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:

Ideology the new consumer advocateND


Richard Dunham, Australian Financial Review (weekend edition), 8-9 April 2006

For millions of American consumers, politics drives their product choices. According to Dunham, these people choose or avoid certain companies depending on the political donations they make or the controversial causes that they support. While this is not a new trend, the movement has grown in recent years due to the increasing popularity of talk radio and new technology, such as communication via websites, blogs and listservs. This ‘ideological consumer’ trend has forced companies to review marketing strategies and engage consultants whose expertise includes ‘defusing politically based consumer revolts’. However, having angry customers on both sides of the political spectrum has left many companies with no other option than to lie low, with one executive stating, ‘Whatever we say, we just don’t win, so we don’t say anything.’ For more information, see www.afr.com.au

Read reports online: 21,000 trees can’t be wrongND


Fiona Buffini, Australian Financial Review (weekend edition), 8-9 April 2006

More companies are posting annual reports on the internet and sending printed versions to shareholders who specifically request them. Data from Computershare and coverservatree.com shows that Australian companies would save 21, 601 trees if they moved from paper to electronic delivery of all shareholder information. Other research indicates that up to 70 per cent of annual reports in Australia are not read and discarded. A move to online reports could result in significant cost savings and less paper usage. Shareholders appear to be supportive of plans to review reports online as long as companies provide user-friendly formats. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

Coalitions gain trust of authoritiesND


South China Morning Post, 31 March 2006

Difficulties with implementing effective CSR programs in countries such as China can be avoided by creating large business coalitions that are able to build trust with the local authorities. Social campaigns are accepted if they are have a defined and non-threatening focus such as the Global Business Coalition on HIV/Aids summit held last March 2005. This summit was successful due to its ties to the Chinese Ministry of Health and other government departments that shared the same goal of prevention and control of Aids. For more information, see www.scmp.com

Mining investors warned not to ignore ethicsND


Jo Clarke, Australian Financial Review, 31 March 2006

As a result of a greater focus being placed on working conditions in developing countries, some mining companies risk having their reputations damaged due to poor staff practices. In a report released by Citigroup, investors are encouraged to look beyond profit when choosing between mining investment options. The report rated resource-based companies according to ethical practices, with Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton toping the list. Citigroup says that while sustainability may not drastically impact corporate share prices at the moment, it will be a factor in the future and companies should be ready for this development. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

The CEO as global corporate ambassador ND


Alan Murrary, The Wall Street Journal, 29 March 2006

Proctor & Gamble’s chief executive talks about his responsibility to stakeholders rather than shareholders. However, in listing all of those who now come under this broad term, the WSJ asks: ‘Who on earth isn’t a Procter & Gamble stakeholder?’ The changing role of the CEO is due to increased demands from shareholders, customers, employees and the wider community, and the inevitable conflicts with so many stakeholders. Some critics argue that these are a distraction from the CEO’s main job. For more information, see www.wsj.com

Directors baulk at talk of wider dutiesND


Fiona Buffini, Australian Financial Review, 28 March 2006

David Gonski, chairman of Coca-Cola Amatil and Investec, has joined other Australian business leaders in opposing legislation that requires an extension of director’s duties beyond shareholders. Australian government inquiries are examining whether to extend director’s duties and give investors greater access to information on how companies are managing social and environmental risks. Although Australian companies lag in terms of producing sustainability reports (23% of the ASX100 produce reports compared to 41% in major international markets), Mr Gonski maintains that success in the social responsibility area resulted from ‘passion and commitment’ rather than obligation. For more information see www.afr.com.au

Bringing good things to peopleND


Aabhas Sharma, Business Standard (India), 21 March 2006

This article highlights General Electric’s CSR program in India. It has adopted a NGO, Vidya, which educates underprivileged children. GE employees mentor students on weekends, as well as provide meals, school uniforms and computers for the school. Results have been positive with almost all students participating in higher education programs, and a number of them being offered jobs with GE. For more information, see www.business-standard.com

More firms’ political ties put onlineND


Jonathan Peterson, LA Times, 20 March 2006

A growing number of US companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Amgen and Staples, are disclosing political donations on their websites while others, such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Eli Lilly have updated their disclosure policies. A survey by Institutional Shareholder Services showed that 65% of investors view public disclosure of political contributions as ‘important’ or ‘very important’. Peterson argues that not only stakeholders benefit from increased corporate transparency but that investors also feel safer about their investments which can lead to an increase in share prices. For more information, see www.latimes.com

Brussels to side with business on CSRND


Raphael Minder, Wolfgang Prossl and Hugh Williamson, Financial Times, 13 March 2006

The European Commission plans to launch its ‘European Alliance for CSR’, described as a ‘political umbrella for new and existing CSR initiatives by large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises’ and excludes NGOs and trade unions. The alliance is seen as a defeat for NGOs and unions that have been lobbying for increased regulation in this area. The Commission says that in the past it had wanted to create more monitoring and ‘naming and shaming’ measures however has now moved to a pro-business view of CSR. For more information, see www.ft.com

Ready for the next pandemic?ND


Elisabeth Rosenthal and Keith Bradsher, International Herald Tribune, 10 March 2006

