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The UK and Europe is so far ahead of the US when it comes to Corporate Responsibility. If I only had a penny for everyone who said this. I hear this almost every single day. And not just from those in England who have a slightly superior attitude when it comes to corporate responsibility. I hear it from people here in the US just as often, if not more. The truth is that we are comparing apples and oranges. Is cricket better than baseball? Only if you are from England. Although you wouldn’t know that from recent results. And you would only like cricket more if you enjoy sitting in the sun and rain for five days and still not get a result. But I digress. They are both ball sports but they are vastly different. They might even share a common history, but that is where it stops.

In the US they believe in Corporate Citizenship and in the UK they believe in Corporate Responsibility. More or less the same, but different just the same. Corporate Citizenship is about what you do in your community. How you interact and how you support them. Corporate Responsibility is about how you run your business – it’s about operations and how you work. The impact is important to both, but in Corporate Citizenship you look at your community and their needs first and the way you work in your community might have something to do with the way you operate, but does not have to. In Corporate Citizenship you focus on your role in society through your operations and the impact you have, and then you improve on these. Through these operational changes you will have a more positive impact on society. Both benefits society, but they have slightly different points of departure.

The reason why the community focus is so central in the US is because there is less of a safety net in the US than in most of Europe. People do not expect government to solve their problems or protect them from every single little thing in life. No, people do that themselves and they tend to look after themselves and after each other. They expect to solve issues themselves. Americans like the idea of less interference by government and more control by themselves in taking responsibility of their own lives. It might have something to do with the open spaces, but Americans do not like people telling them what to do. They want to be masters of their own destiny. Less government and more power to the people.

In the UK and much of Europe there are much more of a reliance on government to interfere in daily life. People expect government to take more control of their daily lives and maintain the rules of how society engage and organize themselves. The rules of engagement. And they want government to identify the common areas of good that will help improve society. Government will tell you what is bad and help you to become better. All that is left for companies to do is ensure they do their best through operations and compliance to government regulations.

That brings me to a second point of difference – regulations and compliance. Corporate behavior is managed through regulations and compliance in the UK and Europe. Everything you do is regulated and not left to the company to try and innovate on their side. Any leadership position you develop is very quickly turned into a government requirement. (Your window of opportunity to show true leadership will stay open for a very short period in this environment). It helps that there is a strong central government in Europe. It makes it easy to push through new regulations. And it is even easier in Europe where the European Commission is hardly held responsible by ‘the people’ and have an almost free ride in bringing in new regulations. No wonder that Europe brought out regulations to define what a banana is – up to the curve needed to be defined as a banana. And I am not joking…

And it is also easy to bring in new regulations in the UK. It is a small island with a central government that runs the rule over everyone. Yes, Scotland and Wales have some autonomy, but the UK is still pretty much ruled from London. It is easy to understand the drive towards more regulations with so much power in the hands of a central government. It is in the nature of government to try and rule their own way. And each new government want to leave behind some kind of legacy. And what is easier than to bring in new regulations that can be sold as ‘for the good of everyone’.

It is different in the US. States control their own destiny much more than any regional authority in the UK. The federal government do not have the power to control everything. Even taxes are different from state to state. And some states like Massachusetts might regulate more towards the protection of people than those in say Texas, but it is up to each state to decide what is most relevant for their state. Federal government can provide guidelines and try and push through federal laws, but this is generally fought tooth and nail by states. The art of the federal government is to try and keep a balance between inching forward on the regulatory front and encouraging states to take control at a local level. But change happens at state level and not federal level.

This approach allows for companies to take more risk in trying out new practices and to develop a leadership position. They know they can bring in these practices without the danger of it being regulated to death. Yes, it is a fine balance. They still have to tell the truth in advertising and not make claims that can’t be backed, but they can be more risky in taking chances. Over in the UK it is slightly different. The aim of regulations is not to bring best practice into law, but to rather identify the lowest common denominator that could be passed as acceptable behavior by companies. I know, both have a place – best practice and lowest common denominator. In the US they lean more towards the former and in the UK more to the latter. It fits their societal and political needs.

