Monthly Archives: November 2007

A Socially Responsible Playboy

It’s been a few years now since I left British Airways and whilst I have never regretted the decision I must admit I do miss it sometimes. Airlines have a tribal nature to them and grassroots employees world wide share a kind of masonic affinity. They look out for and take care of each other enroute no matter whether an employee of a competitor or partner. Colin Marshall, then BA’s CEO, once compared this tribalism to the culture of medieval Mediterranean mariners who shared bonds from port to port regardless of origin, religion or language. There was a similar dynamic in the Baltic from the days of the Hansa League and this is how Lufthansa got it’s name. In it’s day then the maritime industry had it’s own cluetrain or clueboat moment connecting and empowering people at the sharp end across the network. I digress. Suffice it to say, the smell of kerosene makes me nostalgic and I know a little too much about the business to ever be a normal passenger again. I am rarely surprised but this week I was on Air Berlin.

Air Berlin acquired DBA some time back but the old routes are still distinguishable as DBA if you look closely enough. In my day DBA was known as Deutsche BA, owned and operated by British Airways. I would have reason to get in touch with the DBA subsidiary a few times a year for CSR issues. One disclosure we would have to figure out was the percentage of sales relating to alcohol, tobacco, firearms and pornography. For some ethical investors if such sales cross a 5% threshold the stock can be excluded from the fund. Of course alcohol and tobacco are sold or available on many flights though smoking is not usually allowed. I never bothered with fire arms and pornography, I assumed it could not be distributed on board.

Well, it turns out that the DBA flights of Air Berlin distribute Playboy with the usual selection of newspapers for in flight reading. I saw it with my own eyes on the way to and from Berlin this week out of Baden Baden. I guess Playboy is at the moderate end of the scale though wikipedia distinguishes it as pornographic. I wonder which of the low cost and full serice global carriers will now follow suit. Lufhansa? American? United?  Anyway, IF I had accepted a copy of Playboy on board it would only have been to read the articles.


CSR blogging picks up steam

The Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship have teamed up with the Hitachi Foundation and Net Impact to form the collective Corporate Citizenship’07. I highly rate all three organisations, they bring to the party impressive intellectual firepower and a strong following. This is one to watch.


Why does wind have such a bad reputation?


Courtesy of Corporate Citizen ’07.

Innovate or Die?

This interesting initiative from Google and Specialized bikes:



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Corruption in the UK not OK & WIKILEAKS

I had my first visit to a reception inside the House of Lords in London this week at the sumptuous River Room (the official State Room for the House of Lords used for the purposes of entertaining) hosted by The Baroness Whitaker on behalf of Transparency International. You can see some pictures of the room from this link from an entirely different event. Besides the impressive paintings the only other fixture of note in the room was a sculpture of Narcissus. I mark it down as quaint eccentricity, that the British do so well, to plant such a fixture in the main reception of their second chamber of parliament!

The presentation was top notch opened by Laurence Cockroft, Chair Transparency International (TI) UK followed by Lord Robertson, former Secretary General of NATO and UK Defense Minister then John Githongo, Fellow at Oxford and former Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics, Government of Kenya then Bob McKittrick of the UK Anti Corruption Forum and Lord Neill, former UK Government Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Cockcroft outlines TI’s focus in the UK: the defense industry, money laundering, the construction industry and UK legislative reform. He also made a point that the international community could not hope to meet it’s commitments to the UN Millennium Development Goals without decisively tackling corruption.

Lord Robertson said corruption was morally offensive, politically corrosive and economically inefficient. In his days at NATO he said he personally measured corruption in governments by the uptake in investment in shiny suits. His wish he said was a day when such shiny suits would be a measure of sartorial rather than governance standards. A moral victory perhaps for Thomas Otter and DFOF?

John Githongo was indeed challenging – he called on the defense industry publish a list of it’s sales agents in Africa. He marked out the decline of the World Bank as a force for incentive led governance reform as it gradually looses it’s best customers: Brazil, Russia, India and China as they develop rapidly. With such a vacuum opening up he said it was all the more critical for TI and other NGOs to fill the space. Later John told me he held out great hope for web 2.0 to help bring greater transparency to business and public life so long as the information presented could be authenticated properly.

Lord Neill was in combative mood. He unpacked the UK government quandary over it’s decision to suspend investigations into foreign defense contracts in the interests of national security. Lord Neill said it was circular logic for a government not to enforce the law enacted on behalf of the people in deference to the wider public interest. This decision and growing disquiet that not one prosecution has been taken in the UK since the law was updated in 2001 will fuel debate and pressure on this issue from activists for a long time to come. There is growing unrest and public pressure on the UK government to be seen to enforce this law and make an example of someone. You heard it here first.  

Similar to Dennis Howlett’s post on The Point, one delegate at the event was really enthused about WIKILEAKS as a whistleblower resource. I checked with other NGO friends and it is indeed used widely by the activist community.

I see corruption as the sharp end of the sustainability debate and a huge, clear and present governance risk for business under current law mostly oriented around the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and nation states ratifying the 1997 OECD Convention. Actually, if the corruption problem can be understood and fixed from both demand and supply perspectives a lot of other good things start to fall into place.

Rudy in Drag

To update on my previous post NGOs in the YouTube World: Prepare for the Onslaught. I have now received the youtube play list which I share here. You too can watch the presentations from the Obama campaign, Virgin America’s Red Campaign, problems of contemporary slave labour and others.

Other than the web where else can you see Rudy Giuliani in drag smooching Donald Trump?

NGOs in the You Tube World: Prepare for the Onslaught

This was the rather breathless title for a side track at the Business for Social Responsibility conference in San Francisco last week. As it turned out the session was somewhat chaotic with most of the panel predictably trying to demonstrate hands on web campaigning but with poor AV and patchy wifi. Nevertheless, there were some really good moments. (I will post more on the BSR conference again)

The panel was made up with reps from Fleishman Hillard, YouTube, BSR, New Politics Institute, Carmot Strategic, Witness and BuzzLogic. Fleishmann Hillard memorably showed these videos as a, sort of,  stark warning to corporates.


 And After:

I was a bit disappointed not to get a balance of perspective on how business and civil society can also collaborate positively together for mutual benefit. Such partnerships are becoming more common place today though they will never and should never supplant the primary role of civil society actors as advocates. But who would have ever thought, the odd couple,  McDonalds and Greenpeace could ever work together? Well they have.

I asked the panel if CEO’s should blog on CSR and the unanimous answer was ‘yes’ (though in a controlled & limited manner), even from Fleishmann Hillard. This surprised me a bit as they were tending to play to the fear factor a bit with the Starbucks videos and also given their own experience. FH UK MD Kevin Bell now seems to have taken his blog down after a fire storm of criticism last year when he discussed his PR work on behalf of the Mauritius government. Some objected to the government retaining a PR firm to shape it’s message to citizens. I guess even the PR pros have to learn some tough lessons on social media communications.

I don’t know about an onslaught but I predict a bumpy road ahead as we all figure out how to utilize social media so corporations can become more transparent and accountable corporate citizens. However, I am convinced that social media can not only be a tool for advocacy campaigning but also can be used for positive collaboration between erstwhile strange bedfellows.

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