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09.29.2010 - 10:15AM

Category: Corporate Social Responsibility

The Corporate Responsibility Code Book. Revised Second Edition

Index

The Corporate Responsibility Code Book. Revised Second Edition

By Deborah Leipziger

Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing ISBN 978-1-906093-39-6

By CSRwire Contributing Writer, Elaine Cohen

Description

The field of corporate responsibility and sustainability has changed radically since the publication of the first edition of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book in late 2003. This second edition of the book reflects these changes, with the inclusion of a raft of new initiatives, revisions reflecting the improvements made to many others and the elimination of several initiatives that have been outgrown by developments.

The second edition includes:

  • New initiatives such as the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, the Equator Principles, ISO 26000, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative;
  • Updated versions of the UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative;
  • The addition of codes and principles that have become more relevant, such as the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/Aids;
  • The description of linkages between initiatives and the complex web of alliances that have grown in the field of CR as it has matured.

The Corporate Responsibility Code Book is a guide for companies trying to understand the landscape of corporate responsibility and searching for their own, unique route towards satisfying diverse stakeholders.

Commentary

You work in the field of CSR or sustainability. Do you need the Code Book? Let's check. Here is a little quiz:

    1. Launched in 1977, whose Declaration of Principles focusing on Human Rights is Tripartite?

    2. Which draft CR Standard defines "stakeholders" differently to the traditional definition of those who impact or are impacted by an organization?

    3. Which framework, developed in Sweden, addresses the systematic causes of environmental problems and saved US$120 million for Interface, which was the first US company to implement the framework?

    4. Which set of principles, developed in 1989, cannot be unilaterally endorsed by a company but require a two way process of dialogue and engagement?

    5. Which global standard for transparency addresses both governments and companies?

The answers are at the bottom of this review. Got fewer than 5 correct? You need The Code Book. Got 5 out of 5 correct? You still need The Code Book. These 5 questions are just some of the interesting data-bytes you can find in the second edition of the 535 page The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, revised in 2010, to include new initiatives such as the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and King III, the King code on Corporate Governance issued in September 2009. But the value of this book is not in these individual references to individual codes. The true value is the entire collection, all in one place, of the leading initiatives which serve as a basis for the way in which businesses approach, mainly voluntarily, the whole field of CSR and sustainability. All the codes mentioned in the book are reproduced in full in 10 sections: global initiatives, human rights, labor rights, health issues, combating corruption, company codes of conduct, sectorial and regional agreements, and codes focused on implementation standards. Distilling thousands of codes and standards into 34 key tools, this book is a unique reference manual, categorizing the codes and frameworks by focus (process or outcome), by method of development (unilateral, bilateral, multilateral), by scope (key issues such as corporate governance, environment and human rights), by stakeholder focus (trade unions, governments, supply chain, etc.), by sector and by region. Each code, standard or framework, presented is preceded by a discussion which typically includes the background and context in which the code was developed, its strengths and weaknesses, the companies to which the code applies, the questions the code addresses, and insights relating to the "promise and the challenge" of each. Whilst mostly quite brief, particularly in the analysis of strengths and weaknesses, these commentaries provide important insights for those working with the codes or considering adopting one framework or another.

Such codes have value beyond the written documents that we can read in The Code Book. Author Deborah Leipziger wites: "The codes and principles described in this work have served to institutionalise dialogue and create for a discussion among actors who had never been in discussion of between whom there was hostility." The process of developing such codes, as anyone who works in or with organizations knows, is just as important as the finished document. Dialogue, engagement, new ways of thinking, generating consensus, working through the detailed nuances of definitions, approaches and objectives are all in themselves valuable actions that advance the cause of CSR and sustainable practices in business. The new ISO26000 draft standard, for example, has taken 5 years to develop with 92 countries and 42 organizations participating in the process. Whilst I am not convinced this particular final product actually brings any new value to our body of knowledge, I am sure these discussions have served to reinforce understanding and commitment.

In reviewing this book, I cannot help but look beyond the codes and frameworks themselves. The codification and standardization of CSR and sustainability is only a first step. The big leap comes when these codes are widely subscribed to by their target audience and are effectively implemented. The Code Book refers to some of the ways in which some of these codes have gained critical mass, for examples, the UN Global Compact or the Global Reporting Initiative, which have become truly global tools. However, any company adopting any such code needs robust internal processes and strategies, policies and plans to uphold the commitments that adherence to the codes require. Deborah Leipziger discusses in The Code Book the challenges of actual implementation of frameworks such as the UNGC, the GRI and the Equator Principles, and the criticisms that have been leveled at these frameworks because of companies who declare support for these processes and do not follow through. Over 1,000 companies have been delisted from the UNGC for non-compliance with the communication requirements. Some of the codes have overseeing or enforcement mechanisms, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which requires an Independent Validator in each country; or the OECD Guidelines for MNEs, which require an NCP (national contact point) in each member state. I suspect codes that have been developed with a high degree of multi-lateralism and partnership stand a higher chance of ensuring practical effective application because of the common commitment and visibility of such efforts. Some evolve into leading industry standards such as the principles and criteria for sustainable fishing from the Marine Stewardship Council; however, overall, the cynicism these codes must often contend is less of a statement about the codes themselves, and more about the quality of implementation. Individual corporate codes of conduct (two examples are highlighted in The Code Book include the Shell General Business Principles and the Johnson & Johnson Credo), valuable and necessary though they may be, are often not applied with enough downstream organizational thinking or rigour of external verification that facilitate making these codes a reality in business and drivers of required transformation. According to Deborah Leipziger: "Without credible systems for verification and certification, stakeholders may become increasingly cynical about corporate responsibility." The value of this book, then, is in assisting organizations to understand and assess the relevant frameworks for their business, industry, sector, region or issue at hand. The value for people and planet is when companies adhere to these codes in a systematic and consistent way.

I cannot begin to imagine the amount of work author Deborah Leipziger invested in order to bring The Code Book and its revised second edition to life. It is truly a masterpiece in the landscape of CSR and sustainability reference books. This is a book which will never move out of arms reach, as far as I am concerned. Please don't ask to borrow my copy.

Answers to Quiz:

About Elaine Cohen

Elaine Cohen is a Sustainability Consultant and Reporter at Beyond Business and blogger on sustainability reporting and author of CSR for HR: A necessary business partnership to advance responsible business practices.

For more information on The Corporate Responsibility Code Book [2nd edn] and options to purchase, please visit CSRwire's Books Page.

This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.

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