Sunday, June 28, 2009

The model GRI GRI report

The mother of all reports - the GRI's very own second 2007-2008 sustainablity report compiled in accordance with the GRI guidelines (now isn't that a surprise!) . How does the GRI GRI report stack up against its own guidelines ? Practice what they preach ? Leadership in reporting expertise ? Creative and innovative reporting ? A role model of reports ? A superb piece of communication? A win for transparency ? Judge for yourself. But whilst you are judging, here are my thoughts.

The report is written papameter by parameter, indicator by indicator. There is a methodological flow to the development of this text-book report and on the whole it works well. Uncrowded by design elements and inspiring quotations from stakeholders, this 79 pager is what it sets out to be, a report. A GRI GRI report. Level A. No point in spending time on talking about where this report applies its own guidelines. More interesting to talk about where it does not. Where it departs from GRI recommended reporting practice. I hope you agree. If you do not, skip to next post :)) If you do, please read on and then Tweet. Ha Ha

Materiality analysis
Here is what the GRI has to say about this: "Following internal discussion, it was decided that the material issues that were identified for the previous reporting period through a consultation process ..... remained material to GRI for this reporting period." Oops. Do i detect a little corner-cutting here ? The last report covered 3 years to mid 2007. Has nothing materially new happened in the last couple of years ? What about ISO26000 which threatens to move into GRI space ? What about the levels of application and use of the guidelines? What about the Sector Supplements and their application? What about robust application of the assurance processes? What about the criticisms of the GRI framework for use with SME's and non MNE's in general ? What about the impact of reporting on sustainability performance? Is there nothing at all that is materially new ? And for the leading advocate of stakeholder engagement, the "internal discussion" around materiality falls short of the textbook model process.

Another thing about the GRI's materiality analysis is that it's not an analysis. It's a list of GRI indicators that are more important than other GRI indicators. These are not material to the GRI, they are material to reporting sustainability issues. The issues which are material to the GRI as an organization should feature here. Maybe someone skipped the fine print.

The report is not assured. Why not ? Well, it should be clear from the report. The GRI GRI response to this indicator is: This report has not been subject to external assurance. Duh. The question is, and the correct response to 3.13 is the REASON this report was not assured. I assume there was one.

Everything else
Everything else in the GRI GRI report is well, GRI. It follows the guidelines in exemplary fashion. It provides data required by the indicators methodically and systematically, and is a model for GRI reporting. The most important thing of course is that it IS a report. By which i mean, that there are so many do-as-we-say-ers in the reporting space that do not issues reports themselves, that the GRI has put our money where their mouth is and are doing-as they-say. Good move.

The interesting other thing is why almost no-one else reports like this ? It seems to me that this is actually an easier way to report, as it requires little creativity and innovative reporting pyrotechnics, and sticks to the basic facts as required. A kind of compliance approach. Why do almost all the 3,000 + reporters each year decide to do it so differently? Perhaps this is the harder way? It means that you cannot make up in creativity for what you lack in data, or fool the readership by stories when EC, EN, LA, HR and SO demand numbers. One answer might lie in the fact that the report is not just about indicators, it's about the soul of the organization, its not just about facts, its about values. And it's hard to reflect the style, tone and feel of an organization in a series of bullet points. But what the GRI GRI report lacks in photoshop, it makes up for in professionalism and integrity.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel, and an organizational stakeholder of the GRI and committed to promoting the use of the GRI reporting framework. Visit our website at:

Friday, June 26, 2009


Connect! Marketing in the social media era is a compilation of essays from 100 marketers and social media experts, each with an allocation of 400 words to write about, yes you guessed it, marketing and social media. Assembled by Jim Caswell, all profits go to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure (breast cancer). Actually, i recieved the book as a gift from my talented blogger friend Peter Korchnak who blogs on Sustainable Marketing, and a contributor to Connect!. his review of the book can be read here. So whilst this post is a slight departure from my established reporting theme, i consider it worthwhile and a modest contribution to help raise awareness for an inspired project and a worthy cause.

A few highlights from the 100 contributions:

A piece I particularly likes is by
Martin Ouellette and is entitled Marketing with social norms in mind. He maintains that social norms and marketing norms are different. He ends up by saying "We can't force market norms in social media. It just doesnt work. To each space, it's rules. So when advertisers communicate and act with empathy, generosity and reciprocity we have social media that accepts brands and products". I thought that was quite neat.