Of course the US does have one thing that ensures that the lowest common denominator is ‘self regulated’. The I-will-sue-you culture. You make one mistake and the consumer will take you to the cleaners. Yes, it is out of control, but it creates an incentive for business to not do something that can harm the public. There are enough lawyers here to ensure that you will get sued. Businesses in the UK can hide behind compliance of law and it is much more difficult to sue someone if they haven’t broken the law instead of suing because they didn’t look after the public interest.

And some of the regulations make the way companies act very different. For instance, both the UK and US have regulations regarding how foundations are run. And these are very, very different. US corporate foundations are not allowed to do any work that can directly benefit the company. This was put in place to ensure that companies do not see this as a way to hide money, and to ensure they spend their foundation money on what is good for society as a whole. Very different in the UK. Much more freedom to be strategic in the way they spend their foundation money. They can spend the money on helping suppliers of the company and still write it off under foundation rules. The unbelievable work the Shell Foundation (UK) has done in development in poorer countries would not be allowed under US rules.

The US also likes rock stars and celebrities more than anything else. Man, their news are pathetic over here – give me the BBC please. Every second story is about some celeb and their latest escapade. And that plays out in the way company CEO’s act as well. The CEO and Chairman tend to play a major role in the public view of the company. Bill Gates is Microsoft. Howard Schultz is Starbucks. Steve Jobs is Apple. And each one have to make their mark in this world. Not because they want to, but because people expect them to do their thing from the front – lead the way in how and what they give and the way they run their company. They are the people others look up to and aspire to become. These leaders drive change across all businesses and are needed in a less regulated business environment. They are by default the people who drive real change through their own commitment to making business and society better. Thank God for them.

Less so in the UK. Companies are seen as more important that the individual. A few has made it to the front – Richard Branson as one. But they stand out because they are so different from the rest. The focus tend to be on the company and not the individual who runs it. Yes, they play a role, but the company is seen as less dependent on the CEO and/or Chairman than in the US. Another reason why the UK loves splitting this role while the US wants the same person in charge. Two big egos would be difficult to control in the US.

One area where the US is way ahead of the UK is in communicating their corporate citizenship. They tend to focus on the communications part more while the UK tend to focus more on the operational changes. Maybe it is because the UK society is more reserved than the US, but it means that Ben and Jerry’s is more respected in the US than Unilever. But in the UK it is the other way around. Of course this can be exploited and can confuse the consumer. A classic example is the current discussions in Washington about ‘green’ advertising and marketing. But the best tend to rise to the top and consumers do know to take things with a pinch of salt.

In short, the US is different because it fits in with the way their society organizes itself compared to the UK. Both approaches have real value. Both approaches will improve the world little by little. Both approaches will have failures and successes. But the one is not better than the other. Just different. Dealing with their own little peculiarities in their society and political systems. Both work. And both fails. I don’t need to remind you of the current economic failure in the US thanks to a regulate-yourself culture. But the US is not in any way behind the UK when it comes to the role of business in society. No. They are just different. A US approach won’t last a second in the UK. And the UK approach won’t survive a second in the US. The real challenge for them both is to adapt when they are outside their own borders, culture and comfort zone. For example, neither will last long in China or South Africa if they just try to continue working the way they do in their country of origin. New rules and new ways of operating is needed. They have to bring the best of their world and merge it with the societal and political expectation in these new countries. And that won’t be better either. Just better for that specific country.

Bu the discipline of business in society benefits from this dynamics – bringing different approaches to the table. And it is when these merge and mingle that we move further ahead in this world of ours. Of course there is one approach that works no matter where you are. The South African approach. But I won’t be giving away our secrets just yet. No, I am way to responsible to do something like that.

Hey, I have a job as well! Imagine that. Someone actually pays me to have an opinion. Anyway… Thought I should give you a peek at the type of stuff I write for work. This will go on our work blog in the next few days. It’s been edited. You’ll see that! A bit different from my usual style and topic. But it gives you an insight into some of my other work-related thoughts.

Build it (green) and they will buy?

Everything seems to be turning green. And there is nothing wrong with that – companies creating new, innovative products and services that are good for them and good for the environment. But consumers haven’t completely bought into this yet. A number of green products aren’t flying off the shelves the way companies anticipated. Why is it that the green revolution has taken companies by storm, but not consumers? With the environment at the forefront of consumer concerns, it makes one wonder, why consumers aren’t dropping the bad stuff and buying the good stuff. We build it, but they just won’t come.

Why?

