Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘UN Convention Against Corruption’

Businesses all over the world chase profits, and rightly so. However, when they do so at the cost of the planet we depend upon or by usurping the legitimate rights of communities they operate in, there is a cause for concern.

All professionals who care for probity in corporate lives, stand for sustainable living and detest relentless pursuit of profits would heartily welcome the recent initiative taken by some of our far-sighted business and community leaders. These leaders have pledged themselves to work on an alternate paradigm for business which puts people and planet alongside profits.

Planet, People and Profits

Known as The B Team, the initiative is a global nonprofit venture co-founded by Sir Richard Branson, and Jochen Zeitz in October 2012. It brings together international activists and business leaders to “make business work better”. The “B” in The B Team represents the need for a “Plan B” for Business. By implication, “Plan A” is the current framework in which corporates are driven by commercial greed alone.

Branson has stated that business has had many positive impacts on the world but needs to move away from a focus on immediate profit to one where it invests and operates for the long-term good of people and the planet. The B Team intends to achieve this vision by dividing an Agenda into Challenges, which will be acted upon and implemented by B Leaders in their own organizations.

Upon its formation, the group assembled a collection of young influencers and gathered feedback on where and how The B Team could have the most impact and pinpoint the roadblocks that prevent businesses from contributing to the greater good.

The B Leaders

On June 13th, 2013, at an event in London, the full list of sixteen B Leaders was announced:

  • Sir Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group comprising around 400 of its business entities, and Co Chair of The B Team.
  • Jochen Zeitz, Director of Kering and Chairman of its board’s Sustainable Development Committee; Co-Chair, The B Team. He has worked on the first-ever environmental profit and loss (EP&L) for Puma.
  • Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland is an international leader in sustainable development and public health. Under her leadership, the Brundtland Commission had defined the word ‘sustainable development’ in the 1980s. She served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway (1981, 1986–89, 1990–96), and has served as the Director General of WHO. She now serves as a Special Envoy on Climate Change for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
  • Shari Arison, the owner of the Arison Group, is an America-born Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist and is one of Israel’s wealthiest women. She is the owner of several business companies, the largest among them being Bank Hapoalim. She also manages several philanthropic organizations which are subsidiaries of The Ted Arison Family Foundation.
  • Kathy Bushkin Calvin is President and CEO, United Nations Foundation. She joined the Foundation in 2003, following a diverse career in politics, journalism, public relations and business.
  • Arianna Huffington, Chair, President & Editor In Chief, The Huffington Post Media Group, is a Greek-American author and syndicated columnist. She is best known for her news website The Huffington Post.
  • Dr. Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim is a Sudanese-British mobile communications entrepreneur and billionaire. He worked for several other telecommunications companies before founding Celtel. After selling Celtel in 2005 for $3.4 billion, he set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to encourage better governance in Africa. He also created the Mo Ibrahim Index, to evaluate nations’ performance.
  • Guilherme Peirão Leal is a Brazilian billionaire entrepreneur. He is the co-chairman of the Board of Directors of, and owns a 25% stake in, Natura, Brazil’s leading manufacturer and marketer of skin care, solar filters, cosmetics, perfumes and hair care products.
  • Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and chairman, of global telecommunications group, Econet Wireless. He currently serves on a number of international boards including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Advisory Board of the Counsel on Foreign Relations, the Africa Progress Panel, AGRA, the UN Sec General’s Advisory Boards for Sustainable Energy, and for Education.
  • Dr.  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a globally renowned Nigerian economist best known for her two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria and for her work at the World Bank, including several years as one of its Managing Directors (October 2007–July 2011).
  • François-Henri Pinault, is a French business person and the CEO of Kering. He is the son of the company’s founder, businessman Francois Pinault. Often nicknamed ‘FHP’, he is also Director of Financière Pinault, as well as the President of Artémis’ executive board.
  • Paulus Gerardus Josephus Maria Polman is the CEO of the multinational Anglo-Dutch food and detergent company Unilever. He is committed to transforming Unilever, its customers as well as supply chain partners, into strict followers of sustainability.
  • Mary Therese Winifred Robinson served as the seventh and the first female President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and as the UN Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Robinson returned to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and has set up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be ‘a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized across the world.’
  • Ratan Tata, KBE, an Indian business person of the Tata Group, a Mumbai-based salt to software conglomerate. He was the Chairman of the group from 1991-2012. Since 2012 he holds the position of Chairman Emeritus of the group which is an honorary and advisory position. The Tata Group and its companies & enterprises are perceived to represent India’s best-known global brand within and outside the country as per an ASSOCHAM survey.
  • Zhang Yue, Chairman and Founder, Broad Group of China, which is one of the few Chinese manufacturing companies that has been widely recognized for its green policies and commitment to countering climate change.
  • Professor Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. As a professor of economics, he developed the concepts of micro-credit and micro-finance. These loans are given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans.

