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Information, news and commentary on corporate social responsibility, especially in the New York City area. Linked to website
Maintained by John Tepper Marlin, Principal, CSRNYC.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ten Tips for Asserting the Value of Your CSR Spending

Budget Time Is Pruning Time.
It's hard to pinpoint the return on investment of “social” spending. Yet CSR has become a proxy for social licence to operate and not allocating adequate resources in this area is seen as a risk.

CSR managers often lack the tools, metrics and capacity to assess and describe their program’s performance. As a result, their positions and budgets are vulnerable.

The following ten tips are abbreviated from the fine list in the Guardian this week by Paul Klein, president and founder of Totonto-headquartered Impakt, which helps corporations and civil-society organizations become social-purpose leaders:

1. Assume CSR Acceptance. Start from the position that the person you report to accepts that CSR is necessary but is highly skeptical of its value relative to other parts of the business.

2. Show How Part of CEO Plan. Demonstrate that your initiatives align with the priorities of the CEO. While the resources allocated to CSR are small, few aspects of business have the potential to get the attention and support of the company’s most senior leadership.

3. Secure the Support of Finance. This is the toughest internal stakeholder group and the one whose opinion matters most at this time of year. (See #9.)

4. Indicate the Value of Every Aspect.  Find metrics where your program is quantifiable (eg a successful cause marketing program).

5. Find Out How Your Initiatives Are Working. How does CSR influence the stakeholder group that matters most to your company’s growth? For example, if you are a B2B company you should know whether or not your CSR initiatives are influencing the acquisition of new customers.

6. Show How CSR Costs Are Being Leveraged. This could include providing data or statements from other managers that substantiate the value of CSR initiatives.

7. Stay Away from Generic Metrics.  Executives want to know how value is being delivered specifically in your company.

8. Get People Involved.  Create opportunities for executives to have direct experience with the stakeholders who benefit from CSR.

9. Commit to Delivering More Value. Take a sharp pencil to corporate philanthropy, non-profit partners costs, time and money spent on CSR reports.

10. Innovate. Take your program to the next level.


I think the best example of all this is the workplace innovation of the Rapid Results 100-Day Program. I have written up how that has been working (very successfully) in Brazil. The last tip, taking the program to the next level, has an exact analog in the 100-Day Program.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Transparency Matters

I was just reminded of Shopping for a Better World by a post on the subject of transparency by a Dunstan Allison-Hope of BSR, a fan of the book.

He noted how helpful the book was in making information available about companies and products that were hard to research, especially in the days before there was Grandma Google to consult with.

One of the ways that the book helped extract information about corporate compliance or performance relative to certain criteria in the book was to give companies points for transparency.

It worked. For some reporters the biggest sin became not providing information that was requested. Even if a company's record was bad, they often made the decision that it was better to get a good record for transparency than to stonewall.

There was upside to that decision. After all, a bad record is usually an easy one to improve on.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

CSRNYC Blog Just Passed 30,000 Page Views

Thank you for reading.
The CSRNYC blogpost was started in May 2006, with a break in 2009-2011.

Since May 2006, I have added more than 90 posts on this site. The two most-viewed posts relate to the International Cocoa Verification Board.

Ranked third is a post on Wal-Mart's first initiatives on the CSR front. Fourth-ranked is a comment on the LEED ratings.

Fifth-ranked describes a meeting between the late Milton Friedman and my wife Alice Tepper Marlin.

Your reading this blog is appreciated.

Top Ten Posts Based on Page Views (Since 2007)

Jan 18, 2009   1865

Feb 14, 2008   658

Jan 15, 2008, 3 comments   283

Friday, July 18, 2014

How Brazil Won in 2014 with Social Fingerprint - Rapid Results

Christ the Redeemer Reacts to Brazil's 7-1 Loss to Germany.
I was in São Paolo, Brazil in February. The World Cup was on everyone's mind and Brazilians were supremely confident that they had a shot at winning.

The World Cup didn't turn out so well. The photo at left says it all. But the program that indirectly brought me to Brazil was a huge winner.

Beat Grüninger (L) and John Tepper Marlin in São Paolo,
Brazil. This and most other photos by Alice Tepper Marlin.
Brazil in 2014 has the world's 7th-highest gross product whether measured in nominal or purchasing-power-parity terms. It is growing fast and may soon be #6 or #5 in the world, leaving in the dust the UK or France, or both.