Some products are a big hit with consumers – the Prius and CFL light bulbs are taking off in a big way. So why aren’t they buying green shoes, food, computers, etc.?

There are many reasons why people buy certain products and not others – price, functionality, “coolness,” brand loyalty, etc. One often overlooked factor is: how do the environmental aspects of the product help the consumer?

Let’s first look at why the Prius and the CFL light bulb are so popular. They allow consumers to feel better about themselves when they use these products. A person starts their Prius and immediately feels “greener” than their neighbor with the gas-guzzling SUV. They feel better and more environmentally responsible with every mile they drive. It is the action of driving that makes them “green.” The same goes for a CLF light bulb. They feel better about themselves each and every time they turn on the lights. The simple action of switching on the light enables them to feel like an environmental “activist” – that they are making a difference.

You said you wanted a green car...

You said you wanted a green car...

The environmental benefit doesn’t come from the company making the Prius or the CFL light bulb. The “goodness” comes from the consumer using the product instead of an alternative product. A Prius isn’t a car – it is an environmental tool for the consumer. The CFL light bulb doesn’t just provide light – it provides the consumer with an opportunity to make a difference through the simple action of flipping the switch.

The success of these “green” products lies in enabling the consumer to take action. The act of making a difference through using these products makes them successful. So many green failures can be traced back to lacking this fundamental element – allowing consumers to feel “green” each time they use a product. When all the “goodness” is in the making of the product and not in the using of the product, no other action is expected from the consumer. The only action the consumer needs to take is buying the product. But the act of buying is not perceived as an act of environmental activism. This doesn’t allow the consumer to feel that they are taking environmental action.

Buying a green product, that’s green qualities are all in the production phase, leaves the consumer with a very basic question: what about me?

You want to sell a green product? Then let your consumer be part of the “greenness.” Give them something that they can do apart from just buying the product. Give them a way to take action. Let it be easy – like starting a Prius or flipping a light switch. Give consumers simple actions that make them feel like they are making a difference each and every time they use your product. Let them be part of the change.

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More green stuff from me:

Can I interest you in a green Blow Up Doll?

Okay, so I don’t really want you to buy a blowup doll. Not even a green one. But it seems as if we think consumers will buy anything green – or rather that a green product will have an edge over competing not-so-green products. Consumers might be more interested in the environmental factors of a…

How friendly is eco-friendly?

Every single day we are bombarded by someone telling us to be more eco-friendly in our lives – and the choices we make. But can we really be eco-friendly? …

What’s the emissions of your local warlord’s car – and do you care?

Man, these umlungu’s over here really like their big cars. Okay, not all of them. And I have more of a problem with those who don’t drive big cars than those who do. They are all up in arms about the impact on global climate and the emissions by these big trucks – bakkies back…

It’s not always greener on the other side

Everything is green nowadays. It’s the talk of the town. Newspapers are full of the latest green apocalypse heading our way. Bloggers blog green left, right and center – with fonts and pictures to match. Activist are up in arms about green washing and washing our greens. Governments want to govern what green means. The…

We eat meat – get used to it

Being green or protecting wildlife means almost nothing outside US and Europe. There are bigger issues facing people in places like Burundi, Guyana, Yemen and North Korea. They continue to struggle to survive each day. The cheapest bidder always wins when you live off less than $1 a day. And you don’t know if there…

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Corporate Social Responsibility is about what business can do – not about what business must do. It is about opportunities and business benefits – not about obligations or new rules. And the sooner companies develop integrated approaches to identify and react to opportunities the better. And the quicker they put business returns and stakeholders, and specifically the consumer, at the forefront of CSR the better for both them and the CSR business model.

Tangible business benefits are ultimately realized through operational efficiencies (CSR strategy) and effective communications (CSR communications), through PR, advertising, brand, online and other ways to bring the benefits to the consumer and other stakeholders. What is needed is an integrated CSR strategy and communications approach, that is aligned with brand identity and positioning, to effectively engage target stakeholders, especially consumers, and build brand trust, loyalty and affiliation. By working across a company’s different functional areas, understanding and working within the commercial realities of a company, and making stakeholders key, CSR can strengthen and improve the businesses of companies.

CSR strategy development, which is informed by business objectives, market realities and stakeholder input, provides company direction for risk minimization, operational improvements and future growth. This strategy should be informed by and aligned with brand identity and positioning that helps position the company to stand as a responsible and leading corporate citizen – thereby building brand trust, loyalty and affiliation.

