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Business Leadership in Global CSR Standards

News + Events : Business Leadership in Global CSR Standards


Business Ethics Week 2011 kicked off on October 31, when a panel of industry experts gathered at the SF State Downtown Campus to discuss business leadership in global corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards.

The panel included Geoff Stafford, supply chain manager at Levi Strauss & Co., Martin Brochstein, SVP of industry relations and information at the International Licensing and Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA), students from SFSU’s Net Impact chapter, and was moderated by SF State alumni Cody Sisco, manager of advisory services at Business for Social Responsibility.

Businesses must take responsibility

Cody set the frame for the discussion by explaining that there is no longer any question about the role businesses should play in taking responsibility for the environmental and social problems facing our world. Nearly all Fortune 500 businesses agree that companies must take an active role to mitigate these problems through CSR, particularly since government alone lacks the power to enact the degree of change that is needed to solve these crises.

Talking sustainability with suppliers and partners

Geoff talked about common problems businesses face when striving to set new standards of environmental and social performance. Agents of change face not only internal opposition from naysayers within their own organizations, but also have the difficult task of getting suppliers and business partners to comply with stricter sustainability requirements. Smaller companies with less bargaining power naturally have a harder time demanding change from suppliers than their larger counterparts. Nevertheless, continuous dialogue with suppliers and business partners about CSR helps convey that these issues are important to the business relationship.

Reputation is key

Martin discussed his work coordinating responses to industry-wide crises, and creating guidelines to help companies strive for CSR. In the licensing business, numerous standards for quality and sustainability exist between industries, making auditing between organizations difficult. Yet, the importance of managing the reputations of not only your own organization, but those you do business with was underscored by the Thomas the Tank Engine toy recall due to lead poisoning several years ago. The incident damaged the reputation of not only the toy line, but the entire franchise, hurting sales of apparel and electronic media as well.

Global standards: what’s next?

The panel wrapped up by summarizing how the lack of transparency from businesses evident in the financial crises over the past decade has led to a big drop in consumer confidence. New standards for CSR across numerous industries have arisen to address this lack of transparency. While we have not solved many of the environmental or social problems first brought to light during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development two decades ago, today organizations are preparing for the future, as evidenced by urban planning agencies incorporating climate change perils into their building standards. The speakers were hopeful that more progress can be made in the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to take place in Rio in 2012.

For detailed bios on our guest speakers, see Business Ethics Week Speaker Bios.

To learn about the history of Business Ethics Week, see Business Ethics Week 2011.

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