This week Steve Jobs announced he is taking a break as Apple CEO for health reasons. News stories have criticised the company for its environmental record:
'Apple isn't as transparent as it could be when it comes to the effects its suppliers have on the environment and worker safety, according to a Chinese environmental group. The Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) published a report (Chinese-language PDF) on Thursday ranking Apple and 28 other companies when it comes to taking responsibility for supplier conduct, with Apple coming in dead last on the list.'
'An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the report or its contents, but said: “Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply chain. Apple requires suppliers to commit to our comprehensive Supplier Code of Conduct as a condition of their contract with us. We drive compliance with the Code through a rigorous monitoring program, including factory audits, corrective action plans, and verification measures.” '
Large companies are criticised for their environmental record, their use of sweatshop labour to produce cheap goods and boost profit margins. Since the financial crisis of 2008 there is increasing negative publicity about firms that outsource jobs overseas destroying Western communities in the process. Equity finance specialists that buy established brands but set up a post office box HQ in Lichtenstein (thus avoiding tax) are also under scrutiny.
Michael Porter is famous for his work on strategy and value chains. He now argues that global competitiveness involves creating shared value. This means taking corporate social responsibility into the core of the business, rather than making donations to charity or using biodegradable plastic bags. He claims that this type of cosmetic gesture won't work anymore. He doesn't believe that governments can drive changes in consumer behaviour to improve health, for example, but that corporations should take this on, because they have sophisticated marketing tools. Part of his argument is broadcast in the following video and more recent comments (linked to healthy consumption) have been aired on BBC radio 4.
'I believe that businesses acting as businesses, not as charitable givers, are arguably the most powerful force for addressing many of the pressing issues of society. We've got to do things in running our core businesses that maximise the positive benefits for the community and for society. And guess what... many of those things are going to advance the core agenda of the firm.'
Bloggers and Wikileaks may be part of the groundswell that is having a significant impact on politicians, companies and academics like Michael Porter.
I am sceptical about the impact of his ideas beyond transferring the 'healthy eating' drive from government to corporations.