However, the country's rapid growth has sometimes been at the expense of workplace health and safety.

In February I got to talk with some of the participants in a milestone of the innovative Social Fingerprint - Rapid Results (SFRR) program on worker engagement.

Workers are often aware of safety hazards long before management, and one reason that deadly accidents happen so often is that communication channels have been choked off like hardened arteries.

My overall comment is that I am hugely impressed. In the aftermath of major workplace accidents there has been a lot of finger-pointing by those eager to find culprits to punish. This Brazilian program creates a model for actually doing something about workplace safety from the bottom up. To my mind, Brazil's leading in this area is more important than winning the World Cup.

The 100-Day Program: Team, Goal, Process

The idea behind the experimental program is that the way to address challenging problems like workplace health and safety is to engage both workers and managers in generating and putting in place systems that will sustainably ensure compliance.

Jane Hwang of SAI (L) and Tu Rinsche of the Walt Disney
From those who had been through the 100 days of the program, there was a buzz of excitement from the outcomes. I interviewed the key local organizer, Beat Grüninger, and other participants about it.

Each team chose ambitious, measurable goals that the members believed they can accomplish in 100 days.

The teams that met in February were at three different stages. One was starting off. One was at its 50-day mark. The third was at its 100-day mark.
  • Managers and workers at first met separately in the first stage of team-building.  Each half of the teams did some initial work on their own and began to use the SFRR planning tools.  Then they met the rest of the team to pool their different perspectives, work out details of the problems to be addressed, agree on measurable goals to be met, and begin a process for meeting these goals. 
  • The 50-day meetings focus on overcoming obstacles, modifying goals and adjusting the process. Sometimes the initial goal is achieved in even fewer than 100 days and sights are raised. Others have to redouble efforts and dive into more innovation and engagement to meet their goals.
  • The 100-day meetings are given over to celebration of achievements and giving initial thought to setting a second 100-day goal. At the 100-day meeting, the teams are asked whether they want to (1) Proceed to a higher level of the goal at same location or agree on a different goal OR (2) Help other units in a different part of the company or facility achieve the goal they have accomplished.
At the end of every day of the meetings, the SFRR coaches review how the meetings have gone, to see how they can improve the process for the next iteration.

Program Outcome

The pioneering program is engaging workers in Brazil to address root causes of health and safety issues in factories, using mobile technology, internal team building and change management. The program forms worker/manager social performance teams focused on improving health and safety, and makes measurable improvements in one specific health and safety issue in a 100-day Rapid Results project.

Danny Manitsky of Rapid Results Institute (L) and Jane
Hwang of SAI.
The principle of this worker-engagement program is that teams of workers and managers jointly set goals that can be achieved in 100 days.

At each of 18 factories, the SFRR team first obtained the agreement from the chief executive to participate. The CEO selected five managers and workers elected five representatives to participate.

The significant outcome was that of the 20 worker-management teams in 18 participating factories, all attained measurable, ambitious goals within the tight 100-day schedule.

Here is how they did it:

Morning, First Day

On the first morning, workers and managers from each team met separately to begin to decide about their 100-day measurable goal.

Many workers were doubtful that anyone would listen to them. By the end of the morning they were engrossed in identifying hazard risks on the factory floor and rating the degree of danger. Management, on the other hand, got right to work mapping risks in the workplace, and pondering how to obtain resources to make changes.

Some of the Brazil Social Fingerprint Rapid Results project
leaders. Alice Tepper Marlin at left. Front: 100-day project
staff and Tu Rinche of The Walt Disney Company.
Right: Brazil team leaders.
When the two groups met together, they learned some mutual respect. Workers were pleased to be brought into management thinking about the problems, and often had a better understanding of the causes of workplace hazards and a better idea of how best to address them.

Afternoon, First Day

In the afternoon of the first day, all members of each team met together.  They compared their maps of safety risks in the workplace and agreed upon measurable 100-day goals for their team. They set their measurable goals.

Second Day
L to R: Alice Tepper Marlin,
worker in a São Paolo rubber
factory, Beat Grüninger. 

On the second day, the teams use SFRR planning tools, developed over many iterations of the program, to figure out how they will reach their goals.