Jay Berkowitz ( does a pretty good job too of outlining the ten things that work in media marketing srategies for businesses. These include social networking, micro selling , RSS, video such as Youtube, online communities , blogs, Twitter (what a surprise!) , revenue earning blogs with Adsense, MySpace, answering questions on Linked in, web optimised PR, and getting included in ratings and reviews. Answering questions on Linkedin ? hmmmm? Does that sell ? Amazing.

My blogosphere friend Michael Mossoba also contributed a piece called "An Essay on Storytelling in Twitter Format. " He says its all about stories. "Remember that a great story is remembered forever" . Once upon a time .......

Dave Rigotti tells us that 120,000 new weblogs are created every day.

Nathan Beck 's piece called The Power of Simplicity is a review of the exponential growth and impact of that T thing again i.e. "harnessing the power of simplicity presented by Twitter". Nathan says: "Are 140 characters enough to make a point? I think so". Funny. I didnt see him giving up any of his 400 words to make his point . Ha.Ha.

And the best page in the book is a Twitterish entry in large font which goes like this:
@Sanitra Social media makes the world a little bit smaller & marketing’s world larger

Anyway, a great book, an inspired idea, a wealth of insights, a century of experts and worthy venture. I recommend you get your copy. And what's more, you can gorge on your daily Chunky Monkey while reading it.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

The Lóreal paradox..for better and for worse....

The paradox of corporate responsibility is that there are companies that can be both soooo positive and soooo negative at the same time. What does it take to say a company is corporately responsible ? That the critical mass of good things outweights the bad things ? Or that there are only good things ? Or that there is just an absence of bad things ? Should we accept that all corporations are basically irresponsible and not accountable for all their impacts. But that some have embarked on a route to address and account for some of them. The case in point featured in this post is the cosmetics giant L'Óreal. You've heard of L'Óreal, right ? Two news items about L'óreal. First. the good news:

L'Oréal Sets Green Goals and Promotes an Eco-Responsible Business Model

L’Oréal has renewed three long-term environmental targets for the period 2005-2015, applicable to its factories and warehouses:

  • Halve its greenhouse gas emissions: In 2005, the total CO2 emissions were 230.3 thousands of tonnes.
  • Halve its water use per unit of finished product: In 2005, the water consumption was of 0.72-litre per finished product.
  • Halve its waste generated per unit of finished product. In 2005, the waste generated per unit of finished product was of 32.2 grams.

What i like about the GHG target is that it is a firm commitment measured in absolute terms against the Company's own performance. Not per employee, not per site, not per unit. The total GHG's unrelated to business growth. Water and waste targets are per unit... which i find frustrating as L'oreal produces so many units of so many product types and sizes that this target doesnt say much about the Company's total impact. I looked at L'óreals 2008 CR report to see where they were 2 years after the original targets - 20% of time gone (2 years out of 10):

  • GHG emissions : 2005 - 229.7 ktons, 2007 - 218.2 ktons - 5% reduction
  • Water consumption per finsihed product: 2005 - 0.72 litre, 2007 - 0.65 litre - 10% reduction
  • Waste per finished product: 2005 - 32.1 gram , 2007- 29.9 gram - 7% reduction

Seems that there is still some way to go. Total GHG and water reduced over this period, total waste remained static. Interesting thing is that nearly 30 grams of waste is generated for each finished product. I wonder if that includes the packaging. Probably not. But in any event, for a cosmetics company whose products are mainly low weight, 50, 100, 500 grams .... this seems like a helluvalotta waste, no ? but good consistency in reporting regularly against these good aspirational targets. So good news for L'óreal.

And now for the BAD news:

French cosmetics giant L’Oréal guilty of racial discrimination

L’Oréal was " found guilty of racial discrimination for considering black, Arab and Asian women unworthy of selling its shampoo" brand named Garnier .The court ruled that Adecco, the temporary recruitment agency who hired the hostesses, was also guilty of racial discrimination. The Paris Appeal Court fined both L’Oréal and Adecco €30,000 (£25,500) and ordered them to pay a further €30,000 each in damages to SOS Racisme, the anti-racist campaign group, which brought the case. The court was told that Garnier’s hostesses were ordered from the recruiting agency and told be aged 18 to 22, wear size 38 to 42 clothes (British sizes 8 to 12) and be “BBR”. BBR, for the uninitiated is "bleu, blanc, rouge" or the colors of the French flag.