While many corporations in Asia have plans in place to deal with avian flu, around two-thirds of companies in the US have not prepared adequately, according to a recent survey of US executives by Deloitte & Touche. A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that 60% of companies have contingency plans and nearly every company surveyed has someone responsible for its avian flu policy. Plans include provisions for employees to work from home, communication plans for employees and customers, establishing multiple work sites, monitoring employee health as well as other measures to prevent the spread of avian flu. However some commentators say even companies in Asia have not done enough by just dusting off their contingency plans and instead need to think more creatively about the impact of a possible pandemic and disruption to global business. For more information, see www.iht.com

Wal-Mart enlists bloggers in its public relations campaignND


Michael Barbaro, New York Times, 7 March 2006

In a bid to overcome criticism and improve its image, Wal-Mart has incorporated bloggers into its recent communications campaign. Bloggers are sent news written by one of Wal-Marts PR firms, which structured as blog postings. Bloggers have been discouraged from posting ‘word-for-word accounts and instead are encouraged to post in their own voice. Companies are increasingly using blogs to shape public opinion. According to a company spokesperson, ‘As more and more Americans go to the Internet to get information from varied, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed to participating in that online conversation.’ For more information, see www.nytimes.com

The world’s most admired companiesND


Telis Demos, Fortune Magazine, 6 March 2006

General Electric topped the list of Fortune’s survey of the ‘World’s Most Admired Companies’, which it has done for seven out of the past nine years. Whilst many of last years top ten companies made the list again, there were also some newcomers. Toyota made it to number two, thanks for its best selling hybrid car, whilst Apple debuted at number nine, after not being eligible for the survey last year. The secret of their success was their ability to deliver ‘strong performance where many other companies in their sectors have struggled.’ Only eighteen of the top fifty companies were based outside of the US, however, in some industries, including auto manufacturing, airlines and telecommunications, foreign companies seem to dominate. For more information see www.fortune.com/mostadmired

Companies where people want to work ND


Narelle Hooper, Australian Financial Review (weekend edition), 4-5 March 2006

Australia regularly ranks behind the US, Europe and Asia on employee engagement, with most of the companies making the annual best employer lists tending to be small to medium sized businesses. Research suggest that improving employee engagement levels leads to higher profitability and performance, which is why ‘human capital matters more than ever’. Many companies in Australia have responded by changing structures and systems to improve employee engagement. Companies have much more diverse workforces now, employees are much more aware and consequently it is harder to retain staff. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

A new generation is taking us through the stakeholder revolutionND


Jan Lee Martin, The Age, 2 March 2006

Martin argues that ‘it is time for organisations to examine new ideas of success and to learn about the different expectations of emerging stakeholder groups’. These groups are concerned about sustainability, CSR, ethics, and triple bottom line. Martin suggest it is a time for new ‘corporate heros’ who will shift focus from economic gain to addressing the needs and concerns of future generations. This success depends on successful stakeholder relationships. For more information see www.theage.com.au

How Microsoft rebooted its reputationND


Alan Murray, The Wall Street Journal, 1 March 2006

In recent years, Microsoft — previously found guilty of anticompetitive practices on three continents — has been seeking advice on how to effectively manage its reputation. Recent research shows that its reputation has improved worldwide, according to Edelman PR, while other research shows that Bill Gates is one of the most admired chief executives. Part of Microsoft’s reputation rise is a result of the charitable work done by the independent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft’s CEO Steven Ballmer has also increased the company’s focus on communication and ‘trustworthy computing’. For more information, see www.wsj.com

The myth of CSR: that profit never conflicts with principlesND


Deborah Doane, Business Ethics, Vol 19, No 4, March 2006

Deborah Doane’s paper on 'The Myth of CSR' challenges that the market can make good on short-term financial returns and positive social outcomes at the same time and that the ethical consumer will foster change. For more information, see www.business-ethics.com

Microsoft donates employee work hours for community outreachND


CSR China, 24 February 2006

In Asia, Microsoft has developed a program that provides three-day paid leave to employees who undertake volunteer work that benefits the community. With approximately 6,000 employees in the Asia Pacific region, Microsoft is committing 144,000 hours of employee time a year to the program. To date, more than 500 employees in countries including Australia, China, Korea, Japan, India and Indonesia have participated in the program. For more information, see www.csrchina.com

Adding the avian flu to the be-prepared listND


Patricia Olsen, The New York Times, 23 February 2006

Small-business owners with limited resources often find it difficult to develop contingency plans. Donna Childs, co-author of ‘Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery’ suggests small businesses need to take incremental steps rather than just planning for the worst-case scenario. Companies need to focus on back-up facilities and equipment are available, training for employees, developing communication and tracking systems for employees and customers as well as contingencies for replacement labour and suppliers. For more information, see www.nyt.com

America’s most admired companies 2006 ND


Fortune, 22 February 2006

The latest Fortune survey of America’s most admired companies has GE in the top spot, followed by FedEx, Southwest Airlines, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Johnson & Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, Dell, Toyota and Microsoft. Fortune’s annual survey ranks companies on eight key areas: innovation, people management, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, quality of management, financial soundness, long-term investment and quality of products/services. UPS was ranked first for social responsibility, for the third consecutive year. On the global list, GE was again ranked in first position followed by Toyota, Procter & Gamble, FedEx, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Dell, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Wal-Mart. For more information, see http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/mostadmired/index.html

AWB scandal erodes line in sand hopesND


Fiona Buffini, Australian Financial Review, 16 February 2006

Despite corporate concern over increased regulation, the AWB scandal has further fuelled debate about corporate social responsibility in Australia. There are currently two Australian government inquiries underway looking at directors duties and sustainability reporting and in the current environment, there is increased pressure for more regulation. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

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