January 22, 2004
Book Review--The Corporate Responsibility Code Book
by William Baue
This book is no thriller, but it is indispensable for anyone seeking to grasp the complex landscape
of the multitudinous tools that measure corporate social responsibility.
Corporate Responsibility Code Book is not a light read, neither in the sense of its
physical heft nor in terms of the import of its contents. The book weighs so much because it
reprints the complete texts of 32 of the most important corporate social responsibility (CSR)
principles, codes, norms, and standards. For those who work in the CSR field, having those texts
in one place is reason enough to buy the book.
The very existence of 32 CSR tools,
which author Deborah Leipziger admits represents the tip of the CSR iceberg, boggles the mind and
requires a book such as this one to map out the CSR landscape before one could possibly navigate
it. Ms. Leipziger points out that even the semantic landscape of CSR is still shifting, with
consensus on the field's standard terminology yet to be reached. Her choice of the more general
term "corporate responsibility" (CR) over CSR illustrates this issue. Third, even the terms
"principles," "codes," "norms," and "standards" are commonly misunderstood and misapplied, so Ms.
Leipziger's explanation of the distinctions between them is invaluable.
compilation of the most significant CSR tools is important, Ms. Leipziger's evaluation of each
one's "strengths and weaknesses" represents the book's other primary strength.
example, in evaluating the United Nations Global Compact, an
initiative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to address environmental and human rights issues, she
summarizes its praises and then pinpoints its criticisms as exemplified by Nestle (ticker: NESN.SW).
"[C]ritics are concerned that companies with poor social and environmental records will be able
to benefit from their association with the Compact, in effect 'blue-washing' their image," Ms.
Leipziger writes. "For example, Nestle, which has long been criticized for marketing infant
formula to mothers in the developing world, has joined the Compact."
"This presents a
dilemma in that UNICEF, a UN body, has been
one of the critics of Nestle, but it also represents an opportunity for dialogue," Ms. Leipziger
In assessing the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a voluntary initiative promoting corporate
transparency on environmental and social issues, Ms. Leipziger again points out its benefits before
identifying potential pitfalls.
"Many companies find the large number of indicators within
the GRI framework daunting," she writes. "Reporting can also be expensive, especially for large
The costs of reporting in 2001 were $1 million for Rio Tinto (RTP), $350,000 for
Ford (F), and
$240,000 for Agilent Technologies (A), according to the book, and
these costs do not even include data collection and verification.
Amongst the many CSR
tools are two codes of individual corporations--the Business Principles of Shell (RD) and the "Credo"
of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). This inclusion distinguishes
these two companies as forerunners in CSR. However, Ms. Leipziger does not expand on the downsides
of these codes, which could be considered a weakness of her book. One would expect her to mention
the problem of corporations failing to live up to their own stated codes, but she remains mum on
this thorny issue.
Another potential weakness of the book is Ms. Leipzinger's objectivity.
She waxes at length about the strengths of Social
Accountability 8000, a labor rights certification that she helped design, though to be fair she
does list some weaknesses as well. In contrast, she remains terse about the strengths of the AccountAbility 1000
Framework, an overarching framework for corporate responsibility.
Readers would also
likely appreciate a more expansive discussion in the conclusion, which she devotes to convergence.
"According to Mark Wade of Shell, a consolidation is necessary among the [bewildering
array] of codes and guidelines," writes Ms. Leipzinger (brackets in the original).
However, she gives short shrift to what such a consolidation might look like. Perhaps that is
because this aspect of the landscape is still largely unmapped, a terra incognita like that
represented by early cartographers who drew imaginary creatures on their maps, to borrow an image
from Ms. Leipziger. Luckily, Greenleaf Publishing, which put out the book, promises to keep the
material updated on its website, so
readers can stay abreast of how the CSR field matures.