Now, L'Oreal declare that diversity is a basic value and their commitment is "To promote the self-fulfilment of its employees within a multicultural, stimulating community, rich in diversity and talent, to which all individuals contribute their creativity and enthusiasm." Heart-warming, right ? L'Óreals 63,500 staff is made up of 62% women of and 56% managers are women. 35% of mamagement committee members are women, quite a high level amongst reporting companies. Additional data on diversity from the CR report for 2008 is :

  • 21% of managers are from minorities
  • 34% of the total workforce are from minorities
  • 32% of new managers recruited in 2007 were from minorities
  • Increased spend with women and minority owned firms.
  • Over 3,000 employees have completed diversity training.

So what went wrong ? The whim of the Garnier brand manager? The lack of judgement of the Adecco manager ( a woman!) who determined the specification for the models? Profit before values ? Hard to say... L'oreals CR report, and its credibility, does provide some balance for this pretty damning incident, which is reflective of the draconic practices in the beauty industry with the creation of supermodels and idealization of women, causing great negative impacts on the position of women in our society.

So L'oreal, pay up and shape up. Not the BBR way, the ECITR way. Which for the unititiated means :every color in the rainbow.....

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bank secrets... not any more

An interesting thing popped into my email box from Banktrack newsservice - Banktrack is the site that tracks banks (funny, eh?) .. which means that it scrutinizes the activities of banks and their effects on people and planet, something us cr reporters would call.. indirect impacts. See, the true impact of the banking sector is not the checking accounts or the home loans or even the savings accounts that make up their current business, but the large, significant chunks of money they use to finance major energy or infrastructure projects, the arms industry, the nuclear sector and a whole host of things that negatively (or positively) impact us, the planet and future generations. The owners of these initiatives rely on banks to finance them. The banks that do so should be held accountable for these indirect impacts of their financing policies. And this is where Banktrack comes in. Anyway, back to my inbox (ugh!), a press release is what popped into it.

It goes something like this, well, exactly like this:

"Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mundiale (Italy), Friends of the Earth (France), Netwerk Vlaanderen (Belgium), Platform (UK), SETEM (Spain) and Urgewald (Germany) expose investments in harmful practices and companies of thirteen large European banks in this new website. Despite of the banking crisis, financial institutions continue to do harmful investments in a sphere of secrecy. .......The thirteen banks have financed 11,4 billion euros in loans to the14 blacklisted companies as well as arranged and underwritten bond and share issues for a total value of 10,5 billion euros. In addition, the thirteen banks own or manage 17,7 billion euros of shares in the researched companies. "

The new website refferred to is BANK SECRETS. it's an amazing site. Amazing design. And the content is pretty impressive too . There are profiles of these 13 banks and the dubious investments they have made ...a click on Barclays shows 11 locations of negative financing, Deutsche Bank also 11, RBS 9, and BNP Paribas tops the chart with 12 locations. Another page focuses on controversial investments by sector such as coal or oils and gas, and another page invites you to send an ecard to your bank proposing that they adopt ethical financing principles, and offers you a checklist of points to help you verify just what your bank is doing with your money. Finally, the site offers a selection of ethical banks in 7 European countries which you could choose to bank with if you want your money to be used for good and not the opposite.

The Equator Principles were designed to provide voluntary regulation in this area. Over 60 major banks worldwide have joined this intiative, which was launched in 2003.The principles were revised in 2006, making them more stringent, and apply to project financing with capital costs above USD 10 million . Whilst the principles have made a major impact on project financing, there are still many inadequate applications , even amongst the signatories.

I decided to take a quick look at Citibank's CSR report for 2008. I was hoping that it would reveal some secrets. Such as the ones revealed by BankSecrets, for example, financing of EADS, the second largest european arms producer, involved in nuclear weapons production, or financing Dongfeng which supplies military equipment to Burma, strengthening the repressive Burmese junta. One of Citibank's citizenship goals is to continue to provide Equator principles leadership . I looked for a mention of Burma, Dongfeng, EADS or nuclear weapons but .. alas.... zilch. Of course, they would not tarnish their positive cr report with vivid description of the indirect impact of financing nucler weapons or supporting repressive regimes. And they didnt. to be fair, Citi does boast a good record of reponsible home-loaning and community involvement, but nothing about the hotspots of their financial lending activities. In 2008, Citi funded 10 transactions worth over 183 billion $, out of a possible 39 requested, after environmental and social risk management review. However, it is not clear whether financing was rejected due to ESR issues, or due to the fact that Citi judged they would not make enough money on the the projects. There is definitely room for more transparency in reporting by the financial sector.

