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:

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

Continuity and communicationND


Harvard Business Review, May 2006

Interview with William MacGowan, Vice-President of Sun Microsystems: MacGowan believes the most challenging thing about dealing with avian influenza is that it has the potential to affect the whole world at once. To combat this threat, companies must work together and swap best practice information. In the event of a pandemic, Sun Microsystems plans on communicating with its’ employees through its’ intranet radio station WSUN, providing information to employees regarding the severity of a pandemic and how to deal with it effectively. For more information, see ‘Preparing for a pandemic’ (Harvard Business Review Special Report) at www.hbr.org

Getting straight talk rightND


Baruch Fischhoff, Harvard Business Review, May 2006

It is important to communicate the truth to stakeholders, even if it is bad news. It is not difficult to get risk communication correct if the following questions are considered: (1) What information do people expect from us? Different stakeholders will expect different information. Rather than assuming you know what information stakeholders want, consult them directly to make sure you understand their concerns. (2) What does your audience currently believe? No amount of correct information will be able to guide stakeholders if it is counter acted by what they currently believe. (3) Do you have the resources needed to communicate your message? Accurate information will not reach stakeholders effectively if a company does not have the resources needed to communicate it. For more information, see ‘Preparing for a pandemic’ (Harvard Business Review Special Report) at www.hbr.org

How to create a truly successful corporate responsibility reportND


PR News (Vol. 62, Issue 20), 15 May 2006

Corporate responsibility reports must provide a balanced account of both the positive and negative aspects of the company’s economic, environmental and social impacts. To ensure a successful report, it is important to: Establish a concrete publication deadline; Create a cross-functional task force; Enlist a high-level champion; and Identify and involve internal approvers early. It is also important to consider independent verification and an environmental friendly printing process. The report launch should be an opportunity to communicate the company’s corporate responsibility programs to employees so they can refine their own practices. For more information see www.prandmarketing.com

Limiting exposure of the legal kindND


Peter Susser, Harvard Business Review, May 2006

Companies with inadequate policies and plans could face HR-related legal concerns. In order to prevent legal issues arising, companies need to make sure their contingency plans address the following: (1) Education and communication: Inform employees about avian flu symptoms and about who to contact at work if they have been exposed to the virus. Polices should state when employees who have been exposed are allowed back to work. (2) Hygiene: Companies need to demonstrate that they have provided employees with information about ways, and the means, to stop the spread of influenza. (3) Privacy: Be aware of laws relating to the disclosure of employees health records. Employees must be aware of what information they are required to tell their employers. (4) Leave: Companies should examine their leave policies and possibly increase the amount of sick leave available to employees. For more information, see ‘Preparing for a pandemic’ (Harvard Business Review Special Report) at www.hbr.org

Survival of the adaptiveND


Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business Review, May 2006

When dealing with the possible threat of avian influenza, the organisations that will manage a pandemic most effectively are those that have continuous ‘sensing and response’ capabilities as well as a crisis plan. In order to respond to evolving threats organisations should ideally: be networked not hierarchical; have distributed leadership not centralised leadership; be less interdependent; have employees who are cross-trained generalists; and are able to follow simple yet flexible rules. Companies should make sure that all employees are able to adapt and respond in the face of unexpected threats; this change in attitude must be enforced from the top down. Corporations should also think about the possibility of working with competitors to develop an open-source model of crisis preparation, so that as companies lose resources, working with others to reduce damage to all parties. For more information, see ‘Preparing for a pandemic’ (Harvard Business Review Special Report) at www.hbr.org

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