One of the most popular tools in the program is a series of team-building exercises. Often the most important obstacle to workplace safety is a lack of trust between management and workers.

To build trust and commitment to a common objective, and an understanding of the crucial role of innovation, games can be highly effective.

A Sample of Games for Team-Building

Managers and workers meet in groups
with SFRR coaches to set goals.
Between goal-setting sessions for the incoming groups, and reporting sessions for the more mature groups, much of the work of the coaches had to do with the use of games designed to foster teamwork and collective innovation.

Groups were given a choice of lectures or games. Invariably, they preferred the games. The games were designed to get the teams of managers and workers to work together to set goals and follow a process.

The Folding-a-T-Shirt Game - Each team was taught how to fold T shirts very fast. Object: How to teach effectively.

The Folding-a-T-Shirt Game.
Tennis Ball on Sheet Game - The challenge was to keep the ball in motion without it going off the side.

Passing the Tennis Ball Game - Each team passes a ball around among team members. Object: How to do it very, very fast.

Keys to the Worker Engagement Program

The program worked in phases to reach key outcomes. The elements were:
  1. Listen to workers’ voices.
  2. Establish complaint-management and resolution systems and communication channels needed to sustain the improvement process throughout and after the program’s conclusion.
  3. Generate immediate and sustainable measurable improvements in occupational health and safety.
  4. At each facility, form and empower an Internal Social Performance Team, consisting of workers and managers, to manage future improvement projects.
The Tennis Ball on Sheet Game.
Benefits to Managers and Workers

Managers learn that what workers know, and the respectful inclusion of workers from beginning to end, can be vitally important in getting the job done.

Workers learn management tools and many think of themselves differently, seeing themselves doing management work and able to move up in the hierarchy if they are interested. For workers, especially migrant workers, having a channel to communicate unsafe working conditions is hugely important.

Sample comments of participants from two Brazilian companies:
Abengoa Agricola Manager: "We were able to show to our senior management that our efforts as a team were able to achieve the results even in a time of scarce financial resources. This was for me one of the most rewarding moments."
Worker: "The project was great and provided us, through the trainings in São Paulo, a lot of competence to talk about health and safety to our colleagues." 
Bignardi Manager: "The main difference in this project was everybody's great commitment. We had other projects in the factory which sometimes stopped before being completed, as the staff was not involved and committed to the objectives."
Worker: "The physical effort required in the factory was reduced significantly. This was one of the most rewarding results for me." 
Project Support

The SFRR program was supported by a founding grant from the Walt Disney Company.  The development and testing of this highly successful program was provided at no cost to the participating Brazilian companies. These companies contributed in spirit and by allowing substantial employees time off for the project while they were being compensated.

Applications were sent from Brazilian companies to Social Accountability International (SAI) in November and December 2012. Approximately 50 companies were selected. The program ran in waves in 2013 and 2014.

SFRR partners included:
  • The Rapid Results Institute, which contributed its experience in project facilitation and change management and worked jointly with SAI on design of the program.
  • The LaborLink program of Good World Solutions, involving a mobile technology to survey workers and measure the awareness and impact of the program in an efficient and anonymous manner.
  • The Cahn Group LLC. 
For more information about the Brazil Worker Engagement Program visit, or contact Jane Hwang, Director of Training and Corporate Programs, SAI - email

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Different Are Corporations from 50, 100 Years Ago?

President Dwight Eisenhower in Scotland with golfing
partners (L to R) William Robinson of Coca-Cola
and W. Alton Jones of City Services.
Eduardo Porter, on the front page of Wednesday's NY Times business section ("Motivating Corporations to Do Good"), cites three companies to suggest that "Today, we live in a different world":

- Ford doubled wages in 1914 so employees could buy his cars, and coincidentally there was less for shareholders like the Dodge brothers to use to set up a competitive business.

- Kodak instituted employee-friendly policies in 1929, just in time for the Depression.

Coca-Cola, in the person of its CEO, William Robinson, in a 1959 speech to Fordham University, committed itself to serve workers, customers and the community as well as shareholders.
Porter gives an example of why he thinks today is a "different world":
Energy companies both recognize that climate change is a problem and actively lobby against efforts to combat it.
So how is that different from what prevailed in the first half of the 20th Century? Tobacco companies did research on the effects of tobacco and suppressed the results that would cost them money. General Motors lobbied to dig up trolley car lines to create demand for more cars even though they must have known how efficient trollies were. Bankers talked about careful lending to minimize risk but speculated with the deposits of correspondent banks.