To round off my foray into (un)ethical banking, i took a quick look at one of the recommended banks - GLS Bank. This bank describes itself as: "the first social and ecological bank in Germany. GLS stands for "Gemeinschaftsbank für Leihen und Schenken", which translates as "community bank for loans and gifts". The bank was founded in 1974 and it currently finances around 6.500 projects and businesses. The Bank focuses on cultural, social and ecological projects which try to tackle challenges in our society by developing creative solutions". Not only are your savings invested ethically, you can also choose which positive causes to route your money to support. Sounds neat, right ?

Now, as the threshold for project financing is $10 million, i figure that this could fund around 1.7 million Chunky Monkeys. A further calculation is that this supply, if financing is secured, could last me around 3.17 weeks.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Get lost, pirates !

Had a tough day today (don''t ask!) so i thought i would take a therapeutical break and look at a report or two before i continue with a project i am working on. And quite by chance, i got to a company i had never heard of before called Moser Baer, based in India. And this opened up a whole new lexicon for me which i will now integrate into my daily conversations. For example:
Moser Baer produced their first CR report entitled Rewriting the Future
It is 53 pages and meets GRI level A application (self declared). 7,500 employees.

Chairman and CEO Deepak Puri (aside from this being poor governance, i always wonder how these guys have time to do TWO jobs?) opens with the challenges of the current economic situation, as most reports do these days (though rarely does this merit more than a passing comment in the boss's remarks, despite the major restructiring that is going on in most businesses), and comments that "GDP in India is increasing by an average of 6-7 percent, unlike the heady 9-10 percent in the preceding years." And then says that this is a "bleak"scenario. Bleak ? 7%? Well, i guess bleak is in the eye of the beholder, right ?
What is bleaker in this beholder's eye is the position of women in this business. One female director (who judging by the surname is a family member) out of a Board of 12, and zero female managers in an executive team of 10. This is despite 32% of their population being female. Hmm, wonder if its the ceiling problem (glass) or floor problem (sticky).

But what caught my eye is the material issue in the consumer electronics industry : the issue of piracy which is "eating away into the industry's vitals"! (That really doesnt sound pleasant!)
A noteworthy initiative of Moser Baer has been the formation of a body - ICRA (Indian Cinema Rights Association) an association for organizations from the entertainment space that have a stake in curbing piracy. The main objective is to conduct anti-piracy campaigns and operations at the ground level and lobbying the government primarily on evasion of excise and sales tax, copy right issues etc. The company reports having conducted 50 raids and confiscated 50,000 pirate CDs/DVDs.

Another interesting aspect of this report is the Materiality Matrix on page 15. The Company has allocated a selection of the GRI Indicators to a section in the nine-box matrix. Never seen that before. Full marks for creativity, systematicness, symmetry and logic. 24 indicators are top-right (most material issues) and 36 in the rest of the matrix. That's 60 out of 79 indicators. Problem with this approach though, is that the GRI indicators are performance indicators and really dont correlate to material issues very well. Where does piracy fit for instance in the G3? The materiality matrix is a form of prioritization but it does not demonstrate an in-depth understanding of identification and assessment of material issues, IMHO. But, notwithstanding (love that word) , impressive attempt for a first report.

I have to finish my break now, but this seems like a very intersting company and a quite a comprehensive report. Outstanding employee practices, community involvement, environmental stewardship and innovative products.It's all there. If you can get past the almost illegible design and font, this report contains quite some gems.

Anyway, in the hope that Moser Baer can succeed in their attack on electronic pirates, it remains only for me to say, "Ahoy there Moser Baer" , well done, and where's that Chunky Monkey ....

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Nasdaq have caught up with other leading indices and collaaborated with CRD Analytics to produce a Nasdaq OMX CRD Global Sustainability 50 Index. Quoting from
CRD Analytics president Michael Muyot said the index would help make " sustainability more investable", providing investors with an independent assessment of how firms that have taken a leadership position in environmental reporting are performing against their peer group.

Elligibility criteria to be included inthe index are:

  • a publicly available corporate sustainability/responsibility report;
  • disclosure of compatible sustainability data according to (GRI) G2/G3 guidelines;
  • reporting of at least 20% of total core environmental performance indicators;
  • reporting of at least 20% of the total core social performance indicators;
  • reporting of at least 70% of the total financial performance indicators.

this is GREAT news.

The companies in the Global 50 include :
Heinz, Cisco, Johnson and Johnson, Vodafone, Baxter, Allianz, Westpac, Nokia, Exxon, Motorola, 3M, P&G, Oracle etc.........

I wonder if this move will give rise to more competition in the CSR arena - more disclosure usually leads to more performance. Also interesting to note that NASDAQ endorses GRI guidelines as a disclosure tool and a factor in the ranking. Well done, Nasdaq.

