Knowledge Centre:
News Digests

Stay abreast of what’s happening internationally with developments in corporate public affairs. Here is news that you may find useful and interesting:

Sabbaticals can offer dividends for employersND


Loretta Chao, The Wall Street Journal, 17 July 2006

Employee volunteering programs aim to strengthen the workforce, train leaders and improve the corporate image. Employee retention often improves as employees feel engaged and have a better sense of their place in their company and the wider community. However, some nonprofit groups in developing countries are unaccustomed to working with corporate volunteers as opposed to donations. For more information, see www.wsj.com

Fixing Apple’s ‘sweatshop’ woesND


Arik Hesseldahl, Business Week, 29 June 2006

Apple is facing allegations that a Chinese factory which manufactures ipods has poor working conditions. In order to investigate these allegations, Apple has sent a team to China. Hesseldahl, the author of this article, argues that the investigation findings need to be released immediately. As an industry leader, Apple has workplace guidelines that include not working more than 60 hours a week. Hesseldahl believes that the only way Apple can ensure that their standards are being met is by following Motorola’s lead by building and running their own factory in China. For more information, see www.businessweek.com

Laws adequate for sustainability pushND


Fiona Buffini, Australian Financial Review, 22 June 2006

An Australian government inquiry into corporate social responsibility has found there is no need to introduce new laws to regulate corporate behaviour. The 256-page report found that introducing mandatory sustainability reporting could lead to a ‘tick-the-box culture of compliance’. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

Responsibility rules: the business argument for applying the triple bottom line is no longer in doubtND


Julia May, Business Review Weekly, 15 June 2006

Triple bottom line reporting has been acknowledged as a contributing factor to business longevity. Various indexes such as the Global Reporting Initiative provide benchmarks for corporations to measure themselves against. The complexity of global indexes makes them unsuitable for many small and medium businesses. May argues that in order to encourage smaller businesses to adopt socially responsible practices, a less complicated set of CSR guidelines is needed. For more information, see www.brw.com.au

European shareholder activists reach across borders to USND


Joann Lublin, The Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2006

European investment companies are paying more attention to the international companies they are investing in. Recently a number of European institutions faulted Wal-Mart directors. Some companies are heeding the change of attitude; since 2002 Exxon Mobil has been meeting with British investors to discuss governance. This article argues that international companies need to be more attentive to the views of international shareholders. For more information, see www.wsj.com

The myths of mediaND


David James, Business Review Weekly, 8 – 14 June

Executives responsible for online business at Australia’s biggest media outlets recently met to discuss the implications of the emergence of new media platforms. Discussion focused on audience participation, online media and the myths about media including: (1) ‘media is principally about information’ – as a large part of the information provided by the media turns out to be wrong, the media offers a sense of connection; (2) ‘new media content is replacing old media’ – these media types are not substitutes for each other, rather they are different consumer propositions; and (3) ‘content is easily shifted from one platform to another’ – the content needs to be adjusted from each platform. For more information see www.brw.com.au

Biggest pension fund boycotts Wal-MartND


Terry Macalister, The Guardian, 7 June 2006

The world’s largest pension fund (Norwegian government’s US$250bn oil fund) has sold its holdings in Wal-Mart (citing alleged abuses of human and employment rights) and Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold (citing environmental reasons). According to the Norwegian finance minister, “These companies are excluded because, in view of their practices, investing in them entails an unacceptable risk that the fund may be complicit in serious, systematic or gross violations of norms”. The government’s fund has excluded 19 firms due to ethical reasons. For more information see www.guardian.co.uk

Business leaders lobby Blair to set tougher targets on greenhouse gasesND


Fiona Harvey, Financial Times, 7 June 2006

The Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, comprising 14 business leaders, presented UK Prime Minister Blair with proposals to tackle climate change. The most significant is a plan to extend the European Union’s emissions trading schemes to 2025. For more information see www.ft.com

Frustrated ‘Greens’ turn to boardroomsND


Alan Murray, The Wall Street Journal, 7 June 2006

In attempt to bring attention to the problem of global warming, green groups are increasingly targeting companies such as Wal-Mart, DuPont, and General Electric, leading to efforts by these companies to reform attitudes and practices regarding the environment. Various stakeholders are also forcing companies to address environmental issues, taking concerns to board meetings. Murray believes that there is a danger that boards of directors will be “turned into debating societies for the most fractious issues of our times”. For more information see www.wsj.com

Life in reports yetND


Fiona Buffini, Australian Financial Review, 2 June 2006

A recent survey conducted by the Australasian Investor Relations Association found that 24% of Australian listed companies would continue to mail hard copies of annual reports to shareholders even if the government allowed them to instead post reports online. The government is still working out the details of a new law on this issue which is expected to be completed by year-end. The move to allow just online reporting is expected to result in significant savings for companies. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

River bankND


Brad Howarth, Australian Financial Review Boss, June 2006

As part of its corporate social responsibility program, ANZ is committed to improving financial literacy and providing micro-financing and better access to banking services. An example of a successful program is its Rural Banking program in Fiji. The bank takes its banking services to rural Fijians who cannot afford the high cost of travelling to the coast. The program also provides micro-loans, addressing the problem of many micro-finance organisations having strict terms and conditions. For more information see www.afr.com.au

