Thursday, December 30, 2010

Writing about Human Rights?

Writing about human rights?
The other day I attended a talk by the subcommittee on Human Rights where Corporate Social Responsibility was on the agenda and there was an exchange of views with the Head of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

This was near the end of the Belgian presidency who had, supposedly, done a lot on issue of Human Rights. At the same time however MEP Nicole Sinclaire stated that she felt that the Belgian presidency had been a "ghost presidency" who hadn't really done anything. They had however written reports.

This got me thinking about several questions. First of all, what can businesses do to aid human rights? Can they really make a difference? And finally, and most aptly, does writing about it make any difference?

The Head of GRI came to talk about the role of the UN and talked about reporting within the context of Corporate Social Responsibility. He mentioned the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on business & human rights, John Ruggie who has done a lot of work for this area. Ruggie's approach is simple and aims to offer clarity. For this, there is "The protect, respect and remedy framework". This is pretty much self explanatory except I will add that the remedy framework does refer to access to justice.

There were a lot of buzzwords thrown about and there was a lot of talk about writing reports. Now I have to admit I shared the scepticism of many others who wonder if this is all just hot air.
He went on to say though that they needed reports to convey information to stakeholders - perhaps to ensure that everyone is on board. In addition, he stated that many business leaders still struggle with the concept of corporate social responsibility and this is why reporting helps. On the one hand reports are there to measure the impact or effect of businesses using data and information. Evidently this also goes beyond a simply financial analysis of a business. More importantly he stated "reporting has an upstream effect". That's to say that the process helps management get on board and stay on board because it leaves them open to public scrutiny.
I have to say that, now I've stopped university and started writing this blog I also have to agree. I agree in the way that having to put pen to paper was and still is a very powerful tool. Years ago you would put quill to ink to paper, then there was the printing press, now we have screens and clever little computers to spread the word.

They all boil down to the same however and I believe I am more than ever starting to understand their strength. It's not only about writing a message it's about having the commitment to write that message down and lay your feelings bare. In addition, having to write about something is still I believe the best way to really scrutinise and understand a subject. That's why lecturers still have to publish work even though they are teachers. That's why you have to write a dissertation at university and that's why reports are indeed an essential part of human development and indeed the development of human rights.

So have a look out for John Ruggie and look out for the reports of businesses containing the new buzzword "corporate social responsibility".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

There’s more to it than technology…

Last Saturday I went to a job fair in Brussels. It was a nice initiative but there were certainly depressing undertones. I saw many intelligent, capable and extremely qualified friends walk around in search of work. I felt that if you made the image before you black and white and gave everyone a bowler hat it really wasn’t far from a scene you would find in America, 1929. I digress.
After aimlessly wandering around for a while I left because I had to but I did return for a talk on “greening the economy” and I am extremely glad that I did. (I would like to mention however that this blog is about more than being green, it’s about being good, but being green is part and parcel of that.) During this talk I got to thinking: where is there room for development? Then, like a red apple falling from a green tree it hit me.

“The thing is, we would all like to change people’s attitudes but you can’t do that for a living!” said one of the participants in the audience. “Nonsense!” I say. What kind of an attitude is that? So, we need to change the attitudes of the people who already follow the cause.

The focus in the room was on technology, carbon rating, engineering projects and those with ‘stem’ skills as they like to call them. Other ideas were discussed but it seemed like everyone felt that green development was essentially technologically driven field and the thought of things outside this were approached like some strange new land: some were keen to get exploring but some wanted to stay on the beach until they knew better. I’m not saying there are those who don’t want to explore, of course there are, but I was suddenly shocked to think that some people didn’t think we could change attitudes as a living.

So, how do we start exploring? We need engineers, we need science but I say remember there’s more to it than technology. Let’s get exploring, see if we can indeed change people’s attitudes for the better, whatever we do in our everyday lives we can always pass on the message.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What are others doing? Brussels.

Since writing my first blog I have moved back to Brussels. During my time here I have been trying to explore which organisations are already looking into this question of “corporate social responsibility” and I am pleased to hear that there are indeed, of course, quite a few.

First and foremost I came across the European Academy of Business in Society (EABIS), an organisation which deals with “the most critical issues confronting economies and societies today”.

Secondly I found CSR Europe: “The European business network for CSR”

Then, Ethical Corporation: They “provide business intelligence for sustainability.”

Another one…. The Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) “a non-commercial research facility dedicated to integrated environmental and sustainability research at both a national and international level.”

Finally, an excellent mentor I once had mentioned this organisation to me:
European Corporate Governance Institute – “an international scientific non-profit association. We provide a forum for debate and dialogue between academics, legislators and practitioners, focusing on major corporate governance issues and thereby promoting best practice.”

My next mission is to understand who these people are exactly. What do they do? What are their aims? Are they making a difference? And, after all is it worth trying to make a difference?

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is about Good for business

For a long time I have known that I am a business woman at heart and that’s thanks to my family background. I started at a very young age working in my mother’s shop, selling, counting and dealing with the till. I visited trade show after trade show, I was surrounded by self-assessment tax forms, I bargained with customers and suppliers alike. Business is in my blood. At the same time however, I have been surrounded by good people and so I have developed a sense of social justice and this was why I wanted to go into law when I was younger – it only seemed logical that justice and law went hand in hand. However I couldn’t escape my background. Try as I might I know I’m a business woman.

So, as I constantly put off studying law over the last few years I have started thinking about how I could mix the two. In a world where businesses and globalisation can be seen as bad profit-seeking organisations and where the word “commercial” can be dirty, what is a girl to do?
I started to search and it turns out it is absolutely possible to mix the two and that’s what I want to write about. I’ve also grown to realise that businesses are powerful in many senses of the word and I hope to write about how that power has been used for good and to try and change the attitude of many who either see business as an evil or to change those who don’t use business for good.

This is about good for business.