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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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bangladesh Factory Safety Update

Dhaka, Bangladesh factory disaster in April 2013.
The latest news is that The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has contracted with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston for an independent assessment of its fire safety training.

The Alliance provides a basic fire safety training for garment factory workers in Bangladesh.

The UT team is led by Dr. Hasanat Alamgir at the School of Public Health. He is associate professor of occupational health at the Program in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

Here is the announcement of the nature of the contract:
The team will conduct a research study to yield valid and reliable results, collect data through randomized surveys and focus groups from workers, and ultimately deliver a detailed report on the effectiveness of the Alliance worker training. This report will help identify areas of improvement as the Alliance training programs continue and expand the in the coming years. Full statement here.
When this study is completed it will provide another opportunity for an update. So far, progress by the Accord and the Alliance (as of June) has been against a backdrop of government failure. As the number of factory deaths in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India has risen, public understanding of the causes and systemic problems has also grown and the need for more government involvement is clear:
  • All three countries lack national information on fire deaths
  • For example, no data on fire deaths appear on the website of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
  • The countries spend a tiny amount on government factory building inspections and enforcement.
  • More spending on inspections won't make a difference if inspectors and agents are unwilling or unable to enforce the law.
  • The building collapse in Chennai, India stemmed from the building not being constructed according to design specifications and law.
The Alliance deserves credit for what it has achieved. The options for the brands do not include substituting themselves for the regulatory agencies of the nations involved, because no country should or will give up such a sovereign power.

The general context of the factory disasters in Bangladesh is that the garment industry is virtually the country's only hope for the future. The projected impact of climate change is that much of the country will eventually be below sea level. It is already threatened by terrible floods. 

Foreign aid is a useful contribution to developing countries, but all of it added together is only about $115 billion. The top ten aid recipients receive less than $35 billion. This is not enough money to make much of a difference in the lives of the hundreds of millions of people in abject poverty in developing countries.

Exports, however, make a huge difference to the number of people living in poverty. The World Trade Organization notes that China exports $2.2 trillion, out of total trade of $18.8 trillion. This has brought millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Exports are also driving Singapore, Mexico, China-Taipei, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia - each of them exporting $200-$400 billion per year. The factory jobs - dangerous as they may be - are crucial for Bangladesh. Trade dwarfs aid in helping people on earth emerge from subsistence living.


Those involved in trying to improve safety conditions are naturally frustrated by the continuation of unsafe conditions. Those directly involved may properly feel righteous indignation about the dangers to workers, especially if the remedies seem to available and are simply not utilized because of the failures of governments to act.

David Brin has recently posted a comment on such indignation. He has earned a Ph.D. in space science and is a 2010 fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He helped establish the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego. He serves on the advisory board of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts group and frequently does futurist consulting for corporations and government agencies.

Brin is a well-regarded sci-fi writer, and uses his writing skill to warn of the danger of a reasonable form of indignation slipping into a more extreme emotion, self-righteous indignation. This could take the form of pinning the blame on the people who have devoted their lives to trying to fix the problems.

In the form of a question rather than an assertion, Brin wonders whether people are drawn to indignation through a form of self-addiction. They enjoy "wallowing in a pleasurable mental state" that is enjoyed during a fit of indignation or even more so from fury.

By describing this mental state as one of addiction, he implies that it is not a useful place to be. He ties self-righteous indignation to the dysfunctional nature of U.S. politics in recent years.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Alice Tepper Marlin Announces Retirement as SAI's CEO at End of 2015

Alice (in light blue jacket and pink hat) marching with CEP's 
Steve Moody and Nobel Laureate George Wald at the 
Washington peace march on January 20, 1973, the day of 
President Nixon's second inauguration. Photo: Leon S. Reed.
The President of Social Accountability International (SAI), Alice Tepper Marlin, today announced her planned retirement as CEO of the organization she founded in 1997.

This retirement will take effect at the end of 2015. The Board of Directors of SAI has expressed its appreciation for having a full year to select a new CEO.

Emails and social media posts have arrived testifying to the power of her work with SAI and its predecessor organization, the Council on Economic Priorities, which she founded 45 years ago.

In 1990 she won the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes described as the "Alternative Nobel Prize". She was also the first woman to be named to the Ashoka Global Academy.

We were married in 1971. I am posting below highlights from some of the public (posted) expressions of appreciation of her life's work.

