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:

Companies prepare to ward off bird fluND

Marilyn Chase, The Wall Street Journal, 17 November 2005

The potential economic losses due to an avian flu outbreak are forecast by the World Bank to be up to $800 billion. Companies such as Microsoft Corp, Cisco Systems, 3M and Kimberly-Clark have developed plans that include better access to networks so employees can work from home, preventative education, hand sanitisers, masks, gloves and a service to update passports in case of mass evacuation. The biggest concern for businesses now is not having a game plan. For more information see

Open season on AGMsND

Andrew Heathcote, Business Review Weekly, 17 November 2005

Attendance at Annual General Meetings has been falling for the last decade, according to the Business Council of Australia. AGMs are no longer the main means of communicating with shareholders and companies need to find new ways to remain relevant. Ernst & Young suggests companies need a 'meeting makeover' by involving the full board in planning, meet shareholder and governance groups in advance, contact institutional investors and activist groups before the meeting, discuss the process with the auditor and update the shareholder registrar. For more information, see

World’s Most Respected CompaniesND

Financial Times, 17 November 2005

The Financial Times reports on PwC’s latest annual survey of 1,000 CEOs across 25 countries. Microsoft came top in the survey of World’s Most Respected Companies, followed by GE, which has held the top position for the past seven years. For more information see

Corporate social responsibility doesn't come easilyND

Bill Beerworth, Australian Financial Review, 11 November 2005

With two inquiries underway in Australia on the issue of CSR, it appears likely that companies will be asked to take greater account of community concerns. It also seems likely that reporting requirements will be standardised. For more information, see

Bombarded bosses ‘losing big picture’ND

Roland Gribben, The Telegraph, 10 November 2005

A recent UK report (‘The Role of the Board in Creating a High Performing Business’) by the Corporate Research Forum and the Performance and Reward Centre, indicates that board members are distracted from their strategic role by business scandals and short-term issues as well as regulatory and investor demands. The report draws on interviews with 40 UK directors and provides advice on how Boards contribute to high performance. The report also highlights the possible negative effect of tying performance to executive pay and finds that non-executive directors are particularly concerned about the increase in commitments and their potential ‘policeman’ role. For more information, see

Other ways to inform investorsND

Robert Bruce, The Financial Times, 10 November 2005

Robert Bruce writes that management commentary is playing an increasing important role, particularly as financial reporting becomes more complicated. Surveys show that financial information doesn't adequate capture a company's strengths and weaknesses and this has been one of the reasons behind the use of key performance indicators in UK companies. The International Accounting Standards Board has recently published a discussion paper on the issue of management commentary that could lead to a standard on this topic. The Board has suggested there needs to be a global structure for commentary. For more information, see

When CEO's are entangled in their own web of wordsND

Landon Thomas, New York Times, 9 November 2005

As Thomas suggests, ‘investors are holding chief executives accountable for their public utterances and their ability to articulate a clear and compelling vision’. Despite many US companies carefully scripting their quarterly investor calls, there have been numerous examples of vague responses to questions that have then subsequently led to sell-offs of a company’s stock. Inadequate preparation is cited as the main reason for these sorts of CEO ‘communication blunders’. A number of companies now focus on providing training for CEOs on public communication. For more information, see

CEOs as chief communication officersND

PR Week, 7 November 2005

New research from the US-based PR Week and public relations firm Burson Marstellar (131 CEOs surveyed) in late 2005 reveals that CEOs are finding they are being required to do more communication than ever, almost taking on the role of company chief communications officer. The research finds: About 25 per cent say that between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of their time should be spent in face-to-face communication with their employees; 55 per cent they are spending more time communicating with customers than in 2003; about half say they are very satisfied or satisfied with the return on investment of their corporate public affairs function; and 59 per cent rate blogs as excellent to good internal communication vehicles.

New names for old companiesND

Thomas Mucha, Business 2.0, November 2005

Renaming a company can be a complex and costly exercise. This article provides examples of companies that have undertaken a name change, with some positive and negative results. A name change can often be an attempt by a company to improve its image and distance itself from corporate scandals. The growth in mergers and acquisitions has also presented challenges around naming. For more information, see

Watch what you say ND

Edward Prewitt, CIO, 1 November 2005

According to Hay Group, communication by company executives is a leading factor in employee motivation and moral. In its latest survey of 1.2 million employees in the US, Hay reported that most employees rate internal communication poorly. According to the report, the lack of communication on where companies are headed promotes turnover. A separate survey also highlights that companies communicate badly on issues around compensation. For more information, see