Corporate conscience survey says workers should come firstND


Stephanie Storm, New York Times, 31 May 2006

A recent survey indicates that ‘far more American consumers consider the way companies treat their employees a good indicator of their social conscience than their philanthropy’ according to the National Consumers League and PR firm Fleishman-Hillard. Around 27% believe that CSR involves commitment to employee wellbeing, rather than philanthropy. The survey highlights that companies are failing to perpetuate socially responsible images to consumers. Over half of respondents relied on the Internet to develop opinions on companies, but did not reply on corporate websites, company reports and senior executive reports. For more information, see www.nyt.com

Corporate foundations increase giving — US studyND


ProBono Australia, Corporate Community Newsletter, 25 May 2006

According to a new report from US-based Foundation Centre (entitled ‘Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates: Current Outlook’), giving by US corporate foundations increased by 5.8% in 2005 to a record US$3.6 billion. While corporate giving levels are expected to remain steady in 2006, Community Foundations are likely to increase their contributions as they benefit from an increase in asset gains in recent years. The report covers the 68,000 grant-making foundations (Corporate, Community and Independent Foundations) that exist in the US. By comparison, Philanthropy Australia estimates that around 2,000 trusts and foundations exist in Australia. For more information and to request a copy of the report, see http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/new/default.asp?a=2&b=1593&d=2

Deeds without wordsND


Simon Lloyd, Business Review Weekly, 25 May 2006

Many companies are reluctant to promote their CSR efforts due to expectation of cynical consumer responses. According to the 2006 Grey Worldwide/Sweeney Research Eye on Australia survey, consumers still believe that business has ‘little or no social conscience’. Eighty per cent of respondents, including shareholders, say they do not hear much about big business’ community efforts. Although information is being published, consumers tend to still have a cynical attitude, which then results in many companies deciding to keep information about their efforts to themselves. There are other companies that have been able to get the backing of consumers for their community programs. For more information, see www.brw.com.au

Activists take aim at politicians with attack websitesND


Corey Reiss, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 21 May 2006

Websites that criticise governments and politicians have increased significantly, particularly in the US. As Reiss describes it, these websites allows people anywhere in the world to ‘reach out and punch someone’. The problem is how to regulate virtual communication particularly in relation to electoral campaigning in the US. Some people are worried that these sites could become conduits for ‘soft money’ that reforms have recently addressed. The challenge in the US is to maintain free speech without undermining campaign finance laws. For more information see www.heraldtribune.com

An organisation’s credibility is dependent on its cultureND


Frank O’Toole and Lisa Barry, Australian Financial Review, 18 May 2006

Australia’s recent Cole Inquiry has ‘turned up the spotlight on governance issues and focused the limelight on the top end of town’. However, many Australian companies are unaware that since 1999 the criminal code requires a board of directors ‘to instil a corporate culture that shows zero tolerance for corruption and that actively manages compliance.’ A corporation’s culture needs to provide for reinforcement messages to ensure everyone understands what the corporation deems to be ethical behaviour. O’Toole and Barry argue that many companies will fail at achieving this because they monitor only risk as opposed to a zero tolerance culture where there are consequences for unethical behaviour. For more information, see Special Report on Ethical Business at www.afr.com.au

Business finds reasons to do the right thingND


Tim Mendham, Australian Financial Review, 18 May 2006

While businesses generally agree that CSR is ‘a good thing’, there are two issues to consider. Firstly, to what extent businesses should incorporate CSR and secondly, how should corporates report their CSR activities to their shareholders. As Mendham argues, businesses now see that CSR aids the bottom line and has moved ‘from HR to PR and now to financial returns’. For more information, see Special Report on Ethical Business at www.afr.com.au

Companies and critics try collaborationND


Claudia Deutsch, The New York Times, 17 May 2006

Environmental groups and corporations are increasingly focusing on collaboration and compromise to address environmental issues. Green groups have recognised that lobbying, boycotting and suing corporations is seen as an outdated tactic to resolving issues, and corporations have discovered that working with environmental groups can benefit business. Ford says it recognises that environmental groups provide key insights into the issues that consumers would like to see addressed. For more information, see www.nytimes.com

It’s easier being green at the local levelND


Jim Carlton, The Wall Street Journal, 17 May 2006

Environmentalists in the US are discovering that it is easier to focus on green politics on a local level, rather than on an international level. Partly this is because many in the US oppose some White House environmental policies. However, critics say that local green politicians are more interested in ‘fundraising, litigation and promoting partisan political agendas’ rather than helping people with local problems. For more information see www.wsj.com

A new type of threatND


Jeffrey Staples, Harvard Business Review, May 2006

Developing a rigorous contingency plan will help to limit the impact a pandemic could have on an organisation. Estimates suggest that an avian flu outbreak could result in an 18-month disruption to business. Strategies need to shift from protecting infrastructure to protecting employees and their ability to conduct business in a long-term crisis. Plans should address the human issues of employee education, hygiene, staff movement and evacuation, sick leave policies and absenteeism, along with managing supply chain and distribution network disruptions. For more information, see ‘Preparing for a pandemic’ (Harvard Business Review Special Report) at www.hbr.org

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