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Lessons on Stakeholder Engagement from “Anonymous”

| Monday July 25th, 2011 | 0 Comments

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.

Stakeholder engagement is the next big thing in non-financial risk management. One of the biggest issues is accountability. With the advent of social media, companies can leave themselves less vulnerable to attacks on reputation if they are willing to increase transparency. A stunning example of failure to be transparent is at the root of hacker attacks from the group known as “Anonymous.”

The group has launched two new campaigns. They are targeting Monsanto and companies involved with the Alberta Tar Sands.

Monsanto, Tar Sands Under Attack

The Anonymous collective has become increasingly associated with collaborative, international hacktivism: the act of hacking, or breaking into a computer system, for a politically or socially motivated purpose.
Actions credited to “Anonymous” are undertaken by unidentified individuals who apply the Anonymous label as attribution. Monsanto, the giant agri-biotech firm, has already confirmed that it was the victim of a large-scale hacking attack. The group has posted information on 2,500 Monsanto employees and associates. They also targeted the company’s international websites and succeeded in shutting them down for nearly three days. According to CNET:

 “The Anonymous online activist collective said today that it had attacked Web servers of Monsanto and released data on employees to protest the company’s lawsuits against organic dairy farmers for stating on labels that their products don’t contain growth hormones.”

The Canadian Tar Sands Project has been repeatedly called the “most destructive” development on the planet. Many organizations have campaigned to stop it, or scale it back.  Anonymous has already announced an attack on anyone supporting the project. According to the the hackers:

“This week, activists are gathering along U.S. Highway 12 in Montana to protest the transformation of a serene wilderness into an industrial shipping route, bringing ‘megaloads’ of refinery equipment to the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada. Anonymous will not stand by idly and let these environmental atrocities continue. This is not the clean energy of the future that we are being promised.”

Response From Booz Allen Hamilton

Well before the Anonymous hacks, military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton was also a victim of a similar attack by the same group. After the attack, Booz Allen Hamilton released a statement saying:

“Our policy and security practice is generally not to comment on such matters; however, given the publicity about this event, we believe it is important to set out our preliminary understanding of the facts. We are communicating with our clients and analyzing the nature of this attack and the data files affected. We maintain our commitment to protect our clients and our firm from illegal thefts of information.”

These hacks cause thousands of dollars of damage, as the company has to shift to repair breached security systems and protect workers.

How different would it have played out if Monsanto and the folks operating the Canadian Tar Sands had engaged their stakeholders with the same degree of transparency before the attack? Certainly these companies were targeted primarily due to their nature of business. It is also certain that the nature of their business involves breaches on what is generally accepted to be the code of CSR and stakeholder engagement. These companies have left themselves open to millions of dollars of damage simply by not being transparent and engaging with the stakeholder about their activities.

The group of stakeholders that are most affected by the activities of these businesses is the general public. In the case of Monsanto it is the farmers and in the case of tar sands, there has been a reported increase in carcinogens which directly affects the health of the people in the local area. These communities are certainly owed an explanation by corporations on the scale and scope of their operations. Corporations can no longer do as they please which is the point that “Anonymous” is trying to drive home.

Image Credit: Anonymous flag, public domain

 

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