How have the 55 years since 1959 been so "different"? Since the days of the robber barons, shareholders have ruled.  Many of the richest Americans, usually in the latter half of their careers and lives, have contributed - then and now - to solving specific social problems.

But now, as then, voluntary programs by businesses or their executives are not enough. To address community and employee problems that will cost businesses money, laws and regulations are needed. Only a small percentage of businesses are prepared to go much beyond what is required by law to "do good". This is true today and it was true 55 years ago.

Porter digs up Milton Friedman's 44-year-old article in the Sunday NY Times Magazine to the effect that social concerns can't be left to corporate benevolence. Regulations are the job of government. Friedman called them the necessary "rules of the game" of capitalist enterprises.

You can't count on the universal goodwill of businesses to address energy and environmental issues.

That, however, doesn't mean it is silly for businesses to invest in solving social problems. Businesses that are proactive in responding to social issues help create the culture of responsiveness, a commitment to compliance, that helps make regulation work. They may even create a profit center.

It's not an either-or choice. You need corporate leaders to partner with government in addressing social concerns. And you also need governments that are ready to crack down to enforce the most basic social standards for worker safety and environmental protection.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Moulivakkam Building Collapse, Chennai - "Builder Deviated"

Moulivakkam Building after Collapse.
Photo by The Hindu.
“It looks like the builder deviated from the approved design,” said T. S. Sridhar, a disaster-management commissioner in Tamil Nadu State yesterday in a phone interview with the NY Times published today.  “The thickness of pillars was reduced to give more space in the rooms. The length of beams was increased to reduce the number of pillars. It needs detailed investigation to figure out the real cause of the collapse.”

However, The Hindu reports that a local builder currently executing various projects in Chennai (formerly called Madras) said the most likely cause for the Moulivakkam building collapse was a weak foundation.
Re-conducting the soil test and studying the structural design of the building would reveal the facts, he said. Residents living near the construction site too have raised a lot of doubts as to whether the builders had taken the soil conditions there under consideration before taking up construction.
The police in Chennai, capital of the southern-India state of Tamil Nadu, on Sunday arrested six people involved in the construction.

Four people were rescued yesterday from the rubble from one to the two towers of the 12-story building with 42 apartments outside Chennai that collapsed because of "heavy rain" on Saturday. Fortunately, the brand-new building had not been occupied yet. The death toll of 30 so far is mostly from the construction workers who were lining up to be paid for their work. A total of 47 have survived, including four people who escaped the building three days after the collapse.

Other recent building collapses in India include:
  • In January, at least 15 workers were killed when a residential building under construction collapsed in the southern state of Goa. 
  • In September 2013, at least 50 people died when a 33-year-old building collapsed in Mumbai. 
  • In April 2013, at least 72 people were killed when a building under construction collapsed in a suburb of Mumbai. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Candy Cigarettes, Flavored Tobacco, Nicotine Candy

"Just Like Dad" - you too can die of of emphysema, lung
cancer or other cigarette-related diseases. But be assured
you will "look cool" in the hospital gown.
"Just Like Dad". You can find the ads for candy cigarettes all over  the Internet. Examples:
  •  "Each pack has 10 white candy sticks, ready to be rolled up in your T-shirt sleeve." 
  • "How to Smoke Candy Cigarettes - YouTube." 
  • "Give Junior his own pack of smokes - candy smokes!"
Level 1 Problem - Candy Cigarettes

I've seen a "Marlboro Man" pack of candy cigarettes with a gun-toting cowboy on the outside. That's a trifecta of misdirection, promoting cigarettes, sugar consumption and guns in one product.

I wrote a negative review of the product on the basis of its being a stealthy promotion of cigarettes to children. The review is here - Surprise! Last time I looked, there were 26 responses, mostly complaining that I was a self-appointed candy-cig vigilante. Only three of 101 readers found my review helpful - thanks, you three. Those who commented said that it is unfair and improper to review a candy cigarette product based on its health effects on children rather than its taste or price.

