see my posts on Ed Freeman et al.

Conferences hosted by Ethical Corporation are by and large quite worthwhile their time (disclaimer: I do occasionally work as a freelance journo for Ethical Corporation), and this one was no exception. And, you can imagine that not only for a journo it’s always worth your while to get the information from the horses’ mouth.

The German-language readers of this blog might get a wee brief on this conference at a post in http://csr-new.net - btw a great multilingual (English/Spanish/German) source for CSR-related issues. All other ones might get the gist of it by focusing on the bold subheadings - plus, of course, following the links below the article.

Comments

Good Business

shake_hands.jpgDr. Wilhelm captured the stage again as key note speaker after the dinner (btw an excellent one, don’t get me started on this). Funny enough, he quoted a NEPAD executive’s speech from the opening session of the Bonn IBF conference from the beginning of the week. And, he ends with a brief but true demand: Do business, but do it in a good and profitable way.

Comments

Boston CCC: reframing the role of business

googins.jpgIt’s conference week: I could not avoid attending the 2nd International Conference on CSR in Berlin. As they’ve got WLAN available, I will try to blog it - forgive me for any misunderstandings or wrong perception and interpretation of ideas - mistakes are all mine.

There’s Bradley Googins starting just now. He’s a former student of Brandeis, of all things (disclaimer: me too…), and now runs the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. His focus is change, or the way in how it has been speeded up lately. His take on the private sector is, to recognise the changing role of business - and the changing of the role of government. Not that this in itself would be particularly new, but he has just finished a research study with 25 CEOs of MNCs, posing his frame in front of them and asking, if there are implications of this towards a much needed change in leadership within businesses.

Googins’ main point: Businesses can no longer afford to be bystanders in the process. They already do take sides. Isn’t that a bit like “It is not possible not to communicate” or Mary Anderson’s background to “Do no harm”: “presence is not neutral. It influences the context”, I thought.
CSR is at a very early stage in capturing the necessity to adopt to the responsibilities they de facto have: while 51 of the 100 largest “bodies” (in regards to value and GDP) are companies and 49 states, they have only adopted to the compliance issues introduces, while not seizing the opportunities this responsibility.

Googins presents a survey (can’t read source) on the trust of different players citizens bring towards all three sectors. NGOs rated highest, corporations at the very bottom end.

He points to the growing inequities on our planet and then, aptly connection, to fat cat pay rises, and closes this critical remark with some more positive some examples that show opportunities, such as SC Johnson (?) and the ecomagination campaign by GE. And, he adds that he perceives the new GRI G3 as a very promising step forward.

A McKinsey Study (2005) looked at the CEOs perspectives and tactics for the future. They have four issues: Increasing transparency, implementing internal CSR policies, engaging stakeholders, industry coalitions for self regulation.

Then there’s a real compliment for “German” corporations: They seem to by far outperform US companies in regards reporting (only 18% of US companies - sample: the largest 200 companies worldwide - report on their CSR activities, the percentage of German companies doing this is much higher… didn’t get the figure). However, he does not discuss whether or not this is mainly a PR exercise - leading on to an at first sight quite funny chart, connecting the to-do’s of companies within a sort of mindmap cloud.

He goes through the stages of corporate citizenship (CC), starting from donations and philanthropy up to Business Practices, naming Starbucks, HP, AMD - and their quest for the “sweet spot” i.e. business case in CC. His earlier mentioned CEO survey was quite a surprise: when talking with (and taping) CEOs, they seemed to have more time than Googins originally thought: actually always more than an hour. Quite amazing, I thought, especially since their word is weighted on gold scales by shareholders and the investment community, who has nothing else to do…
New Reality emerging:

1. Business perspective is moving from shareholder to stakeholder (a quote by Sam Palmisano, Chairman and CEO IBM), but still: Milton Friedmans quote of “The business of business is business” remains the paradigm of Wallstreet.

2. Deregulation comes at a price: the benefits of economic prosperity can only be harnessed, whenever the responsibility that is connected to the opportunity which in turn is the reason for pushing towards deregulation.

3. Short-term thinking does not provide solution for long-term problems.

Creating a soft landing to Globalisation means to use the positive contributions economy brings to society - and, of course, the secret of success is to do what one aims for and wants to be good at without generating envy in the world around. It is this that creates the demand for business leaders that recognise their importance in and value to society.

Update: Googins’ keynote.

Comments

MDGs and business - African perspectives

bongos2.jpgI am just back from a conference on the “Business Challenge Africa”, putting business into the responsibility - and opportunity - framework for working towards the Millenium Development Goals. Again, there were lots of interesting business ideas, most of which were sourced from within countries such as Zambia, Uganda, Malawi and South Africa, do have a look at the case study section of the background paper on the conference (link above, right hand navigation, as there is no separate url provided).

What worries me, though, is that all topics CSR are present and known by representatives of North as well as South. Everyone - even Nestle - agrees on the role business can play in eradicating poverty through providing opportunity and that there is a business case (arghh, this discussion must raise its ugly head at every conference only vaguely related to CSR, mustn’t it?) for it. However, where’s the beef? There’s far too little serious (not in moral but in bottom line terms) and scalable multi-sectoral partnerships involving MNCs with NGOs and/or governmental agencies.

Ah well, suppose there’s a time for everything?

Comments

If it’s a fashion, scale it

gapredcampaign2.jpgThe blog at Center for Global Development has a great post on “fashion poverty”.

If the movement to fight poverty among the famous and fashionable (and among the masses of young people who pay attention to them) proves to be just a trend, it will not be because they stopped caring about the poor. It will be because development experts–who work tirelessly studying and writing and knocking on the doors of the policy elite of Washington–forgot to offer them real, scalable solutions.

That doesn’t only apply to the famous and fashionable, but to all the tsunami donors, too, me thinks - and of course this includes all laudable efforts of CSR-departments worldwide: Where are the real, scalable solutions that keep MNCs continuously involved?


Comments

Local Business, Local Peace

International Alert deserves credit for looking closely at the peacebuilding potential of the *domestic* private sector. In line with the 2005 sector strategy of the German Ministry for Economic Development, this publication shows why business is often motivated to contribute to peacebuilding. There are numerous practical examples in how the private sector in conflict-affected societies can set the agenda for peace and facilitate contacts between opposed conflict parties.

It will be interesting to see how this research will feed into program and policy recommendations - as well as how MNCs can tap into the incredibly rich local knowledge of the domestic private sector.

Update: All documents and transcripts from the conference.

Comments

Can’t buy me peace, then?

“Do no harm” - The guideline of Mary Anderson has proven to be necessary countless times. When aid is fed into conflict zones it is often ineffective or can even exacerbate the conflict, e.g. through regional or unequal distribution. And whenever business gets involved with conflict settings, they have to be very careful not to fuel existing regional or intrastate conflict. But what happens, if businesses and donor agencies, maybe negotiated by international NGOs, realise that they already are on the same plane - working towards a sustainable environment? There is a hefty debate between donor agencies, how this could work. However, the debate is largely ignored by the business community. This is, what this blog is about.

Comments