How much of a role should business play in tackling global questions such as climate change, unemployment, restoring trust in the aftermath of the financial crisis and distributing international aid? What is the nature and extent of the private sector’s responsibility in resolving these issues? At what point should corporations step alongside government and help shoulder some of the burden? These questions, which go to the very heart of defining corporate citizenship and corporate social responsibility, are some of the issues that will be discussed at the Economist’s 2010 Corporate Citizenship Conference kicking off this week. In light of the financial crisis, this year’s convocation will rightfully explore restoring trust and increasing transparency in the financial markets and job creation, in addition to balance in international aid and post-Copenhagen strategies for moving forward.
The conference line-up features a veritable who’s who of big names in sustainability and leading thinkers from the public sector including: Diana Taylor managing director of Wolfensohn & Co. and former president of the World Bank; US Department of Labor deputy secretary Seth Harris; Loews Hotels chairman and CEO Jonathan M. Tisch; and Steve Case, co-founder of America Online and chairman and CEO of Revolution. A highlight will be a conversation with President Bill Clinton who will likely provide an update on the Clinton Global Initiative.
One of the can’t-miss panels will explore morals and the role of corporate citizenship. It pairs executives from Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble with Dr. Chris MacDonald, ethicist from St. Mary’s University and author of The Business Ethics Blog, and Robert A.G. Monks, principal of Lens Governance Advisors. A shareholder activist and one of the founders of the field of corporate governance, Monks maintains that corporations now are so powerful they threaten both democracy and capitalism itself.
Another presenter I can’t wait to hear is Dr. Walter E. Massey, chairman of Bank of America, which received a $138 billion rescue package in January 2009. It will be revealing to hear him discuss that and BoA’s recently-announced $150 million settlement with the SEC for failing to disclose extraordinary financial losses at Merrill Lynch prior to a shareholder vote to approve a merger between the two companies. The court determined that the bank failed to adequately disclose bonuses and losses, but that it was unclear whether the lack of disclosure resulted from negligence or intentional fraud.
These in-depth panel discussions will be interspersed with briefer “moments of insight” from leading thinkers such as Jeffrey Hollender, chief inspired protagonist and co-founder of Seventh Generation; Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s; Scott Griffith, chairman and CEO of Zipcar; and Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org.
I will be writing from the conference starting next Monday and I invite your comments on what looks to be a stimulating agenda. When it comes to balancing the roles of business and government, everyone has an opinion. We’d like to hear yours.