The product got 17 other one-star reviews. For example, one of these reviews said the brand of candy cigarettes was thin and tasteless. For that review,  6 out of 7 ratings said it was helpful. So it's fair to vote down a candy cigarette that has the temerity not to deliver enough sugar and flavor, but it's not fair to vote it down because it promotes sugar and tobacco!

I tried again, posting something saying that candy cigarettes contribute to illnesses that are expensive to cure, promoting tobacco use and candy addiction among children. It is here:

In 2009, the FDA prohibited the sale of candy cigarettes. But they are still available online. (And sales of e-cigarettes are soaring, with its own web site to defend "ex-smokers'" rights.)

Level 2 Problem: Flavored Cigars

"Flavored Cigars"... For Those Who Would Otherwise Not Become Addicted.  Worse than candy cigarettes are sweet-flavored cigars. My Dad did not smoke cigarettes, but he did smoke cigars and a pipe. He suffered from dizziness in his last decade of life, had a stroke and died in his 80s.

His brother died of emphysema that he attributed entirely to the cigarette smoking that he started in the Navy in WWII. He quit at 60 years of age but it was too late. He suffered decades of wheezing and he also died in his 80s.

My nonsmoking mother, however, lived on to be 98. A small sample of one family, but the data match the statistics.

So when the FDA prohibited candy cigarettes, effective in 2010, I applauded. Let's stop allowing kids to be addicted in stages with cig sweets and then sweet cigs. But it seems all the vendors had to do was remove the red tip on the candy cigarettes and rename them just "Candy" or "Candy Sticks".

Now, today, we find from Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times that marketers determined to addict as many kids as possible to tobacco are finding another avenue for creating new (shorter-) lifetime customers - candy-flavored cigars. So much for all the protests under my Amazon review that the candy cigarettes were just for "nostalgia" or even "an alternative to smoking"! Yeah, sure.

Why should anyone care who gets addicted to cigarettes or cigars? Isn't it good for the economy? Well, doctors and researchers tell me that smoking is about the worst thing one can do to destroy one's health. It reduces one's working life and the health-care costs of lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases are huge.

Smoking is anti-social. Second-hand smoke kills, and the greatest threat to the balancing of the Federal Budget, the greatest cause of the financial difficulties of many U.S. manufacturing companies, is the cost of health care.

Cigarette addiction has multiple victims - the people who smoke and destroy their health, the families who must live with the smoke and must cope with the problems of having a sick person in the house, and the corporations and taxpayers who have to pay for the long years of health care before nature sends her Final Signal of her disapproval of the smoking habit.

For many who are addicted it may be too much to give up cigarettes or cigars. But to anyone who complains about the candy-cig police and is happy to see another generation hooked on tobacco, the words that come to my mind are "invincible ignorance".

Level 3 Problem: Nicotine Candy

In March 2013, the FDA decided that for nicotine addicts who are interested in harm reduction—or who are just finding it more and more difficult to find someplace where they can light up—R.J. Reynolds’ Camel Orbs (and its Camel Strips and Camel Sticks) in mint and other flavors is a good thing. There’s even a “Variety Pack.”

If that sounds like kids’ stuff, you’re right: The FDA has expressed concern that candy-reminiscent dissolvable tobacco products could prove especially attractive to kids and young adults.

In 2009, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company launched a nicotine-fortified candy - a dissolvable nicotine product called Camel Orbs, which according to the company's promotional literature contains one milligram nicotine per pellet and is flavored with cinnamon or mint.

The product has been billed as a temporary form of nicotine for smokers to deal with their addiction in public places where smoking is banned. However, the effect on children could be deadly.

Ingestion of tobacco products by infants and children is a major reason for calls to poison control centers nationwide. In 2007, 6,724 tobacco-related poisoning cases were reported among children five years of age and under. RJR calls the nicotine candy a "tobacco product" but it looks like candy.

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and to make it look like a piece of candy is cynical and irresponsible.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health determined that a one-year-old infant could suffer mild to moderate symptoms of nicotine poisoning by ingesting eight to 14 Orbs. Ingesting ten to 17 Orbs could result in severe toxicity or death. A four-year-old child could have moderate symptoms by ingesting 13 to 21 Orbs and could suffer severe toxicity or death by consuming 16 to 27 Orbs.