Thursday, March 17, 2011

CSR and Disaster Risk Reduction – Part 2 (guest blog)

Guest Blog by Ian Doyle

In part one of my reflection on CSR and natural disasters, I reflected on how business has a role to play in minimising the vulnerability of the communities in which they operate. In part two, I reflect on how disaster risk reduction can actually be a vehicle for business to contribute to sustainable development by addressing the systemic causes that expose communities to natural hazard risk.

The outfall from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland in 2010 was a good example. In the three days after the eruption and the subsequent grounding of aircraft, 5000 farm workers in Kenya had been temporarily laid-off due to the lack of market access.[1] Whilst Tesco was able to organise an alternative delivery route through Spain, it raises the question of the viability of trade arrangements that create such dependencies.[2]

In the case of a supermarket chain, greater corporate responsibility could involve a strategy that strengthens local markets to provide food for the local population. This would represent an investment in the supply chain rather than an opportunity to cut costs. By taking such an approach, the unpredictability of natural disasters can be tempered as there is greater supply chain capacity to respond when calamity strikes.

Furthermore, such an approach could actually avoid some disasters altogether. While a business continuity plan for fast-onset disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can minimise the impact of a catastrophe, slow-onset disasters such as drought need not necessarily create humanitarian crises.

An Interpares study on community-based food security systems showed how poor communities in the Medak district, a semi-arid region in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and also part of India’s “hunger belt”, were unaffected by the 2001-2002 drought.[3] By growing grain that is adapted to a low-rainfall climate and through the establishment of a community grain fund that enables food sovereignty in lean times, the communities had no need of external assistance during the emergency. What this demonstrates is that while the drought was unavoidable, the appropriate management of resources can strengthen communities as well as reducing their vulnerability in the event of a potential disaster.

While there was no corporate involvement in the above example, companies that align their core business practices for the purposes of social development may be able to develop disaster risk reduction solutions that go beyond risk minimisation. For instance, a food services company could partner with a community to support traditional farmer methods that maintain land sovereignty and are adapted to arid climates. Rather than an emergency relief approach that is reactionary, by addressing the systemic issues that expose vulnerable communities to risk in the event of disaster, communities can be strengthened to avoid tragedy all together.”

About the blogger

Lifeworth Consulting associate (, Ian Doyle, has based this blog on Lifeworth’s pro-bono work with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and his forthcoming article co-authored with professor Jem Bendell in issue 41 of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship.


[1] Nick Wadhams. ‘Iceland volcano: Kenya’s farmers losing $1.3m a day in flights chaos’. Le Guardian Online. 18 April 2010.

[2] BBC News. ‘Volcanic ash: Tesco delivers Kenyan produce via Spain’. BBC News Online. 20 April 2010.

[3] Interpares. ‘Community-bassed Food Security Systems: Local Solutions for Ending Chronic Hunger and Promoting Rural Development’. Online. 2004.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

CSR and Disaster Risk Reduction - Part 1 (Guest Blog)

Guest Blog by Ian Doyle

One aspect of social media (see previous blogs) relates to disaster risk reduction. Wayne Visser, in his book The Age of Responsibility provided examples of “crowdsourcing” through social media platforms such as Peoplefinder in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and “Mission 4636” following the Haiti earthquake that proved to be effective tools in responding to requests for help and in locating missing persons.[1]

Social media is also providing important access to information in the wake of disasters. [2] This was exemplified by the Japan earthquake yesterday. With Japanese telecommunications affected by the seismic activity, but the internet still working, Twitter and Facebook were the most effective way to get news out. Therefore disaster risk reduction is one field where social media enterprise could contribute as part of its corporate social responsibility.

Interestingly, the Japan earthquake also reminds us of how companies other than social media enterprise can respond to disasters. Google for instance, ‘advertised’ this warning on its search engine page in response to the earthquake, thus becoming a global emergency alert system, stating:

“Tsunami Alert for New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and others. Waves expected over the next few hours caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan.” And just hours later, updated it to: “Tsunami Alert Waves expected across the Pacific region, caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan,” and then “Resources related to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.”

The importance of business taking an active role in disaster risk reduction is becoming more and more relevant. As developing countries are most affected by natural disasters and many corporations have transferred their production facilities to these regions, it stands to reason that businesses start to reflect on their societal role in the event of a catastrophe.[3] How business is addressing disaster risk reduction overall is thus another part of corporate responsibility that companies need to consider.