Guess we all ought to be prepared for a flurry of CSR reports from all Nasdaq Companies who haven't yet boarded the train .......

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Friday, June 19, 2009

The best of the day from alltop CSR

Thought i would take a break from the Istanbul buzz and check out what's happening on the all-in, all-together, all-inclusive, all-to-all csr page at alltop. 33 sites contribute to making alltop one of the most comprehensive combination of corporate content (see that, alliteration, learnt that in second grade) on sustainability, csr and reporting. What headlines caught my eye?

The Jantzi-Maclean’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2009
Jantzi is an independent ESG research firm in Canada and they rank corporations on ESG performance. Macleans is a national weekly current affairs magazine. They produced a list of the top 50 best csr corporations in Canada. Aside from some snippets such as Rio Tinto making the list because their CEO is a woman, the interesting thing about this is Macleans head-to head with Corporate Knights who have been ranking corporations on csr for years and are fairly well branded in this space. Neither ranking, as far as i can tell from the methodology descriptions, includes an evaluation of transparency (existence of accessible information on the corporation's website or existence of a CR report). I think transparency is a core element of responsibility and whilst these two battle out the ownership of the ranking-market, i continue to wonder if these rankings actually fulfil any useful purpose other than PR for the rankers (rankers... careful how you say that ....)

Siemens Sustainability Report 2008 published
An item from Took a quick look at the report. A mammoth 182 pages, GRI indexed but no application level, UNGC indexed, in double page format which is most frustrating when reading PDF's on line. Looks like a nice report. Good materiality matrix on p35. Nice piece on stakeholder dialogue. Quick eye-catcher: in Nov 2008 (just in time!) Simens appointed a CDO. CDO ? Yes. Chief Diversity Officer. She is charged with developing diversity metrics and performance. Looks like she needs to start at the top, because the managing board structure 's only contribution to the CDO's upcoming diversity program is one guy born in the USA. 7 other board members were born in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. One of the 8 members is a woman. 13.4% of the company's management is female. Guess new CDO has plenty of opportunity.

Orange / France Telecom publishes 2008 CSR Report
A news item from csr europe. Tried to download the report but it crashed my IE three times so i decided to move on and finish up with a headline that i just couldnt ignore

Beyond Corporate Responsibility
By now you will understand my affinity for the Beyond Buzz, and no other than Jeffrey Hollender, Mr Seventh Generation, has produced a truly inspired piece about the ongoing evolution of csr and the imperatives that are imperatively imperative. Jeff says it's not good enough to do less bad. My favourite line in the 10 things we must do section: global warming will not be solved with carbon offsets . how come no-one else figured this out ? At least he didnt recommend giving up ice cream.

and one more thing

Worst Bit of Corporate Gobbledygook of the Day

Shel Horowitz is so right in his take on a Starbucks press release. It's true that i havent given too much thought to the life cycle of a plastic cup and Starbucks does deserve a cup of coffee for thinking that one up, and frankly it amazes me to see how they are so excited about engaging in meaningful dialog about recyclabe cups to revolutionize the packaging industry.Just shows you how many tough decisions sustainability issues give rise to: "Darling, how would you like your coffee? Black or white ? One sugar or two? Post-consumer recycled no-co-mingled zero-carbon-emmission virgin-wood-fiber paper cup or that old cracked mug that i was planning to plant my new cactus in? "

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Buzz No 3: COP this !

We've gone Beyond, we've been through complicity … now it's time for … coffee… nope, not yet …it's time for COP. Lots of buzz about COP in Istanbul. Actually, there are two types of COP. There is COP, or even notable COP. And COP15. (Don't ask me about COP 2 – 14). So let's make a start with plain ole COP and then move upstage to 15.

COP = Communication On Progress
This is what participants do once they have confirmed their participation in the Global Compact of the United Nations. You all know the Global Compact, right? It's a framework of 10 principles relating to the responsibilities of business to uphold human rights and labor standards, and to work to improve environmental impacts and anti-corruption. The UNGC has over 5,000 participants from all over the world and is supported by a web of networks who advance active application of the principles. It was in this context that I joined the Human Rights Working Group meetings last week in Istanbul. A COP is a mandatory annual communication for participating companies to publish the ways in which they are advancing the UNGC principles. Guidance on how to write a COP can be found here. A "notable" COP is one which the UNGC team finds to be particularly comprehensive and clear, and a model for others, for example here. Finally, businesses which do not communicate get kicked out. Which is as it should be, right ? COP is a kind of voluntary corporate disclosure, i.e. a report, which means that COPs fit perfectly into this reporting blog. Might just do a little COP analysis over the next few weeks. Once i get past the buzz.

