Business Respect - CSR Dispatches No#153 - 18 May 2009

An email newsletter with news and discussion focusing on corporate social responsibility globally, looking at the companies in the news and the emerging issues. Linked to the website at and produced every two weeks.

This web page provides news stories and articles from the newsletters. Newsletters also include links to features on the internet, Mallen's blog, and other resources.

In this issue, we use the launch of the newly revamped Toyota Prius to ask the question about the real future for personal travel.


Something happened with the last edition. Although all the signs were that the vast majority of people received it as normal, two strange things happened. First, about four days after it was sent, I suddenly got a little flurry of 'out of office' notices indicating that a number had suddenly been delivered. I have no idea what happened there.

And then one person contacted me to say they hadn't received it at all, when they usually did. It was only one person, and normally I would assume their spam filter had gotten overly enthusiastic, but given the other odd happening, I wonder.

Hopefully, it won't repeat itself this time.

One person who did get the newsletter OK was Bernd Nurnberger who wrote: "Thank you for your regular newsletter. While I am more likely to scan news real-time (twitter, newsfeeds etc.) your biweekly is a nice change of pace. CSR slowfood for connoisseurs".

Of course, for the fast movers you always have the option of signing up to the newsfeed and the blog feed on the website, or following me on twitter @mallenbaker for blog notifications or following @businessrespect for news stories. Slowfood or fastfood - have it your way!

And if you want to be able to scan a number of CSR-related blogs - I now have a page that synthesises these. See the links below.

Bernd mostly wrote to raise a different issue, however:

"You may have seen the Reputation Institute ranking on Forbes. The top rated company, Ferrero, produces as one of its top-selling products: Nutella, a chocolaty bread spread my (and many) kids got addicted to. It displaces a lot of healthier breakfast alternatives and is very hard to wean off. The biggest parts in it are refined sugar and saturated fats.

"These fully processed foods contribute to obesity and tooth decay, externalizing cost of repair and inviting long-term health risks, e.g. from amalgam fillings and other medical interventions.

"With this case, I feel the largest personal credibility drop so far in CSR ratings. Based on their social contributions and a customer survey methodology the instiute was rating companies - without looking at their product impacts. This leaves a skewed image, to put it mildly. It amounts to little more than a popularity contest. Ask my kids, they would vote the same. Until the next dentist appointment."

There's a lot in here, but a couple of brief comments.

A reputation index is by definition a popularity contest. If those product impacts don't much affect its reputation amongst the target group, then I guess that's an indicator that tells a truth worth hearing.

What it isn't, of course, is an index of virtue. I'm not aware anyone has produced such an index, and if they did it would be affected by such subjective judgements it wouldn't tell you much of use at all.

Some of the other indices measure management process and commitment. They can also tell you useful things, unrelated to what people think of the product.

Personally, I don't have a problem with Nutella. I can understand that keeping kids onto good diet choices is a struggle, but blaming companies for producing a chocolate spread to the degree that you feel they should be inherently considered irresponsible - well, on that sort of scale there would be hardly any companies left that qualified at all. And that doesn't help us much to move forward either.

But what do other people think?

Useful links:

CSR Fast food

And a synthesis of a bunch of great CSR-relevent blogs

Have a great week.


New Zealand: Supermarkets end cheap booze offers

Two of New Zealand's leading supermarkets, Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises, have ended the practice of selling heavily discounted alcohol following accusations that the practice helps to fuel problem drinking.

KBR and Halliburton accused in investor lawsuit

KBR and Halliburton have been accused of paying bribes in Nigeria, overcharging the US government for services, and a range of other criminal activities in a lawsuit brought by a pension fund shareholder.

Australia: Merck used fake academic journals to promote Vioxx

Documents have been revealed in court which apparently show that Merck created fake medical journals with names such as 'The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine' to publish favourable reports on its painkiller Vioxx.

UK: Government to ban anti-union blacklists

The government has said that it will introduce new laws to ban companies from using secret blacklists to avoid employing people that have been active with trade unions.

Malaysia: Court ruling may support tribes in opposing deforestation

Indigenous tribes on the island of Borneo may be able to stop companies from logging or creating oil palm plantations following a ruling made by the Malaysian Federal Court.

Australia: CPG pulls from Burma airport job

Major engineering firm CPG Corporation has said that it is to withdraw from work it was carrying out on the construction of a modern new airport in Naypyidaw for the military regime.

South Africa: Fruit pickers still short changed by Tesco - campaign group

Tesco has been accused of breaking a promise to improve the pay and conditions of South African fruit pickers by radical UK NGO War on Want. The Guardian newspaper carried out interviews with workers on farms which supply the retailer who said that they were paid South Africa's minimum wage, rather than what the campaigners describe as a 'living wage' - one that would enable them to meet basic needs.

Google targeted for selling ad listings triggered by searches for competitors

A class-action lawsuit has been brought against Google for its practice of sellings ads to companies triggered by searches against the name of their competitors - a practice which some claim is an abuse of trademarks.

Ivory Coast: Toxic waste claims disputed

Trafigura has launched a lawsuit against a British TV news programme for alleging that the company had been involved in one of the biggest toxic waste dumping scandals in the world.


Toyota launches a faster horse

Author: Mallen Baker, dated 18 May 2009

The new Prius hybrid car has been launched. It has a more powerful engine, rooftop solar panels and an even better fuel economy.

Previous edition - No 152 | Following edition - No 154

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