The key to successful disaster reduction is to reduce the vulnerability of communities exposed to natural hazards and better be able to cope during, and recover after the event. More recently, this has been addressed through business continuity management plans. Business continuity is the activity performed by an organisation to ensure that critical business functions will be available when there are disruptions.[4]

But because disaster risk reduction aims to strengthen community responses in the event of disaster, it requires companies to think about how their business continuity plans impact society. For instance, if business expediency is the priority, a business continuity plan could entail dropping a supplier if supplies are temporarily disrupted, effectively depriving the supplier of much needed resources to be functional again. Such a plan would be contrary to sustainable development. If business is going to play its role in decreasing the vulnerability of communities that are exposed to natural hazards, particularly in developing countries, disaster preparedness needs to be understood within the context of sustainable development, which will be explored in part two of this reflection.

Part 2 to follow ....

About the blogger

Lifeworth Consulting associate (, Ian Doyle, has based this blog on Lifeworth’s pro-bono work with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and his forthcoming article co-authored with professor Jem Bendell in issue 41 of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship.


[1] Visser, W. (2011) The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business, London: Wiley

[2] Imogen Wall, ‘After disaster: information for life’, Open Democracy Online. 26 October 2008.

[3] Alyson Warhurst. ‘Disaster Prevention: A Role for Business’. Provention Consortium Online. August 2006.

[4] ICOR : Business Continuity Management. See also, David Honour. ‘Defining Business Continuity’, Continuity Central Online. 29 September 2006.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Yogesh Chauhan on "The Age of Responsibility"

A challenging and thought provoking book. In an age when corporate responsibility is a must for most large businesses, Wayne Visser reminds us that global environmental and social pressures show little sign of receding. He asks: are we as practitioners complacent, or worse, part of the problem? There is hope and optimism but only if we are brave and bold enough to re-engineer corporate responsibility. Read on...

Yogesh Chauhan, Chairman of the Corporate Responsibility Group and BBC Chief Adviser Corporate Responsibility.

The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business, by Wayne Visser is available from, and other leading book retailers (ISBN-10: 0470688572, ISBN-13: 978-0470688571).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Age of Marketing: Using smoke and mirrors

By Wayne Visser

The tobacco industry is a past master in the art of marketing-led deception. For decades, as research on the negative health impacts of smoking piled up, the industry sponsored a campaign of disinformation and deception. Let’s start with what we know about tobacco. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘no other consumer product is as dangerous, or kills as many people. Tobacco kills more than AIDS, legal drugs, illegal drugs, road accidents, murder and suicide combined.’ Of everyone alive today, 500 million will eventually be killed by smoking, and while 0.1 billion people died from tobacco use in the 20th century, ten times as many will die from the same cause in the 21st century.

This is not simply a health issue, but also an economic crisis. In America alone, smoking costs the economy $76 billion in health costs and lost productivity. Smoking-related diseases account for 6% of all health costs in the USA and, on average, a smoker takes 6.16 days of sick leave, as compared with 3.86 for non-smokers. Of all the trash collected in the USA in 1996, cigarette butts accounted for 20%. There are indirect costs as well. Every year 1 million fires are started by children using cigarette lighters. In 1997, China’s worst forest fire was caused by cigarettes and killed 300 people, as well as making 5,000 homeless and destroying 1.3 million hectares of land. In 2000, fires caused by smoking reportedly cost $27 billion and killed 300,000 people.

The debate about the ethics of industry-sponsored research and the practice of misdirection by Big Tobacco reached its zenith when, in 1994, the CEOs of seven of America’s largest tobacco companies16 testified before the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment of Congress, all denying that cigarettes are addictive. They all lied under oath. Two years later, an investigative article in Vanity Fair entitled ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ told the true story of Jeffrey Wigand, a research chemist working for the tobacco company, who planned to go on the 60 Minutes TV show to expose the lies and deception of the industry, including the CEOs that he labelled ‘The Seven Dwarves’. The story was later turned into the 1996 movie The Insider starring Russell Crowe as Wigand, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Actor and Director) and five Golden Globes. Asked in an interview to separate fact from fiction in the movie, Wigand replied:

Was I followed by an ex-FBI agent in the employ of Brown &Williamson? Yes. Was there a bullet found in my mailbox in January 1996? Yes. Did someone threaten to harm my family if I told the truth about the inner workings of the tobacco company I worked for? Yes. Did the tobacco industry attempt to undermine my integrity with a 500 page smear campaign? Yes.

