The evidence is compelling that globalisation and technological change are shifting the contours of business and of what companies have to do to stay sustainably competitive. The highlight of BSR’s conference for me was Shimon Peres. Now in his seventies, the former Israeli prime minister spoke impressively of economic development as a key driver of peace, through open borders and trade. “National boundaries are no longer relevant economically or strategically when knowledge is the key.”
The Peres Center for Peace (www.peres-center.co.il) is promoting many initiatives in the economy, agriculture, education and information technology. New industrial parks, desalination plants to overcome water shortages and action to develop tourism (already 12% of global GNP) can be both good business and socially responsible – the “privatisation of peace”.
Aside from peace, the Conference covered a huge range of topics. Unfortunately, one ‘Cinderella’ issue is still apparent. Attendance at the break-out session on disability was poor and elsewhere mention of how companies can meet the interests of people with a disability in the market place and work place was scant.
Likewise, reaching small and medium sized companies remains difficult, although BSR manages to engage both multinational companies and owner-managed businesses (attendance at the Conference is high – over 900 from 32 countries, compared to 650 last year). Owner-managed/controlled firms can have very different values and objectives and BSR has attracted many SMEs not driven by profit-maximisation.
Rising fast up the CSR agenda is the issue of work-life balance. The speakers from Motorola University said that “getting balanced” ranks as the priority in a survey of 100,000 people passing through Motorola U.
The Conference was also attended by several CEOs of major corporations, such as Sir John Browne of BP. Peter Eigen of Transparency International gave a sober analysis of the role of business in combating corruption, while speakers from Bank of Boston and Novo Nordisk stressed the critical need to establish and maintain the trust of different stakeholders.
Good to see was the increasing collaboration between intermediaries around the world, such as PWBLF, EBNSC, BITC and Boston College. This is supported by the growth in information about responsible business practice and good practice databases. BSR has a new Internet-based Global Resources Center (www.bsr.org) which is interconnected with others’ such as EBNSC. The building blocks are fast being put in place to achieve a critical mass internationally.
David Grayson is a director of Business in the Community and was able to attended the BSR Conference, thanks to support from Shell International and British Airways. His own Web site is: www.drfg.demon.co.uk)
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 43 – December, 1998