CSR communication strategies positively engage stakeholders, specifically consumers, and create on-going dialogue and interaction with the company. This engagement is in turn used to continuously inform strategy, refine brand identity and positioning, and propel continuous improvements creating a cycle of CSR leadership and business benefits.

This integrated approach provides companies with tangible benefits targeted at their own and their stakeholders’ commercial, social and environmental needs as well as the methodology to continuously improve their business, ensure CSR leadership and business benefits, and strengthen brand trust and value – now and in the future.

So, what’s my beef with PR? They play a central role in all this, right? Yes they do. A key role. But my problem is that almost all of them see this as vanilla PR. Yes, they’ll talk about how important it is and say all the right things – remember, they are in PR. But then they will focus on all the philanthropy work of the company – not the operational impacts. They’ll write CSR reports full of beautifully crafted stories of how the company has helped some poor family in Ethiopia, and hardly ever talk about what is material to the company. They’ll pitch the good stuff to the media, but not engage with stakeholders on the bad stuff. They’ll devise participatory employee volunteering schemes, but not talk about the lack of union representatives of the 5% of the workforce that got cut in the last round of ‘streamlining’. And they won’t mention that some workers in the supply chain might be just as bad off as that family in Ethiopia. They’ll talk and talk about the good stuff, because they don’t actually know how the company operates. It doesn’t help that they always talk to corporate communications/public affairs or corporate affairs (take your pick) and hardly ever to product development, HR, manufacturing, logistics, supply chain management or H&S.

One of the experiences that I despised the most while at the International Business Leaders Forum was the PR agencies constantly running to us to help them in their communications of their clients CSR practices. And this ‘advice’ can range from helping them write a CSR report to just telling them what CSR actually means, or just ‘engaging’ stakeholders. But when it came to the client or public, they acted as if they knew everything. Man, they can tell you in so many ways how they can bring the CSR of your company to life – whether you actually have CSR practices or not is irrelevant.

The problem is that PR agencies are geared towards communications. Yes, it might be aligned with the brand or corporate values if you are lucky, but PR agencies know zilch of operations. They will spin you stories on how important operations are, but they know very little of the actual dynamics of business outside communications. PR agencies are good at the communications bit, and consultants are good at the operational bits. But they talk different languages and have very different views on what brings value to the company. PR agencies see the value of CSR as how they can ‘PR’ it. Talk about it, blow it up bigger than what it is and pull off a few gimmicks. But CSR will remain outside of the company and remain without value if you have a PR approach to it. Yes, PR agencies all of a sudden have CSR departments and talk the talk. But have a close look at the people they employ at the CSR unit – PR or political campaigning backgrounds. Not those who have an understanding of operational improvements or even global developmental backgrounds. CSR will remain meaningless if we allow it be driven by PR. It must be driven by both communications and operations. And we need people to understand both. If not, well then we will continue to not bring business benefits AND development gains.

Just look at what consumers believe – they believe everything is spin. And they are not far off when it comes to the role of PR in all of this. And the examples like Wal-Mart and their online strategy is not good stakeholder engagement. But it happens when you drive your CSR through PR communications. PR has a role to play, but they need to get their house in order before they kill off CSR completely.

But don’t worry. PR is not the only guilty one from an agency side. Those consultants. They know nothing of communications. Or actual business benefits. They’ll do your CO2 emissions whether you make cars or plant trees. And design new eco-friendly offices whether you are a financial institution or farmer. No, they’ll sell you anything as long as it can relate to something in your operations. Don’t get me started on them…

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Children sweating in the fields on the farms in the Ivory Coast or in the factories in Bangladesh. Children are working up a sweat – whether it is cocoa or soccer balls. Now it is in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan. Yes, we found another place where these pesky little people work when they shouldn’t be working so hard – or not work at all. I mean really, kids should be going to school and playing in the parks. Right? Maybe not as clear-cut as that. What’s wrong with a bit of child labor?