Team B therefore draws upon a wide array of skills, whether from business or from social activism side. There is a geographical diversification in the choices made, thereby bringing on board a broad spectrum of regional perspectives.

Challenges Aplenty

All the members want to first start practicing before they start preaching. In other words, they intend to start making changes at their own organizations first and then start motivating others to follow suit.

In an interview on the website of B Team, Ratan Tata touches upon the need to curb corruption in the corporate world. He also points out that 66% of the stake in Tata Sons, the holding company of the group, is held by Tata trusts which eventually plough the earnings back into charity. There is increasing realization within the group that the trusts’ activities should now spread globally, no longer restricted to India alone.

In the days to come, one would watch with considerable interest the way things shape up for the Team B. One hopes that fostering of values at the work place would be taken up as a serious challenge, as would be the task of developing future leaders driven by a strong moral compass.

Green Shoots of Cleaner Businesses

In a dismal scenario where not a week passes without us hearing of some corporate scam or other and where the memory of Lehman Brothers is still fresh in our minds, some recent initiatives sound like green shoots which have the potential of changing the business scenario by modifying the ways in which profits are pursued, as also by utilizing the returns from business for the common good.

Formation of The Team B is one such laudable initiative. In 2006, the World Economic Forum launched its Partnering Against Corruption Initiative. It continues to make progress by roping in more and more corporates from across the world. Earlier, in 2003, UN members had signed its Convention against Corruption. As of June 2013, there are 167 countries, including the EU, which are a party to the same.

If these initiatives bear fruit, most responsible corporates the world over would perhaps be e-publishing their EP&Ls in not too distant a future. More significantly, we shall have the collective satisfaction of handing over a healthier planet to the coming generations!

(Related blogs that you might find of interest on this site:

  1. Getting a Moral Compass would be a Sound Business Strategy for India Inc.’ published on December 9, 2012.
  2. Bidding an adieu to Mr. Ratan Tata’ published on December 27, 2012
  3. What would our Business Leaders be like in 2025?’ published on January 27, 2013.
  4. Combating the Cancer of Corruption’ published on April 4, 2013.)

 

Read Full Post »

Even though quite a few business houses from India had joined the World Economic Forum’s Initiative against Corruption in November 2012, not a single Indian company has so far become a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption. This is deeply regrettable and projects the image of a corrupt business environment in India. It discourages foreign investments and erodes the brand value of Indian companies. In the absence of a level playing field, businesses shy away from potential opportunities. Mr. Ratan Tata’s lament on not having able to enter the field of aviation quite some time back is still fresh in our minds.

Companies can never be faulted for hiring Vice Presidents who are highly virtuous, law abiding and disciplined souls. Understandably, only those who follow high ethical standards and are in sync with the core values of the company would make the grade. However, in quite a few organizations, such qualities are merely necessary but not sufficient. When it comes to handling external agencies, incumbents who can either bend a few rules or interpret the fine print of law creatively to add to the bottom line of the company alone would be rated high and viewed with awe and reverence.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Scenario

In other words, VPs should not only be ‘Virtue’ Presidents, but should also possess the flexibility of doubling up as ‘Vice’ Presidents while dealing with liaison matters. This stems from the core belief that businesses cannot be run successfully without back-stage dealing and wheeling, obviously with the aid of what many would euphemistically refer to as ‘appeasement initiatives’.

Appeasement of any kind is invariably geared towards either tweaking government policy to suit the ends of business, as also for specific time bound gains in the forms of large contracts, largesse, concessions and indirect favors. Organizations believe that advance knowledge of government plans, policies and rules is a great tool to deliver results to shareholders who not only look for long-term capital gains but also for better results quarter after quarter.

