By Nardia Haigh.
Many would agree that corporate sustainability has become a buzzword, without actually changing corporate practices all that much. Recent news supports that: BP was found grossly negligent in the Deepwater Horizon disaster; the U.S. tobacco industry continues to rely on pre-teens working in the fields; and Pacific Gas & Electric is under legal scrutiny for allegedly causing a gas explosion due to suspected safety violations. So why aren’t all those sustainability strategies and programs, including new ‘sustainable’ products, the appointment of Chief Sustainability Officers, and the submission of regular sustainability reports, enabling corporations to become more sustainable? And what does it take to change that?
By Eliad Shmuel.
The magazine Fast Company recently published an article with the provocative title: “Can The Sharing Economy End Discrimination?” The author, David Mandell, is CEO of the office sharing marketplace PivotDesk and promoter of a new trend now everybody talks about: the sharing economy. Like David Mandell, many believe that millennials choose access over ownership, and that services such as Airbnb and Uber are democratizing the hospitality and private transportation business. This is because, rather than relying on corporate power, branding and expensive marketing, users determine themselves, through ratings, whether they like and thus recommend certain service providers or not. Likewise, providers, e.g. of Airbnb apartments, choose users based on their ratings. Ratings and reviews may vary, but on average, according to Mandell, they provide fair and objective feedback. Each participant of the sharing economy has thus equal chances of becoming popular among others – no matter what educational or social background, what race, religion, gender or sexual preference. But is that really so?
By Pacey Foster.
Recent events in Ferguson, MO, have generated a national discussion about the growing militarization of the police and their accountability to the public for potential abuses of power. While Massachusetts does not have the worst national reputation in this regard, we do have deep and historical reasons to be concerned. Recent claims that some Massachusetts law enforcement agencies are in fact private corporations, and thus exempt from public reporting requirements, should only add to growing public concern.
By Stephan Manning.
If somebody had told me earlier this year that the best way to raise money for research on a rare disease is to have people pour buckets of ice water over their heads I would have probably suggested ordering another martini – on the rocks! Today it seems that hardly anybody has not been nominated for the ALS ice bucket challenge or at least heard about it. In a nutshell, the idea is to challenge people to either donate $100 for research on ALS* or dump a bucket of ice water on their head within 24 hours, which would qualify them to nominate other people. Critics have called the campaign a substitute for charitable work; a distraction from other campaigns; and a waste of water. But nobody can deny that this campaign has generated over 1 Million Facebook videos since June 1 and more than 2.2 Million tweets since July 29, all of which have helped mobilize $41.8 Million from 739,000 donors for ALS research within the past month. So what’s the secret behind this campaign and do we need more (ice bucket) challenges to solve the world’s many problems?
David Levy, Professor and Associate Dean in the College of Management at UMass Boston and Director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness
Women held placards proclaiming “Bosses out of My Bedroom” to protest last week’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which permits privately-held corporations to exclude coverage for contraception from health insurance coverage on religious grounds. In the media, opponents of the decision saw the issue as corporate owners imposing their religious beliefs on all the employees in Hobby Lobby’s nearly 600 stores. The decision has been widely condemned by feminist and other progressive groups, who smell a theocratic agenda that represents discrimination against women (Viagra and vasectomies are covered by insurance), a threat to women’s health, and a continuation of efforts to control female sexuality. The Court itself was divided along gender lines for this and the follow up Wheaton College decision regarding exemptions for religious non-profit organizations, in which the three female judges issued a sharp dissent. For women, reproductive freedom and economic independence are closely intertwined, as Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
But the Hobby Lobby (HL) case is not just about corporate control over women’s work and health; it holds broader significance for corporate governance. The decision severely undermines those who seek to use corporate social responsibility (CSR) to hold business accountable and to channel the vast financial, technological, and organizational resources of business to advance social goals. The heart of the HL case turned on the technical question of whether a for-profit corporation, as a legal person, has the same rights as an individual to exercise religion under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). On the face of it, the idea of a corporation having a religion is somewhat bizarre. After all, we don’t see corporations being baptized or singing at a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. But if a corporation, as a person, does have values or religion, whose are they? A small group of owners, or the wider community?
By Vincent Xie and Heidi Moesinger.
We as consumers often watch or receive ads that promote things we care about. Like it or not, the first question a rational consumer has to ask is how truthful an ad is. Some argue that regulators such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have drawn a clear line on what is deceptive or not for advertisers. Over the years, the FTC has filed many lawsuits against a number of big name brands. The risk for companies running false or misleading ads is too high to afford. So most of time, we as consumers don’t have to worry about advertising deception. Do we?
By Chacko Kannothra and Stephan Manning.
Call centers, tech support, payroll processing – more and more service jobs are performed abroad. Global outsourcing is one of the most controversial trends of our time. To some, it is mainly a cost-cutting exercise which has led to job losses in Western economies and has started a ‘global race to the bottom’. The recent shift of clients and providers to second and third-tier outsourcing locations to keep labor costs low is an indicator of that. To others, outsourcing has also generated new income and entrepreneurial opportunities especially in developing countries. Clearly, in particular for the young and educated in urban areas, such as Bangalore in India, the outsourcing sector has been a career stepping stone. But how about the vast majority who still live in poverty? Will the global service industry widen the gap between the new urban elite and the rest? Maybe not if we believe in the new trend of ‘impact sourcing’ – the creation of outsourcing jobs and training opportunities for the poor and disadvantaged, in particular from slums and rural areas. Impact sourcing was celebrated a few weeks ago at the 17th World Outsourcing Summit as a promising way of combining business and social benefit. The Rockefeller Foundation even calls it a means towards reducing poverty. But are these claims realistic?