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:

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

Wal-Mart picks a shade of greenND


Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times, 7 February 2006

In October 2005, Wal-Mart’s chief executive announced a new social and environmental vision for the company. Despite the new strategy to improve business practices, there is still a high level of scepticism by many, reflecting previous concerns. The scale of Wal-Mart’s business means that many critics believe the company could do a lot more. NGOs and campaign groups are also moving away from negative campaigning to engagement with companies such as Wal-Mart around these issues. For more information, see www.ft.com

Multi listed companies learn from experienceND


Stanley Dubiel, Financial Times, 6 February 2006

Companies that are listed on multiple stock exchanges have the complex task of managing different sets of listing requirements. Gone are the days when companies could choose the least rigorous listing requirements or those from their country of origin. Instead companies are under pressure to implement best practice in corporate governance. This article discusses Shell as an example of a company that is adopting more transparent and innovative corporate governance practices in order to address the issues arising from multi-listings. For more information, see www.ft.com

The bribery businessND


Greg Earl, Australian Financial Review, 4 February 2006

While many industrialised countries have implemented the OECD’s convention on bribery, enforcement is happening at a slower pace, according to Transparency International. This article provides the example of Indonesian businessmen running their companies from Singapore as the Indonesia government attempts to recover missing bank bail-out funds of up to $20 billion. A new UN convention on corruption appears to be ‘the real frontline of the fight against bribery in Asia’. Recently, China became the fourth country in Asia, after Australia, Mongolia and Sri Lanka, to ratify the convention and is now required to prosecute corruption by Chinese companies in overseas markets. For more information, see www.afr.com.au

Business ethics are missing in actionND


Mirko Bagaric, The Daily Telegraph, 1 February 2006

The recent AWB scandal in Australia has prompted an ethics check. While many appear to be shocked about the scandal, Bagaric says this is surprising given the nature of business and the lack of morals and ethics education. Bagaric calls for the government to do more to enforce ethics education for the corporate sector. For more information see www.dailytelegraph.com.au

Business executives globally embrace CSRND


McKinsey Quarterly, January 2006

Business leaders around the world believe that corporations should balance the broader community good in the way they operate and at the same time balance high returns to investors, according to a new McKinsey study of Business and Society. The survey reported that only one in six respondents agreed with Milton Friedman's thesis that high returns should be the corporation's sole focus, aligning them with Charles Handy's view that the corporation has an 'invisible hand' that it can use to benefit the community, and in turn, ensure its own ongoing viability and license to operate. The report also reveals that 68 per cent of executives globally believe they and their companies are 'generally' or 'somewhat' making a positive contribution to the community. Forty six per cent said companies have 'substantial' room to improve their performance in society — firmly placing the solution in their own hands. In other findings: 14 per cent say their corporate affairs areas drive their CSR activity; 56 per cent say their chair or CEO take the lead; 41 per cent say job losses and offshoring will dominate CSR debate over the next few years; 28 per cent say that climate change will dominate CSR debate over the next few years; and most see the major emerging social and political issues as threats to their businesses, not opportunities. The full report is available at: http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_abstract.aspx?ar=1741&L2=39&L3=29&srid=304&gp=0

Retailer Target branches out into police workND


Sarah Bridges, Washington Post, 29 January 2006

US retailer Target assists law enforcement agencies by providing access to technology that it uses in its 1,400 stores. The company has its own forensics lab and its investigators spend nearly half their time on pro-bono assistance to law enforcement agencies. Target also has a prevention program (‘Safe City’) involving cooperation on surveillance. According to Doug Pinkham from the US Public Affairs Council, this is ‘a different model of corporate giving’ where companies focus on solving societal problems. Where firms work closely with government, it is also important to consider the ethical complexities. For more information, see www.washingtonpost.com

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