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links for 2009-03-22

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Sessions

hu-logo2.jpgAfter the morning keynotes, the entire conference moved into a different building – the quite impressive Paul-Löbe-Haus, a politicians’ beehive immediately next to the Bundeskanzleramt. Of course, I felt like a politician (minus the tie), observed by classes of wee schoolchildren trying to figure out whether or not I would actually board one of many black limousines waiting in front of the building. Never mind. Only sad thing about the building was that due to security constraints there was no WLAN available, so what follows is a brief account from my notes.

There was a wealth of lectures – which is the right occasion to congratulate Anja Schwerk for the months of hard work in putting this together: What a great job! The lectures often covered aspects which are just about now reach the awareness of companies in Germany - or, more interesting, they were bleeding edge in their own right. They ranked from a consumer perspective to CSR (most notably Good Brand’s recent survey on cause-related marketing) to a workshop on measuring performance and sustainable value creation – and why companies fail to quantify sustainability. Also, there was a session on labour, another one on regulation and yet another one on corruption. As I’d say, anyone only faintly interested in CSR would have been hard pressed not to find a session or a lecture of interest.

I picked the session on “What does corporate responsibility mean in different cultures and how should global companies handle the difference?”, so here are some impressions on this:

Van Miller from Northern Kentucky University looked at “CSR in Outsourcing”, focusing on Maquilas in Mexico. Based on information by the maquilaportal he looked at what the portal named as the “Top 100 Maquilas”. Key conclusion by Miller: „Human rights is not really an issue – it is not that salient: Labour is the issue”.

Sanford Moskowitz and Roxanne Rabe tackled the issue of “Bridging the cultural divide within MNCs and International Ventures” - as fuzzy as the title was the presentation. It’s actually been a while that I listened to professors discussing in broadest terms “Globalisation as a Western Ethical Model” and that the “Asian Model” (remind me again: what is Asia and how many countries does it include??) is less efficient than an obscure much needed universal code of ethics. Hmm.

Jürgen Wilhelm from German Development Service DED made up for this with quoting a lot of examples of “Practical experience of CSR programmes by German development co-operation”. Amongst other things, Wilhelm sees increasing CSR-interest in Nicaragua, where the DED assists in the founding of a CSR-organisation. Also, he points to successful development projects that are financed by the private sector. This includes an SME-mentoring program in Namibia, financed by local banks and a HIV/Aids program in Uganda, financed by a tea company.

He went on to discuss the well-known dichotomy of voluntarism versus a regulated corporate accountability (a quick “Hi” to Yvonne from the Nachhaltigkeitsrat :)), but poses this question within the context of developing countries: What works better? Hmm. Complex, me thinks, since this is tangent to the responsibility of MNCs in the informal sector - and to the benefits they can reap through that in learning about the “indigenous knowledge”.

(I remember that at this weeks’ InWent conference there had been a strong desire by the South to opt for “light regulation coupled with financial assistance” — whereby light refers to securing basic rights.)
Wilhelm ends with stark statements anyone from within the PSD-crowd will agree on: “Mugabe will not attract foreign investors” and “There are so many wonderful stories in Africa, but the media does not report on them”. True.
After a much needed coffee break, the audience heard the rapid account of what would have easily qualified for an entire 90 minute session - given in some 20 minutes by Liesl Riddle from George Washingthon (DC) University: A case study on “CSR as an informal institution: The case of Egypt.” So she referred at such speed that one couldn’t think, let alone write down what she said. I just somehow managed to get the impression that it must have been an excellent presentation, but to pin it down now?

There’s a comment I need to make, though: We all know that life in globalisation times got “americanized” to a large extent. Germans have learned English, most of us can cope to a satisfying degree or more - but: what about people from Eastern Europe, new EU member states or, for that matter, from Portugal, Greece and other countries who have not been graced by a 40+ year presence of US/UK soldiers? If I didn’t get a lot out of that lecture, how would they feel?

Ah well, it will all be online soon, giving us the opportunity to follow through. Gotta go now, more later…

Update: I knew it was good: Here you go - Presentation by Riddle

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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?

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