What’s wrong with kids working. Hey, my kid better clean her room before the all new tough dad comes a knocking (hear the laughter in the background – we had kids so I can have mates of my mental age to play with). But seriously, kids should do some work. It keeps them off the streets and out of trouble. The streets ain’t what they used to be. Just look at the yobs out in the streets in the UK. Oh, our bleeding bloody hearts. These poor little kids, poor little Peter, have nothing to do but sit around and drink and smoke. And we should support them a bit more if they get into some mischief (like stealing from and/or mugging people). Just today the UK moaned and bitched about disciplining the kids that are in detention centres. Oh shame, those poor little kids. All they did was rob, mug and assault people. What is a stab-wound between friends?

And then we look back and talk about the good old days. Remember the good old days? What did you do in the good old days as a kid? Backchat your folks? You get a piece of that leather on your backside for that. We didn’t have time to rob or assault people – we had to earn our meager little money (if any) the hard way. In the fields and in the roads and in the house.

For those privileged enough to have grown up in nice neighbourhoods. Remember what the kids had to do? They had to deliver newspapers. Come rain or susnshine – ride that bike and deliver them newspapers. Mr Wilson didn’t care if precious little Tommy was going to rain wet or not. He wanted his newspapers and Tommy took the responsibility of delivering them. Now? It’s a guy in his 30’s driving his car and flinging the newspapers out his window. Yes – that’s what happens in my street. Why? Because Tommy’s mom is a bit scared he might get a cold and he is still sleeping you know. He was up till late last night playing World of Warcraft. Tiring, I know. Maybe I am completely wrong and that 30-year old guy actually started delivering the newspaper about 20 years ago and just refuses to give it up. He’s got a nice little racket going there.

And for those who grew up on the farms? You think Chuck had the luxury of lying in a bit before school? And get his breakfast in bed over weekends – at about 10 in the morning at the earliest? Don’t think so. You want some cereal this morning Chuck? Good – go cut some corn and milk the cows first. Cornflakes and milk don’t grow in containers you know. Get up at 4:30 and do your work before getting ready for school – and cycle to school. No soccer moms back then. You want to play soccer? Then run to school to warm up. I’ll show you what to do with that ball. Those Bangladesh kids worked hard to make those soccer balls you know.

But for the majority of kids there were no good old days. You see many of them did grow up on the farm. But it wasn’t their farm. They were just the workers on the farm. Little Sipho also got up early in the morning with young Willem (South African names). They were good friends back then. They milked the cows together and had their morning chat about what mischief they were going to get into later that day. When Willem gets back from school. Sipho didn’t go to school. Didn’t make sense. His folks earned next to nothing on the farm and to make ends meet Sipho had to work. And even if the farmer treated his workers like his children – these children didn’t go to school. No. They had to work. What else were they going to do?

And the other kids in the township? Some of them went to school. Where they were taught in a foreign language by a teacher with little or no qualifications. But it was better than nothing. Because those with nothing ended up working. But not in the “nice” places like the factory or the farms. No. They ended up working on the rubbish dump. Joseph is picking through the rubbish that the “rich” threw away. Collecting the empty bottles and paper to sell to the recyclers. And picking the copper out of wires to melt and sell. And sometimes you find a few nice toys or clothes or sport equipment that you can wash off and clean up nicely. And then sell it at the market on Saturday. Some “easy” cash those toys and clothes.

And what about Kwame? Kwame would think Joseph has it easy. But he doesn’t know about Joseph. Because Kwame doesn’t know much outside his world – his world where he travels between the mine and the hostel. Hostage of the mines. The chemical mines. Those chemicals we need for our medicine. But it’s medicine little Kwame won’t get. He’ll die to young and the medicine is to deal with obesity and hair-loss – things he will never suffer from. No. Those would be the least of his worries. And then there is Abhra doing the stitching of those soccer balls. But stitching the soccer balls is better than the alternative – selling your body for a little bit of food and money.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Those in the cocoa fields are lucky. More than 80% of them are actually members of the family who owns the farm. Like Willem. They work on the farms because it is their farm. School would be great. But it doesn’t put food on the table today. And learn about what? Maths and science and geography? All you need to know is the maths of running a (small) profit on the farm to feed everyone – know how much it costs you to grow your crops and how much you get when you sell you crops. And the science you need is knowing how to grow your crops and use the right fertiliser to make sure they grow well. And the geography of how you use the lay of the land – and plan for good weather and bad weather. They don’t teach those maths and science and geography in the school. No. That’s what you get from working on the farm and listening to the old and wise men who have been doing it since – since their father told them. This is the schooling you need because this farm will be your farm one day. And you have no time to waste on theories when the reality of climate change is coming your way.