Leon S. Reed, author of Military Maneuvers (CEP, 1975), about the interchange between the Department of Defense and military contractors:
Alice, as your first full-time professional (if that's what I was) employee, I wanted to thank you for giving me a great start on my career as well as the skills and values I needed to carry that career on. Your legacy will include not just the great work you have done personally, but also the dozens, probably hundreds of young people you inspired.
Craig Murphy, Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College:
Alice, Wow. What an important transition. You and Eileen have done so much to advance the most important human values to the global level. It will be a very hard to fill those shoes. 
Ann Medlock, Founder of the Giraffe Heroes Project:
Memo to the Search Committee: Finding the right person to succeed someone who's given her entire adult life to changing things for the better--that's a tricky business. If you choose someone who is merely a competent and experienced executive, without the passion, devotion and determination of Alice Tepper Marlin, the life-force will go out of SAI. Thus speaks this octogenarian who's watched Alice work since the 1960s!
Sridhar Rajagopal, CSR Consultant in Bangalore, India
Dear Alice, what a humongous contribution yours has been. Mind blowing passion and commitment to make a difference. Hats off to you. I am sure you will continue to add value to the society in a different role.
Laurie Sheridan, former Executive Director, Boston Workforce Development Coalition:
Congratulations on stepping down, and on all the wonderful work you have done for so many years! I do know that as founding mother, it can sometimes be hard to leave. Glad it will be in good hands.
Marcio Viegas, Founder and Managing Director at SUST4IN, Madrid:
As a modest early contributor to the global SA system I can attest that, among other SAI initiatives, SA 8000 remains as the best practical tool to implement social responsibility/accountability globally and at levels. Thank you and all the best to you and to SAI.
Kelly-Jo Potts, Global Marketing Specialist, Responsible Sourcing, Underwriters Laboratories
My first intro to the CSR industry took place at an MFA Forum dinner in NY when I got the pleasure of sitting next to you. I was in awe of your leadership, insight, and thanks to influential people like yourself have continued my professional career in CSR. Well done and best of luck to SAI with their search for a new Leader.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Myth of Regulation-Free Gun Ownership in Switzerland

Gun ownership by country. The USA has the highest rate, 90 guns
per 100 civilian residents. Next come Yemen (and Serbia). The
Swiss rate is half that of the U.S. - 45 guns per 100.
Switzerland is frequently advanced as an example of a country where virtually all males have a gun and ammunition at home, and violence is low.

The causality is implied that having guns keeps the peace. This is a theme that is repeated by the National Rifle Association.

So should the U.S. rate of 90 guns per 100 civilians, twice that of Switzerland, make Americans twice as safe?

When I was in France during the week of the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June, I joined with many Europeans in visiting those who died during that week in 1944, including my Uncle Willem, seeking to liberate Europe from Nazi rule.

I spoke with several people who live in Switzerland or who are familiar with the laws. They made clear to me that Switzerland is an example of a country with a high degree of regulation of guns. It is no paradise for people who want to own guns.

Here's what I was told, supplemented by information from two websites:

  • YES, training guns are still left with the Swiss militia when they leave their mandatory national service, if they choose to keep them.
  • BUT the guns must be kept locked away at home. 
  • NO military ammunition may, since 2007, be taken home. Only in the case of an national emergency will gun-owners be issued with ammunition from the local armory.
  • ONLY Swiss males who have completed their basic training (Rekrutenschule), which they must take when they are 20, get to keep their weapon.
  • THEY MUST remain part of the reserve militia until age 30 (age 34 for officers).
  • ONLY ONE GUN is issued to them, a 5.56x45mm SIG SG 550 rifle for enlisted personnel and/or the 9mm SIG P220 semi-automatic pistol for officers and medical and postal workers.
  • RECRUITS LEARN how to use these guns with a magazine that can shoot off many rounds automatically. 
  • HOWEVER, when their military training is over, the magazine is disabled.
  • BEFORE 2007, 50 rounds of 5.56 mm bullets or 48 rounds of 9mm bullets were issued to each  ex-soldier.
  • THE AMMUNITION WAS SEALED, and it was inspected regularly to ensure no unauthorized use had occurred.
  • SINCE 2007, the Swiss Federal Council ended the distribution of ammunition to soldiers and all previously issued ammunition was recalled. Only about 2,000 soldiers located near sensitive places like airports keep military-issued ammunition at home.
  • YES, YOU CAN BUY A GUN in Switzerland.
  • BUT to buy a handgun or a hunting gun, you must first go to the police and apply for a permit. The usual purpose for the permit is for "sport". If you have a clean record you will get one and with it you can buy up to three guns at a gun shop.
  • IF YOU SELL your gun, buyers must sign a form which they give to the seller as proof of the sale, and they must keep a copy. This way the police can trace where a gun goes to and comes from.
  • NONE OF THE ABOVE gives any Swiss male the right to carry a gun in public. For that a permit is required, usually only granted in cases where there is a special issue relating to the person's security.

  • This does not sound like the "right to bear arms" scenario as advocated by National Rifle Association supporters in the United States. In 2010, the entire nation of Switzerland, which has the same population as the City of New York, counted only 40 homicides involving firearms, out of 53 cases of homicide.

    The homicide rate in Switzerland is in the range of 0.5-0.7 per per 100,000 population, one of the lowest in the world. It is one-seventh the rate in the United States.

    A report from the Citizen Crime Commission of New York shows that shooters, like the ones in Oregon and Aurora and Newtown, have been able to kill far more people than otherwise possible because they had access to magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

    In a review of mass shooters over the last 30 years, the Commission found that those who used large-capacity magazines killed or injured 2.6 victims for every one killed by a mass shooter without a large-capacity magazine.

    Now that the myth of Swiss gun accessibility is addressed, take a look at the gun death rates and gun-ownership rates among U.S. states, courtesy of Mother Jones magazine.