COP15 = Copenhagen 15
This is way the climate-connected refer to the meeting which will take place in Copenhagen (COPenhagen .. COP … get it ? ), the United Nations Climate Change Conference on December 7 to December 18, 2009. It's a kinda climate change annual hot spot (geez, that pun thing again). The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997, sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the rate of an average 5% against 1990 levels between 2008-2012. At the 13th conference in Bali it was decided to work towards an agreement for the subsequent years. This agreement is to be negotiated in Copenhagen in 2009. Stakes are pretty high, it seems, as the influences on emission reduction decisions are dominated by economic-geo-political decisions, especially relating to China and India. By now, if you follow my blog, you will realize that I am not terribly competent about things environmental, so I contented myself with a quick look at the conference guide. Connie Hedegaard, the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy says : “We must move the world from an era of talk to an era of change” In this spirit, it is important to know that attending Heads of State will be offered eco-friendly transportation, and other conference travel will be offset. Towels in hotels will be shared on a one-to-four-rooms basis, and specially constructed conference seating will enable participants to peddle in-situ to generate energy to power their laptops. (so what if I got a little carried away). Follow the conference on Twitter , Facebook ,
take the climate quiz (I got 7 out of 10, which proves that this quiz was designed with first graders in mind, and it helps if you are Danish). I can't help being impressed with the locations of all these climate change conferences: Berlin, Rio, Kyoto, Bali, Copenhagen, New Delhi, Poznan, Marrakesh, Milan, Nairobi, Montreal etc … how about next year in Darfur, Mogadishu, Gaza, Karachi, Teheran or Baghdad ? Anyway, you have until Dec 7 to place your bets on COP15 outcomes. Cop that?

What else was buzzing in Istanbul ? Stick around to find out. It was a really buzzful week.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Buzz No 2: Complicity aka the Ostrich Defense

Buzz number 2 from the Global Compact meetings in Istanbul : Complicity.
Websters definition: com·plic·i·ty
1 : association or participation in or as if in a wrongful act 2 : an instance of complicity

So here you will understand that complicity always has an association with something negative or wrong. Like, its bad, ok ? And in the context of sustainabilty, and human rights in particular, complicity is an important concept. And one which came up several times in the course of discussions on labor standards and human rights at the Global Compact Human Rights Working Group Meetings last week in Istanbul. This reminds me of a fashion show with the theme of sustainability that my client comme il faut staged last year. All the models in the fashion show walked the walk with their hands over their ears, eyes and mouth, denouncing corporate and even consumer attitudes. Hear not, speak not, see not. As though what we ignore doesn’t exist.


This has been pretty much the attitude of corporations over the years in relation to human rights in their operations and their supply chains, and the way the products they produce are used. The assumption was that if you outsourced it, it was no longer your responsibility. If you sold it, it was the buyer's responsibility. If you passed on the responsibility, then you were left with none. Well, the concept of complicity blows this notion right off the validity radar.

Let's take a first look at what is expected of corporations with respect to human rights. The mother document for human rights is of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. This was approved in 1948. Ever read it? Did you know that you had ALL THOSE rights, just be virtue of being you? I would be a little interested, if I were you. (I proposed that the UN add the right to a daily serving of Chunky Monkey, but the High Commissioner has yet to pronounce on that one). I had to smile at the recent Marks and Spencer plc CR Report 2009 which states on page 38: "Our employment policies meet the requirements of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Sorry, M&S. The UDHR is not an Employee Handbook. For a start, it doesn’t contain dates of all the office parties for the next 5 years. Wonder how many of the M&S Human Resources team actually read the UDHR . Still, full marks for good intentions, eh ? (oops, bad pun, get it ?)

What M&S should have referred to is the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Adopted in 1998, this " is an expression of commitment by governments, employers' and workers' organizations to uphold basic human values - values that are vital to our social and economic lives." The ILO declaration is based on 8 conventions "that should be considered as fundamental because they protect basic workers rights".
These are:

  • Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
  • The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor
  • The effective abolition of child labor
  • The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation

The Labor Principles of the Global Compact ( principles 3 – 6) are the expression of these principles with regard to the responsibility of businesses. But then, you all knew that, right ?

