Today, when you talk about coding, the younger among us immediately click to coding: “the process of designing, writing, testing, debugging, troubleshooting and maintaining the source code of computer programs”. But in the context of CSR and sustainability, we have a type of coding that is just a little different.
If you work for a large company, the chances are you have a Code of Conduct, a Code of Ethics, a Code of Commitment, a Code of Behavior or some sort of Code that frames the way the company behaves and expects its employees to align with. In addition, your company probably subscribes to one or more external codes or standards or frameworks that provide structure and even external validation of your company’s activities in the field of corporate responsibility and sustainability.
Did you ever stop to think just how many codes, standards and frameworks are actually out there? (Don’t get me started, that’s another conversation.) But yes, there are LOADS. And even more that. This was the case more than ten years ago and it’s still the case at present. That’s why, when Deborah Leipziger came along in 2003 and provided a comprehensive guide to the most relevant and useful codes, standards and frameworks in The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, it was an iconic piece of work that would be invaluable as companies started the process of navigating where to hang their hat as they develop a responsible business strategy, or understand what it is that makes one code or another more or less helpful or relevant. Recently the Corporate Responsibility Code Book celebrated the publication of its third edition.
Why does a competitor align with SA8000, for example, where another competitor prefers to use the ETI Base Code? What might we learn from the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, even if we are operating in a different sector? What are framework agreements and what role do they play in changing the way business gets done? Do the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights actually have any relevance for our company and why? Today, the third edition of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book is updated to include new initiatives such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Gender Equality Principles and updates to the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines, the OECD Guidelines for MNEs, Social Accountability 8000 and many others. Similarly, some initiatives which that have been overtaken by new frameworks and are therefore no longer relevant have been removed.
While it’s probably only geeks like me who actually like to read a book like The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, it’s usefulness for anyone working in this space cannot be underestimated. And because, as a geek, I find this so fascinating, I couldn’t resist talking to Deborah Leipziger, the code guru, to hear a little more from behind the code scenes.
advises companies, governments and UN agencies on corporate responsibility and sustainability. She has advised leading multinational companies on strategic and supply chain issues, as well as a wide range of CR initiatives, including the UN’s Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, the UN Environment Programme, the Human Rights Impact Assessment, and Social Accountability International. Ms Leipziger is a Senior Fellow in Social Innovation at the Lewis Institute at Babson, and has taught at the Bard MBA in Sustainability, at the Simmons School of Management, and at Hult International Business School. She is a co-author several books and has served as a member of several boards including the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investment for Aviva (UK), the Center for Ethics at Manhattanville College (USA) and the International Board of Ethos (Brazil). check out her website:here
The Code Book is somewhat of an icon in sustainability and the general body of knowledge available. Who actually uses the Code Book and what’s its value to them?
Deborah: The Code Book is used in many classrooms to teach about sustainability and CSR. I use it to teach my MBA students at Bard. I have heard from many professors that it makes for a very good syllabus and complete course materials. Many college libraries also purchase The Code Book. In addition, companies and law firms also purchase The Code Book for their libraries.
What makes for a good Code of Conduct?
Deborah: The best standards and codes build upon the knowledge and value of normative and foundation standards, such as those developed by multilateral organizations like the International Labor Organization. A good code of conduct should be dynamic and flexible, while at the same time having staying power. Over the past 25 years, I have worked with many codes and standards. The best codes and guidelines are clear and concise and written with implementation in mind. Strong support from stakeholders is also essential.
In your introduction, you refer to a new emerging vocabulary as an essential part of fostering corporate responsibility. What are the key changes in vocabulary and why is it essential for us to adapt?
A wonderful question! One of the most lasting contributions of codes and standards is their ability to create clear definitions in a complex field. Guidelines and codes have shaped a lexicon of terms around CSR and sustainability. For example, SA8000 lays out definitions of child labor and trafficking which are helpful for stakeholders and companies. These definitions provide companies with concrete parameters. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights uses the terms “irremediable” to define human rights abuses for which there is no remedy, such as a lost childhood spent in hard labor. There are abuses for which there is a remedy, such as providing back pay for wages which were withheld. A few years ago, I was asked to advise Aviva plc on a project they were working on with Forum for the Future to create scenarios for what a sustainable economy might look like in 2050. My reaction was that we do not yet have the vocabulary to imagine and create a sustainable economy in the coming decades. I tackle this in a book I co-wrote with a team at Babson: Creating Social Value: A Guide for Leaders and Change Makers
, which came out in 2013. One of the paradigm shifts that I see is companies working to promote social value creation, which includes solving social problems while also creating financial value. Companies need to think beyond being compliant with laws and standards, and towards creating social value through social innovation.
Your last chapter talks about pathways to convergence with ISEAL as an example which brings NGOs together under a broad framework of shared principles. However, what’s the evidence that any sort of convergence in the private sector is actually happening? It seems that the world of codes, frameworks, and standards is only becoming more complex.
The ISEAL Alliance
has brought coherence to a wide range of social and environmental certification systems, creating common frameworks. This has helped to bring credibility and efficiency to certification and labeling standards from organics to fair trade. At the same time, there are many new systems emerging many of which are complex. I think complexity and convergence can coexist.
Did you consider the standard of standards, the emerging GISR? Do you expect GISR to influence the way Codes are used?
I have been following the progress of the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings
(GISR) for many years. Allen White and I worked together when we were both in the Netherlands and he has been a speaker in my classes for many years, which has allowed me to follow the progress of the GISR first hand. I think the GISR will indeed have an impact on how codes and standards evolve. Perhaps it will be included in a future version of The Code Book.
What’s your position on the frameworks used for inclusion in major stock exchange sustainability rankings for example DJSI?
Many companies use DJSI
as a framework to drive strategy and disclosure. I think the Dow Jones Sustainability Index is an excellent tool for companies. It helps drive performance and serves as a driver for companies to excel. I consider stock exchanges to be pivotal in driving change in the corporate sector. I hope to see more rankings like the DJSI emerge.
What was your personal biggest insight as you were preparing the third edition?
Deborah: I was struck by how much membership has grown for the guidelines and codes covered in Code Book III. When I first began tracking codes and standards, many of the initiatives had a dozen or so members. Now initiatives encompass broad networks of companies. I am also struck by how the field has evolved from aspirational initiatives to complex and brilliant initiatives like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Guiding Principles constitute a significant contribution to the field of corporate responsibility, defining the role of the state and of companies in addressing human rights and the need to provide access to remedy when human rights have been abused. The Guiding Principles provide a useful tool for companies working to complete due diligence and to assess where their operations, products, or services might have a potential adverse impact.
Will there be a Code Book IV?
Deborah: It’s not in the works right now, but it is a possibility. There is a great deal of interest from emerging economies and Code Book III was launched in New Delhi.
Thanks to Deborah for these insights. Happy coding!