    You don't have to be a statistics professor to see the relationship.

    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    The Nobel Peace Prize - A Good Ashoka Pairing

    Kailash Satyarthi (L) and Malala Yousafzai, joint winners of
     the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
    The New Yorker, once again, has done an impressive job of keeping up with the news and helping to spin it intelligently. Amy Davidson, Executive Editor of the magazine, posted a nearly instant analysis.

    Shared Nobel Prize Sends Message

    She says that the sharing of the Nobel Peace Prize sends a powerful message to the world -  that the task of keeping children in school instead of at war or in factories is one that we must all share in.

    Malala Yousafzai (17) and Kailash Satyarthi (60) were awarded this year's Peace Prize jointly for
    their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.
    Malala (as she is known to the world) and Satyarthi are yin and yang:
    • Malala is female, Satyarthi is male, 
    • Malala began her work and earned her fame as a child, Satyarthi is near retirement age, 
    • Malala is Pakistani, Satyarthi is Indian. 
    But they share characteristics. Not only have they fought for the rights of children in the Indian subcontinent, but also
    • Both have been attacked, Malala having been shot in the head by the Taliban, and Satyarthi facing armed guards to release children being enslaved in factories.
    • Both have appealed to the Western nations and their consumers, Malala by addressing the United Nations and Satyarthi by working through Bachpan Bachao Andolan to set up schools where so far 80,000 children who have been rescued from factory enslavement can be installed. 
    Both Are Connected to the Ashoka Fellowship

    Both Malala and Satyarthi have been involved with the Ashoka Fellowships.

    Satyarthi was himself an Ashoka Fellow. He has tried to pique and guide the consciences of Western rug consumers to buy only rugs woven by factories that ensure they do not enslave children, creating the Rugmark label and then GoodWeave International, a consumer labeling system like Rainforest Alliance, or Green Seal or SA8000. Satyarthi is the second Ashoka Fellow to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The first was Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel for his work in 2006. He is a member of the Ashoka Global Academywhich selected Alice Tepper Marlin as its first woman member and second American member (after the founder, Bill Drayton). 

    Malala, before becoming a champion for equal education, studied at the school of Ashoka Fellow Mohammed Ali, where she and other girls in Pakistan received access to education against the odds. It was here that Malala cultivated her change making skills. (I have already posted recent bios about two other women associated with Ashoka - Morgan Dixon, an incoming Fellow, and Kila Englebrook, a manager of the Ashoka Support Network.)

    The Nobel Committee has picked two winners, and Ashoka helped pave their way!

    Thursday, September 18, 2014

    Ashoka Support Network - NYC - Kila Englebrook (Comment)

    Kila Englebrook, Ashoka Support Network
    Last night I was privileged to attend the first meeting of an experiment that started in New York City with a meeting of about 25 Ashoka "fellows" and kindred spirits. I got to meet  Kila Englebrook, who is one of the organizers of the experiment.

    Ashoka is looking forward to continue bringing together the same people with an event of some kind in NYC every month. Similar initiatives are under way in Miami and San Francisco.

    Ashoka, of course, was created by Bill Drayton more than 30 years ago to enable "social entrepreneurs", a term he coined. It has invested in an average of 100 of these entrepreneurs every year, giving them the name of "fellows".

    They work on projects like road safety in Venezuela, prison reform in Turkey, nutrition in Thailand, housing in Kenya, and gender equality in Egypt. Most of them are working in Asia or Latin America. Ashoka itself is located in the Washington, D.C. area.

    The organization spent more than $6 million in its latest year on stipends for fellows to work full-time on a new idea, in economic development, human rights, civic participation, health and education.

    Now it wants to bring together its thousands of alumni in certain target communities to make them available to incoming social-entrepreneurship sympathies and interests. It is also adding to the mix business leaders who have signed up with the new Ashoka Support Network.

    While Ashoka itself has been operating in 70 countries, the ASN program is so far in only 22 countries. The 350 business leaders who have signed up for ASN are mostly concentrated in Europe so far. Only 10 percent are in the United States. Kila wants to change that! She sees "huge potential" in this country.

    I was at the meeting because Alice Tepper Marlin is a Global Fellow at Ashoka - someone who has created a social enterprise that is replicable in other countries.

    Kila Englebrook sees a great opportunity for networking - providing a channel for the social aspirations of businesses that are interested in contributing to change in the world as part of running a successful business, and making accessible to social entrepreneurs the wisdom and skills of people who have been making and selling products.

    Kila herself earned a BA in African Studies from Boston University, and joined Ashoka in 2007.  Since 2009, she has been working on partnership and resource development, as well as operations, spending much of her time in Nashville, Tenn. before she started her current work on ASN.


    At the meeting yesterday, a few people wondered if there were some way to speed up the rate at which Ashoka was contributing to change, because of the great needs in the world for social entrepreneurs to get busy. Ashoka's $40 million budget was not viewed as being enough.

    The response from other participants was that change-making is risky and that Ashoka has survived and grown by being cautious, working toward change by evolution rather than revolution.

    This is a healthy debate and I think the experiment is proving its worth. Kila has a tiger by the tail.

    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.