The industry took another public relations hit in 2005, with the release of the movie, Thank You for Smoking. It is a satirical comedy that follows the machinations of Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman Nick Naylor, who engages in PR-spin on behalf of cigarettes while trying to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son. Among the more amusing black humour scenes is one where Naylor and his friends – a firearm lobbyist and an alcohol lobbyist – meet every week and jokingly call themselves the ‘Merchants of Death’ or ‘The MOD Squad’.

Of course, Hollywood represents the lighter end of a far more serious and significant anti-tobacco lobby that has built momentum over the past two decades. We have simultaneously seen a United Nations WHO campaign and numerous governments passing legislation restricting smoking in public places and banning nearly all forms of tobacco advertising. The tobacco companies themselves have been scrambling to regain their lost credibility and to present a more responsible face, seemingly with some success.

For example, companies like British American Tobacco (BAT) have engaged in extensive stakeholder consultation exercises and, since 2001, their businesses in more than 40 markets have produced Social Reports, many of which have won awards from organizations as diverse as the United Nations Environment Programme, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants. BAT has also been ranked in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the FTSE Ethical Bonus Index and Business in the Community (BITC) Corporate Responsibility Index, and they funded Nottingham University’s International Centre for CSR. If these accolades and associations are to be believed, ‘responsible tobacco’ is not an oxymoron after all.


This is an extract from Chapter 3 of The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business. For more information and ongoing updates, follow the The Age of Responsibility Blog

Copyright 2010 Wayne Visser

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

CSR and Social Media – Part 2

By Wayne Visser

In my last blog on CSR and Social Media, I wrote about social media still being a “double-edged sword” for CSR. Besides the risks, however, there are also massive opportunities. For instance, the Internet is empowering small traders, promoting greater equity in the supply chain, strongly aided by the new generation of web-enabled mobile phones. China Mobile’s Nongxintong – or farming information service – launched four years ago, which allows 20 million farmers to stay up to date on commodity prices. Other innovations include the Geo Fair Trade research project, which is devising a geotraceability tool for the Fair Trade sector as a way of re-personalising ethics in the Fairtrade supply chain. Meanwhile, Patagonia’s forsaking of GRI-style sustainability reporting in favour on their online Footprint Chronicles®, which map the impacts of their products through the supply chain, perhaps gives a glimpse into the future of transparency.

Looking at the broader trends, a Harvard Business School paper argues that Web 2.0 is causing a distinct shift – from Accountability 1.0 to Accountability 2.0 (Bauer & Murninghan, 2010). Accountability 1.0 is marked by one-way proclamations, campaigns, and PR communications. Companies and stakeholders talk at each other more than with each other. Because it is more about speaking than listening, Accountability 1.0 processes sometimes unintentionally fuel antagonism, confrontation, and mistrust between companies and stakeholders. Accountability 2.0 rests on the assumption of two-way communication, cooperation, and mutual engagement. Accountability 2.0 allows actors in the accountability ecosystem to disagree over substantive issues while engaging in respectful dialogue that seeks mutual understanding and more consensus-oriented solutions.

This is similar to the shift from CSR 1.0 to CSR 2.0, which I first proposed in May 2008, and which explored in more detail in my new book, The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business. In 2010, I wrote, “the transformation of the internet through the emergence of social media networks, user-generated content and open source approaches is a fitting metaphor for the changes business is experiencing as it begins to redefine its role in society.” I argue that CSR 1.0, which tends to be defensive, philanthropic, promotional and management-oriented, suffers from the limitations of being incremental, peripheral and uneconomic. By contrast, CSR 2.0, which I also call ‘systemic CSR’ or ‘radical CSR’, is a more holistic approach, based on the principles of creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity, which tackles the roots of our unsustainable and irresponsible production and consumption practices.


Baue, B. and Murninghan, M. (2010) The Accountability Web: Weaving corporate accountability and interactive technology,Harvard Business School Working Paper No. 58, May.

Visser, W. (2010) The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business, Journal of Business Systems, Governance and Ethics 5(3): 7-22. November, Special Issue on Responsibility for Social and Environmental Issues.

Note: This blog is partly based on research and writing done for the forthcoming edition of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Michael Blowfield on "The Age of Responsibility"

Amongst the advocates of CSR as an innovative management approach, Wayne Visser is a well-known voice. This new book states more clearly than most why CSR should not be dismissed, but would benefit from some serious rethinking.

-- Michael Blowfied, Senior Research Fellow at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University and author of Corporate Responsibility

The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business, by Wayne Visser is available from, and other leading book retailers (ISBN-10: 0470688572, ISBN-13: 978-0470688571).