So what does this mean for corporations and where does complicity come in to the picture?
Well, this post by Christine Arena, author of the High Purpose Company, one of the best books around and worth a read, makes reference to the $15.5million settlement by Royal Dutch Shell who was accused of complicity in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in Nigeria. Shell didn’t actually order the executions nor is there any evidence to suggest they were directly involved. But there is plenty of evidence, including letters of thanks to those who made ole Ken's life a little difficult, to suggest that Shell not only knew what was going on but privately encouraged the oppression of the Ogoni tribe's opposition to Shell's activities in Ogoniland.

Another example: Nike's Indonesia Manager, then John Woodman, is quoted as saying back in 1994, when asked about problems at the company's subcontracted plants. "I don't know that I need to know," he explained. "It's not within our scope to investigate.". This was termed "The Ostrich Defense". Wonder why?! Nike's tune is a somewhat different now of course. And there are many more examples and many more quotes. But I gotta end this long post sometime before the end of this century, and I think I have made my point.

There are clear frameworks for upholding human and labor rights in all parts of a business's operations. Corporations must make it their business to know, and be responsible for, and account for, what goes on in their supply chains. And I have just skimmed the surface of this complex subject.

But back to complicity. This is a good piece by Amnesty International. If you are really keen. When you think that there are STILL 12.3 million people in forced labor, and STILL 218 million, yes, 218 million kids, in child labor, then you kinda get that complicity still plays a role in our supply chains around the world.

Next post. Chunky Monkey. Oops, sorry, not. Something else from Istanbul. Betcha can't wait to find out, right ?

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beyond Global Compact

Beyond is the new buzz. Yep. It's here to stay. Beyond now. Beyond today. Beyond signifies that infinite space of possibilities that create our collective sustainable future. (geez, did I overdose on Cherry Garcia or something? Doesn’t that sound pathetic?) Well let me explain…
I just returned from 3 days attending an ILO workshop and the Human Rights working Group meetings of the United Nations Global Compact in Istanbul. I will be blogging about this in more detail over the next week or so, so stay tuned. But my first of many is about the Beyond buzz. This is the new word to describe everything positive, innovative and sustainable.

Go Beyond

Allow me introduce you to Mas Holdings and the MAS Go Beyond program. This is the brainchild of the most charming and accomplished man, Mr Ravi Fernando, whom I had the privilege of meeting this week in Istanbul after our cyber acquaintance. Ravi was until recently the Director Corporate Branding & Strategic Sustainability at MAS Holdings Ltd. MAS Holdings is one of Sri Lanka’s largest apparel manufacturers, employing more than 45,000 people in 28 factories in several countries and annual revenues of US$700 million. 5 years ago, Ravi started out on a path of empowering the women of MAS to "Go Beyond". 80% of MAS employees are women. MAS are leading bra manufacturers. (It turns out that bras are pretty complicated to make. A bra has between 20 and 48 parts, including the cups, lining, bands, straps and hooks. No wonder they are so darn uncomfortable! Perhaps we should have burned them after all….). Anyhow, the MAS program is based on supporting career advancement, strengthening work-life balance and rewarding excellence. It has changed the lives of many women and empowered them to go beyond to "transcend hardship and adverse social conditions to achieve great heights". The program has been an unrivalled success, the subject of two INSEAD case studies (link here for abstract) . Ravi presented me with a wonderful book published by MAS Holdings, containing very moving stories of 95 women who have suceeded with program. The book is sold and proceeds go to the Go Beyond program. Here are some quotes from the Go Beyond women:
  • "Pushpa's mother died from complications at childbirth, and her life has been a struggle almost from day one. Tragically at just 13, she became a child bride, given in marriage so that she would no longer be a burden on her family…." Pushpa has also survived cancer of the throat. She is now a Line Leader at Mas Active.
  • "It chills the soul to imagine the despair that could drive a mother to abandon her baby, and it is almost incomprehensible that anyone could have left an infant at the foot of a rubbish dump, where baby Dhamnika was discovered by a passing stranger …." Dhamnika is now a Line Leader at Mas Slimtex.
  • "With her mother away working in the Middle East, it was Suweeja and her brothers who built their house. The children made the bricks themselves, carrying buckets of water from the village well.. " Suweeja is now an operator at Mas Leisureline

It's hard to do justice to this program in a short blog post, but it is breathtakingly awesome. (Link here to a paper published by IFC )

Beyond Monitoring Working Group
This is a working group led by BSR and participating companies in the UNGC network to review monitoring procedures in the supply chain.which, by and large, have not created the improvements that heavy investments in monitoring should merit. The group has come up with proposals which are currently being reviewed and finalized so I won't share them here, but watch this space, as there are some exceptionally sharp insights and process improvements to drive a more effective way of creating sustainable supply chains.