We need more child labour in this world. More children knowing how the crops grow. Because they need to feed us tomorrow. They are our future. If they don’t grow it no one will. And we need more child labour to keep those yobs off the streets. Give them something meaningful to do. Something that will keep them busy. Work is a natural restraint – we won’t need those detention centres then.

But of course it isn’t that easy. No. We know the world isn’t black and white. Because what do we do with Joseph? What do we do with Kwame and Abhra? That is where we fail. Those kids on the rubbish dumps and the mines and the prostitutes. They are still there. Picking through what we threw away. Digging for those ingredients we need to make us feel better. Stitching the soccer balls little Tommy needs. And for those pictures we find on the internet – sorry, I can’t even go there. That’s just too hard. This is too hard.

I have kids. I don’t mind them working. In fact, they should be working. But there is a line. A line that crosses all cultures. A line no culture has the right to cross. But we needed to give people choices. We need a little less of Kwame and Peter – a little bit less working on the rubbish dump and living on the streets and a little less of being a rubbish yob in the streets. Let the children work. But remember who they are. They are children. They are our children. I have two daughters. And this is too hard. I need some hot cocoa now.

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‘…Starbucks in Beijing’s Forbidden City is brewing a storm in China, with outraged local media reporting that 70 percent of people would rather not sip the American chain’s frappuccinos in the footsteps of the Son of Heaven.’ Sounds like an article of just a few months back and a recent issue – Starbucks and the controversy in the Forbidden City that led them closing that store a few months back. But in fact, this article is from CNN report of 2000 ‘Starbucks brews storm in China’s Forbidden City’. Seven years later the issue blew up again and forced Starbucks to close the store. In the intervening seven years, Starbucks remained in the Forbidden City and had a very low-key approach in this location. There was no branding on the outside of the store, but once you got inside, you knew you are in Starbucks.

The easy way out was for Starbucks to close the store and expand to other locations. One store won’t damage their business – not with over 12,000 stores globally. But what did they do wrong? The mere presence of Starbucks in the Forbidden City was seen as an insult to Chinese culture and history. It was not about what they were doing or not doing. Everyone agreed that they were a good company, doing good things. But they are not Chinese. Similarly, in many places in Africa, people are starting to complain that Chinese companies are exploiting them and not respecting their culture and history. But don’t think that this just occurs in the developing world or in emerging markets. Remember the US stopping a certain Middle East company investing in the ports in the US a few months ago? This is one of the key challenges facing companies in a globalized world. How do you become local and global while expanding your market?

Are you a multinational or a US/UK/Chinese (fill in whatever country might be disliked in the marketplace) company that operates globally? Too often companies claim to be multinational, but they are driven by the culture of their origin. Very, very few companies are actually MULTInational in the way they operate and are managed. To become multinational they need to ensure that both the ‘numbers’ and the people make sense. It is fine to say that 90% of the people in their African/Asian/etc. offices are from the host country, but this still leaves two questions: (1) the 10% left – are they mostly senior management, and how senior are they? (2) Is the head office comprised of mainly western (mostly white males) or do they reflect where they operate?

How do you bring these cultural influences together to make your company truly MULTInational? It may require melding the Western model, which is largely focused on the individual with say an African or Confucianism culture of East Asia. What is the best way to manage the company, and interact with employees, communities and customers? At the moment, companies are not asking these questions as they think ‘diversity’ is a numbers game about ethnicity and not the way you do business. Until we start seeing ourselves as global AND local in the way we run our business, the idea of being a Chinese company, an American company, or an Arab company will continue to divide businesses and customers.

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I won’t comment on whether I believe in unions or not. That’s for another time and another debate. And I think my time in the unions might affect my opinion. But I do have a concern about the impact that attitudes towards unions can have on a business – especially a global business.

I don’t know how often I hear US companies say that they don’t need or like trade unions. That it is their business and they will make the decisions. Or that they like to develop a personal relationship that is more like a family. That people working for the company are not workers, but rather partners or associates. ‘Unions are not for us thanks. We look after our workers and believe in the personal relationship between us and our partners’ – standard responses by businesses in the US. And these are good businesses. Not sweatshops or the companies you would put on your black list. No, these are companies I, and most people, admire and like most of the time. Companies we don’t mind supporting or work for. Companies we hold up as leaders in the field of development, environment, stakeholder engagement and everything else you want to throw in the hat. Companies that inspire us. And I just don’t get it.

