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:

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

Ethical breaches pose dilemma for boards: when to fire a CEO?ND


Erin White and Thaddeus Herrick, The Wall Street Journal, 16 February 2006

In response to an ‘ethical lapse’ at US firm RadioShack, whereby the CEO misrepresented his academic qualifications, the WSJ asks ‘what type of ethical breach warrants dismissing a top executive?’ These ethical lapses can impact heavily on share prices, and require a swift response. The Board also need to balance an investigation into any inappropriate conduct, while not being forced into a decision. Ethical breaches can sometimes suggest a bigger problem with integrity, honesty and corporate judgement and this can send a mixed message to employees, depending on how the company acts on these ethical lapses. For more information see www.wsj.com

We’re smart and funny. Really.ND


Elizabeth Kazi, Australian Financial Review, 16 February 2006

Professional bodies in Australia, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Law Council of Australia, are working to improve their image. A Roy Morgan survey conducted in November 2005 showed that occupations such as nurses, doctors, teachers and police ranked ‘very high’ or ‘high’ for ethics and honesty, whereas company directors, business executives, politicians and journalists were ranked much lower. Industry associations point to many misconceptions and are spending on advertising and marketing campaigns to improve public perception. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

New crisis plans may be needed for flu pandemicND


Allison Bisbey Colter, The Wall Street Journal, 15 February 2006

Companies are advised to update their crisis management plans in the event of a flu pandemic, if they haven’t already done so. With avian flu continuing to spread, companies should plan for possible high absenteeism and disrupted supply chains if borders are closed as a measure to contain the spread of flu. Pandemics typically last around eight weeks and reoccur in waves after that. Good communication with employees is essential and many companies already have measures in place to set up alternate locations or encourage employees to work from home if needed. For more information, see www.wsj.com

The new ethics enforcersND


Joseph Weber, BusinessWeek, 13 February 2006

With corporate behaviour under intense scrutiny, we are seeing a ‘new species of executive’ — compliance and ethics officers who have much more power than the typical executive in this position. US company Computer Associates is one such company that hired a new chief compliance officer in order to avoid legal proceedings over an alleged accounting scandal. Compliance officers are more likely to come from a high-profile background with a good reputation (such as former judges and lawyers), are given complete access to the company and report to the CEO. Other US companies that have employed high-profile ‘ethics enforcers’ include AIG, Bristol-Myers Squibb, KPMG and Morgan Stanley. For more information, see www.businessweek.com

The blog in the corporate machineND


The Economist, 11 February 2006

Some companies find it difficult to manage issues arising from blogs as often the individual blogger does not belong to an organised group like other stakeholders. This makes it ‘harder to identify, appease and control’. Corporates have learnt from experience that blogs can impact on corporate reputation and now pay more attention to the concerns raised on blogs. Companies are also using blogs to gain feedback on products and advertising, as well as provide an early warning system for potential problems. As well, a company’s own blog can be a useful means of communicating during a crisis. For more information, see www.economist.com

Investors revoltND


Beth Quinlivan, Business Review Weekly, 9 February 2006

In the past Australian shareholders had limited options if they lost money due to corporate reporting that was misleading or inadequate. There is now more focus on class actions in Australia, evidenced by recent actions against Telstra, Ion, Concept Sports, Media World, Sons of Gwalia and Aristocrat Leisure, and many more proposed. Joanne Rees of Slater & Gordon says ‘shareholder class actions are here to stay and numbers will grow as long as there is bad corporate behaviour’. She adds that class actions will make companies more accountable. For more information, see www.brw.com.au

Political lifebloodND


Stuart Washington, Business Review Weekly, 9 February 2006

Commenting on the recent release of donation information from the Australian Electoral Commission, Stuart Washington says the system lacks transparency and there are potential conflicts of interest. The largest donors to Australia’s political parties are property and construction companies. In contrast to US and UK laws, Australian political parties are also allowed to accept overseas donations. For more information, see www.brw.com.au

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