Sleeping with the enemy

If a professional gets stuck with an assignment which involves corrupt practices which do not match his or her personal core values, one option would be to escalate the issue. This would ensure that the matter is reviewed at a higher level in the organization.

If this option turns out to be impractical for some reasons – whether professional or personal – another one would be to start actively searching for career options with companies which value ethical practices in business!

A much better option, however, could be to work for a change from within the organization. This could be done either by presenting alternative business plans to management or by recommending an approach whereby the company could sidestep the issue by projecting its innate strengths in an aggressive manner. Let us consider some of the tactics in a professional’s arsenal which could be used to combat corruption in business deals.

Tackling Business Competition in the Market Place

The best strategy for a business to have is one which is based on avoiding government doles and concessions. By focusing on core competence and by fighting out the competition in the market place, the business can reduce its dependence on a wide section of the government policies. Surely this calls for rare qualities of leadership, statesmanship and openness. Inviting the government to play favorites and to resolve competitive business issues that are better dealt with in the market place could be a boon as well as a bane. However, this may not be possible in industries which are highly regulated.

Operating in an Unethical Environment

If one has absolutely no other option but to operate in an unethical business environment, the following steps might help to avoid corrupt practices.

  1. Building trust: An honest and humble approach, backed by a long relationship built on explaining the contribution of business can and does work. Investments made, employment opportunities offered and revenue generated are a few of the things that can be leveraged to secure favorable decisions without indulging in corruption.
  2. Reputation travels ahead: The fact that a business house does not stoop down to corrupt practice is generally well-known. It is a strategic advantage to have a squeaky clean image which ensures that a request from such an outfit is treated with the respect it deserves.
  3. Investing in underground cables: It never pays to flaunt one’s relationships. By keeping them underground, one not only wards off competition but also ensures that in case of a change of regime, the damage is minimal.
  4. Diversifying one’s liaison ‘assets’: One learns to be friendly with political opponents. In TN, one needs to be friendly with both the Dravidian parties. In WB, it is tough even if both CPM and TMC are one’s friends. In Maharashtra, Congress, NCP and both the variants of Sena must all like one for one’s business to make some headway.                                                                           Business history teaches us the same lesson. In the pre-independence era, Tatas were funding Gokhale and engaging with the nationalist elements while British officers retired from ICS were being employed by the group. JRD had excellent personal rapport with Nehru. G D Birla had been corresponding with Winston Churchill for a long time. Churchill’s dislike for Mahatma Gandhi was well-known; even though he was being supported by Birlas. They gave a job to one of his sons. It is a fact that he was assassinated while staying as a guest at Birla House in Delhi.
  5. Be courteous, humble but firm: Most government officers take a dim view of business executives. Firstly, they are not viewed as being dependable. Secondly, they are thought to be paid exorbitantly high and generate a feeling of awe as well as jealousy in a public servant. Now, if one walks in with one’s latest cell phone and/or tablet in his office and starts showing off the latest Rolex watch, one would be surely shown the door promptly.

Setting the Moral Compass Right

The UN Convention against Corruption is a laudable initiative and deserves to be given a serious thought by our present day business leaders. It binds an organization to (a) reducing corruption risk in procurement and contracts, (b) engaging in competitive and transparent procurement processes and (c) disclosing all payments made in procurement deals. The global panel already has names such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Siemens and Accenture.

It is not that India does not have shining examples of groups which have demonstrated the strategic advantage of pursuing business goals while staying the ethical course. The Tata group has been at it for the past 120 years or so. Liberalization of the economy appears to have thrown up quite a few scams, but companies like Infosys keep our hopes alive. As per Elaine Dezenski, senior director at WEF and the head of PACI, Infosys, Godrej Industries, Bajaj Auto, Genpact, Wipro and M&M are already signatories to the initiative.

As argued in an earlier blog (Getting a Moral Compass Would be a Sound Business Strategy for India Inc, published on December 9, 2012), companies in India would do well to seize the opportunity to clean up their business deals. A beginning can be made by persuading major political parties to make their funding transparent. Those in real estate business can come out with a time bound plan to rationalize stamp duties all across India, thereby making their deals more transparent.

Hopefully, progressive companies in India would see the strategic benefits of committing themselves to such initiatives soon enough!

Read Full Post »