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TAKING THE “CITIZEN” IN “CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP” SERIOUSLY

Written by Guest on Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dear [Apple Google, Exxon, Ford, GE—insert your favourite Fortune 500 company] …. Dr. Dieter Zinnbauer, Programme Manager at Transparency International, calls for a major overhaul of how corporate citizenship is conceptualised and practised.


Dear [Apple, Google, Exxon, Ford, GE—insert your favourite Fortune 500 company],

Thanks so much for sharing with me your [annual report/sustainability report]. I am very impressed by your achievements as a good corporate citizen and I think you have every reason to celebrate your successes.

Your section on “giving back to the community” contains a truly impressive list of good deeds. I deeply appreciate that you support the local philharmonic orchestra and encourage your employees to engage in some pro-bono charity work. Only one little nibble: how about letting me know on top, how much you contribute—like every citizen, corporate and individual—to the public purse to cover all these investments and expenditures, from corruption-resources-corruption-resources-education to roads to high speed internet, that we have all democratically agreed upon as a community and that your enterprise also greatly benefits from. So a bit more information on how much in taxes you pay, to communities, to countries, would be incredibly helpful and a great way to showcase a core part of your corporate responsibility.

I could not agree more with your impassioned pledge to put people and their well-being first, to act and excel as a responsible steward for future generations and a sustainable future. I learn from your numbers that your water consumption has gone down. Bravo! But why this understatement? I presume you are doing so much more for us and our future with all the money, influence and professional lobbying power that you deploy for shaping public policies. So why not celebrate how you exercise your responsible engagement in this probably even more important area? How about giving us a good run through of what values and policy aims you stand for, how you push for them, why, and with what resources? Your rhetorical resolve leaves no doubt that you put your lobbying power where your mouth is. I would just like to be sure. And given the power you wield, which dwarfs the resources of persuasion that other citizens can enlist to put their points across, I think it is actually fair to ask and get the numbers—not as some rather cryptic filings to lobby registers, but as plain language statements and key figures in your annual report.

Finally, I truly applaud your tireless efforts to ensure that you not only set an ethical tone from and for the top, but strive towards turning integrity, accountability and zero tolerance for corruption into real values that are practiced in every fibre of your company and far-flung network of affiliates and partners. But what systems have you put in place to make this actually happen? How do you ensure that deviance is effectively prevented, and effectively detected and sanctioned if it occurs? To give us the confidence that all your subsidiaries and affiliates employees will abide by the laws of the land, I would most appreciate, if you could share some more information on your approach to compliance. What systems do you put in place at what scale? How effective and independently validated are they?

Now let me emphasize again that I am not trying to be difficult. I really am not in the blaming-and-shaming resources-resources-business of judging whether you pay enough taxes, stand for the right policies, or have sufficient safeguards in place against breaking the law. I just think it would be great if you made this information available in plain words and figures, so that communities can actually begin to truly evaluate your claims about corporate citizenship in a substantive way and have an informed discussion about them.

Taxes, law abidance and policy engagement are the three most fundamental pillars of citizenship, from its original conception to today. Show us that you are serious about corporate citizenship and tell the world about your conduct, and people can give credit where credit is due.

The above letter to a company presents some of the key points put forward by Dr. Dieter Zinnbauer, Programme Manager at Transparency International, in a new working paper that argues that the notion of “corporate citizenship” as it is currently understood assessed and practiced is woefully inadequate.

Dieter Zinnbauer, “Getting Serious About Corporate Citizenship—The Essential, Yet Missing Building Blocks for Responsible Corporate Behaviour,” November 4 2013. Available at SSRN.

This article was first posted on the blog of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard Law School where Dieter was a 2013-14 network fellow.

The Transparency International study Transparency in Corporate Reporting assesses the disclosure of steps the world’s 105 largest publicly listed multinational companies have in place to fight corruption. Together these companies are worth more than US$11 trillion and touch the lives of people in more than 200 countries across the globe. The June 2012 study looked at companies’ transparency footprints across 177 countries examining to what extent earnings and taxes in specific countries are made public. A new study is currently being prepared for Autumn 2014.

 Dr. Dieter Zinnbauer joined TI in March 2007. He has served as Chief Editor of the Global Corruption Report until February 2009 and now co-ordinates TI’s work on emerging policy issues.

 

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Read 5848 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Guest

The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

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