Yes, unions in the US might not be the friendliest of the bunch – and they have their own reasons. But the world is different the minute you step outside these borders. You might have strong feelings about unions and their role in the US. But they are viewed differently outside these borders.

You run the risk of killing your business if you believe that Europe is a key market and you still believe that trade unions have no role to play in your business. Go to Germany and France and people love their unions. People are proud of being a member and unions have huge influence on communities and politicians. Hey, they even participate on the board in many companies.

In most Scandinavian countries unions are part of official political alliances on national and local levels. They help decide what money goes to what programs and they support union movements all over the globe. The local political leader will most likely be a union leader as well. In these countries unions are seen as key to development and foreign policy. Remember, we are talking about social democracies here.

And political alliances between governments and unions are also common in places like South Africa. Here the largest trade union federation COSATU is also an official ally of the ruling ANC government. In fact, they played a key role in electing Zuma as the new ANC leader over current President Mbeki. They didn’t like Mbeki’s economic policies and selected someone they felt they could control a bit more. And union members are part of the official Ministerial WTO team of negotiators. They are embedded in the government. And South Africa has unionization rates way above 80% just to make things a bit more difficult in case you decide you don’t like them.

Also, why would you want to tell your suppliers that their workers should have freedom of association in places like India, China and Mexico when you don’t want that back home? Yes, unions are mostly limited or controlled (and sometimes hunted) in some of those places, but the principle of freedom of association should be consistent for both you and your suppliers. Your suppliers won’t feel that committed if you don’t walk the talk.

And to make things even more difficult they use a a different language when you leave these borders. It’s not brother and sister anymore – it is comrade. Again – no comment from me whether this is right or wrong – you just have to live with it. And learn to celebrate 1 May as Workers’ Day – a global celebration of workers and their rights, just not in the US.

So, if you decide that you don’t want unions in some of your overseas offices you might just as well close your shop and walk away from the global market. You have to think and act like a global player if you want to play oas a global player. Love them or hate them, but you can’t operate efficiently in these countries without them. Remember that, and you might become trusted and build a loyal workforce – become the ‘comrade boss from the big office’.

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I was reading an old blog giving 4 reasons why most consumers don’t care about corporate ethics. It was an interesting read, and I will respond in more detail on the other issues at a later stage. But one issue stood out again – consumers just aren’t willing to pay the price. This typical excuse simply argues that people won’t do something as opposed to delving deeper into why people buy products.

If price is the only issue then Nike would not sell one shoe nor would Starbucks sell one cup of coffee. Okay, so quality has something to do with it, so (some) consumers will consider price and quality when buying a product.

So why do (and did) people in the US still buy American cars? A few years back, American cars were generally more expensive and of lower quality. But people bought them, because they were American-made. Okay so price, quality AND origin can all be part of consumer decision making criteria.

So why do some people buy from from Home Depot instead of Lowe’s? They are equal in price, quality and origin. Well, maybe because the types and quality of services they provide cater to specific consumers. So consumer decisionmaking is about price, quality, origin and service.

And so on, and so on, and so on. There are always many reasons why people buy certain products and not others. We must realize that consumers are not a single robot or unit, but that everyone has their own criteria which they use to when making a decision to buy something. For some, quality ranks highest (that is why people are still paying $200+ for DVD players). For others, environmental impact or health attributes are most important.

Brand value is complex. and by going beyond price and quality to include environmental or social issues in the brand propositioning, helps companies further differentiate their products from competitors. By going forward with corporate responsibility messages, those issues become part of a range of brand elements.

Also, ethically-sourced products don’t necessarily have to cost more–although this is a common misconception. Some products might be more expensive, but corporate responsibility (CR) can also reduce costs and create opportunities. CR is about doing business better – all round. If you are working with your suppliers to make them more efficient, you gain. Paying staff a decent wage can make them more efficient, you gain. By looking after the environment can ensure you still have a product to sell tomorrow, you gain. As each consumer is different, so is each company. We need to acknowledge this and build the ‘corporate responsibility solution’ around what makes business sense for each individual company and product or brand.

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