Australians give $11 billion in 2004ND

October 2005, Report commissioned by the Department of Family and Community Service

One of the most far-reaching reports on and analysis of philanthropy in Australia indicates that Australian's citizens and businesses are donating and volunteering their time more than ever. Business and citizens contributed more than $11 billion in 2004. For more information,see Pro Bono Australia's newsletter article on the report at

The measure of a great employer ND

Alison Maitland, Financial Times, 27 October 2005

Only four companies have managed to be ranked among the top 100 best places to work in the US for the past 21 years. Longevity helps make them better than the rest, as three out of those four are more than a century old, resulting in strong sets of values and excellent benefits. Many of the companies in the top 100 list are privately owned, or small businesses, and have created a community feel to the working environment that employees value. Bigger businesses are beginning to resent being judged against the smaller entrants, feeling that the odds are stacked against them. Being a large, publicly owned employer, and being consistently great, is hardest of all. For more information see

Business rejects social scorecardsND

Fiona Buffini, The Australian Financial Review, 10 October 2005

In submissions to the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Corporate Responsibility, businesses have rejected calls for mandatory reporting. In other submissions, various community and conservation groups are pressing for more mandatory disclosures, broadening of directors liabilities and increasing corporate liability. The Inquiry is due to conduct hearings later this year and report on the issues in 2006. For more information, see

Demand not yet sustainableND

Laura Kelly, The Australian Financial Review, 10 October 2005

A recent report from the Australian Research Institute in Education on Sustainability says business schools have a responsibility to teach sustainability in their courses. However, academics point to a lack of demand from industry for sustainability courses. Also many companies do not assess sustainability training as a factor in their recruitment process, even though more Australian corporates are adopting voluntary standards for sustainability reporting. For more information, see

A little more conversation, a little less informationND

Richard Donkin, Financial Times, 29 September 2005

A survey of 14,000 UK companies found that less than half of its employees thought the company communicated well. This article raises the questions: ‘Are companies going over the top in their attempts to communicate? Are they telling people the right things?’ While companies have increased the frequency of internal communications, at issue is the quality of the information and the way it is delivered. For more information, see

Call to develop ‘genuine’ social responsibilityND

Fiona Buffini, The Australian Financial Review, 29 September 2005

The Australian Stock Exchange’s Corporate Governance Council has agreed to consider Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell’s proposal to develop a standard for sustainability reporting. While Senator Campbell supports voluntary reporting, his proposed format would help ensure comparability between companies and avoid claims that some corporate reports are ‘greenwash’. For more information, see

It’s what’s inside that matters on the outsideND

Catherine Fox, The Australian Financial Review, 27 September 2005

Rob Cooke, associate professor of management at the University of Illinois and director of Human Synergistics’ Centre says there is a strong link between a healthy corporate culture and corporate citizenship. By focusing on a constructive corporate culture, companies are better able to relate to society and its needs, which is increasingly important to a company’s survival. For more information, see

Companies in Asia guard against avian fluND

Phelim Kyne and Cris Prystay, The Wall Street Journal, 23 September 2005

Companies across Asia are planning for a possible outbreak of avian flu in the region and revising business continuity plans that deal with business disruptions, such as impact on supply chains, staff levels and corporate healthcare costs. Many companies have detailed business continuity plans that were developed during the SARS outbreak. Deutsche Bank has established a working group to monitor the issue and has put in place the necessary infrastructure for staff to work from home and for trading operations to be relocated if necessary. For more information, see

Green is goodND

Deborah Snow, The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 2005

A recent CPA Australia report highlights a lack of consistency and common frameworks among companies adopting environmental and sustainability reporting. While there are at least three rating indices operating in Australia, CPA Australia says they are a long way off from being meaningful. Of the top 500 companies recently surveyed, only 24 had a separate sustainability report though many more are focusing on building alliances and programs. For more information, see

Giving a boost to the company imageND

Elizabeth Kazi, The Australian Financial Review, 12 September 2005 (and Michael Barbaro and Justin Gillis, The Washington Post)

Natural diasters such as Hurricane Katrina have brought the issue of corporate citizenship to the forefront, as many US businesses made substantial pledges and providing support to government relief efforts. In Australia, workplace-giving programs have increased in recent years as evidenced by Salvation Army reports of a strong increase from corporate donations and programs over the past year. Cause-related marketing has also increased as businesses see the link between corporate responsibility and its own business objectives, according to the Australian Marketing Institute. For more information, see

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