You've Got the CEO's Ear, What are You Going to Say?

<p>It is happening more and more. CEOs and strategic leaders in companies are becoming more and more committed to sustainability as a business strategy. After years of &lsquo;banging our heads against the wall&rsquo; suddenly our advice and counsel is in demand &ndash; high demand. And that brings a whole host of other questions to the fore.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Suppose that you are the chief sustainability officer (and wouldn&rsquo;t that be a coveted title?) for a major company. You know that the CEO is committed to being a socially responsible player. A quick search of the internet reveals many companies (including but not limited to) Royal Philips, Sony, Google, Hershey, Walt Disney Company, Corning, Cisco and Sodexo that have created formal requirements for their suppliers (codes of conduct) when it comes to sustainability. These companies are accepting responsibility beyond their own behavior, using their economic power to support companies that share their values for sustainability, and extending their influence to encourage that behavior in others.<br /> <br /> Faced with this reality, the CEO calls you to their office and asks you to weigh the risks and opportunities and develop a recommendation whether and how to develop a supplier code of conduct... <br /> #break# <br /> First, you check to see if there is a business case for doing so. Your sales and marketing people tell you that your customers &ndash; on whom you rely to sell your products - are increasingly aware and are voting with their dollars. Some are coming to the realization that by patronizing your company they are supporting economies and even political systems that may contradict their own personal values. While there has been no talk of official &lsquo;boycotts&rsquo;, some are expressing reservations about patronizing stores that they feel do not share their values.<br /> <br /> But, not so fast! In addition to the overarching question of what responsibility companies have (if any) to use their influence to change the world, you must also consider if the well intentioned desire to reward behavior usurps the rights of indigenous peoples and cultures around the world.<br /> <br /> When you reach out to your colleagues at the beginning of the supply chain &ndash; on whom you rely for quality products at a competitive price - they ask you how they can walk the line between being respectful of the local cultures, societies and value systems and conforming to the values of customers who have differing values and cultures and economic circumstances. You quickly discover that imposing even the most basic values (things that seem quite &lsquo;safe&rsquo; and universal) causes them great concern. They rely on the goodwill of their host countries who see a huge potential for destabilizing entire economies, social, religious and political structures &ndash; all in the name of &lsquo;doing the right thing&rsquo;.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> In many ways you, and the company, are in the same quandary. As a trusted advisor you suddenly are thrust into a position where you have more power and influence than before. The company, by virtue of its buying power, now has power and influence as well.<br /> <br /> So, what advice would you offer? (Select your choice and we&rsquo;ll report on the results):<br /> <br /> a)&nbsp;Advise against a supplier code of conduct<br /> b)&nbsp;Work with your suppliers to develop a customized set of standards that reflects your company values and their local realities<br /> c)&nbsp;Provide an advantage (preferred supplier status) to companies that meet or commit to an existing set of standards (i.e. UN Global Compact)<br /> d)&nbsp;Require companies to make a commitment and report on progress toward a set of standards <br /> e)&nbsp;Require suppliers who wish to do business with your company to meet a set of standards (minimum requirements)<br /> f)&nbsp;Present a summary of the pro&rsquo;s and con&rsquo;s and ask the CEO to make the final decision<br /> g)&nbsp;Other: please be specific</p>