Beyond Essential
The term used by BLIHR in a publication introducing the Human Rights Matrix which is a web-based self-assessment tool, to support companies understanding human rights and manage human rights programs and performance. Beyond essential (see this for the essentials) is essentially (oops!) beyond compliance, a term we're all used to by now, right ?

Beyond Business
No surprise that this term was very popular indeed. Every time I introduced myself in each of the different sessions, and to a whole host of impressive people I met over the three days, I said Hello, I am elaine from Beyond Business. Beyond Business is the name of my consulting firm. Hah! A plug!

So which Beyond came first ? We won't be so presumptuous as to think that Beyond Business was the inspiration for all the other beyonds, but we are certainly very happy to be up there in the buzz.

Any yes, you've guessed it, B&J's next flavor is most definitely going to be…..
Beyond Chunky Monkey!

Stick around for more from the Global Compact meetings……

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Women in the supply chain squeeze

A report launched in February this year - cashing in - from (which i recently picked up from Eldis ) is quite a sight - or should i say quite a fright.(Ok, so Emily Dickinson i am not!) It's about the way 5 major global retailers such as Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour, Lidl, and Aldi drive prices down by pressuring suppliers ,using their mighty purchasing power. Who pays the price ? The women caught up in this supply chain squeeze.

One thing we perhaps don't realise is that these major global retailers are not just about groceries (and ice cream) A large portion of their revenue is from clothes and their contribution to the global apparel industry has transformed availability, pricing, sourcing , quality and supply chain squeezes. In a previous post i talked about the Intel ripple (meaning the indirect impacts of their business activities). Well, these retailer guys have some big ripple. They account for $54 billion clothes and footwear sales - 6% of global market total. In the UK, 25% of clothing is bought from retailer groceries.

The report shows that the higher the share of the retail market a retailer has, the lower the price paid to suppliers. Is that what's called economy of scale ? It also refers to how these retailer "giants" have confirmed (in their impressive CR reports) commitments to uhpolding human rights in their suppy chains and to ethical business. The report goes on to discuss actual working conditions in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. In each of these countries, the garment industry represents a significant proportion of their GDP and economic welfare. There is a significant discussion about wages, as you might expect, and the difference between a legal minum wage and a living wage - disheartening figures are reported relating not only to avoidance of paying legal minimum wage (including adding unpaid or low paid overtime hours,, fake payslips etc) to complete lack of attention to the fact that even the mimimum wage is not enough to provide basic needs. Other aspects of worker exploitation such as opposition to freedom of association or employment of contract workers on long term temporary contracts are discussed at length.
Finally we get to the real squeeze: 80% of garment workers are women.
"Far from lifting women out of poverty, the Giants are cashing in on it. " the report concludes.

The report's recommendations to address these issues are pretty straighforward: enhance, expand and enforce auditing, legislate, take responsibility. But isnt that something we already understood ? Will this create change ? One area the report fails to address is the power of consumerism. As long as we want fast fashion, retailers will continue to compete using fast fashion rules which dictate low prices, fast response times, poor quality, low wages, abuse of human rights.

Is this what consumers want ? What made Nike turn its operations around over 10 years ago? Was it an activist response to little 12-year old Tariq who was employed in inhumane conditions appearing on the cover of Life Magazine ? Did consumers drive the change ? Why don't consumers demand change ? Why don't consumers force a retailers to reassess of the relative elements in supply chain costs for greater equitability ? Does anyone care if women are in the supply chain squeeze ? Do other women care ?

We should all care - the plight of women such as these costs the world economy trillions of $$. Exploitation and depression of women is not a women's issue - its a citizenship issue affecting men, children and all of us, whatever gender. Because women, responsibly employed, are the world's wealth generators. As you can probably tell, this is a subject i am passionate about, and could write hundreds more blog pages about this. But instead, in order to avoid the risk of boring my avid readership (thank you both!) , i took a look at Tesco's recently issued CR report, published in May 2009. 6 pages on supply chain and ethical trading (of a total 59). Not surpisingly, there is nothing about repeated concerns expressed to Tesco about supply chain abuses and the Tesco response to these. Overall non-food represents 8.8% of Tesco revenue, worth 12.5 billion sterling and is an area of strategic growth. Of this, clothing is probably a small fraction, so it is probably not material to Tesco, right ? Especially when there are over a million women directly involved in subsidizing this growth. And many more on an indirect basis.

Wow, what a long post this turned out to be. if you got this far, you win the csr-reporting blog stamina award. What's the prize ? You guessed it. A week's supply of Chunky Monkey.
(But you have to buy it yourself....)

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:
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