Sodexo awarded for ethics as workers make minimum wage

Read the full article here.

Employee sources said that a significant percentage of workers live paycheck to paycheck; they are forced to frequent soup kitchens and charities to feed themselves and their families. The problem has been ongoing since at least fall 2008, when one employee estimated that between 65 and 70 percent of workers used charities to get food. Paul Kerns, general manager for Sodexo at BU, said he could not verify the statistics.

Sodexo partners with Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) to collect food donations on campus.

Who owns your genes?

Photo by jurvetson
Great blog post with background on this week’s decision by a federal judge upholding a lawsuit that challenges the granting of patents for human genes. Read the article here.

The danger of letting corporations patent human genes is that they can use the monopoly created by patents to deny access to diagnostic and therapeutic treatments to those who can’t pay a premium. Patents on human genes also choke off a patient’s ability to get a second opinion (before, say, removing ovaries or a prostate) and close off scientific research by other corporations or academic institutions.

The decision — which is sure to be appealed — has raised dire warnings from some corners of the pharmaceutical and venture capitalist sectors, as well as from the patent bar. They argue that patents encourage research and innovation by making it profitable for corporations to engage in the financially risky business of developing new diagnostic tools and therapies, and warn that the Court’s decision will thus hinder innovation.

But this case is different. It’s not about denying corporations the right to patent specific tests, methods, or drugs. These are inventions that deserve and will continue to receive patent protection. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to award patents in order to promote the “progress of science and the useful arts, by securing, for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their writings and discoveries.”

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For some reason, my site is running extremely slow right now. As I am working on it, you may see some unusual looking pages. Sorry for the inconvenience.

The Robber Barons of Social Change

I think I need to read this book: Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World by Michael Edwards. Read the review by Mark Engler and Arthur Phillips here.

The Ben & Jerry’s story is but a small cautionary tale about the still-growing and already far-reaching field of “philanthrocapitalism.” This is the term that author Michael Edwards uses in his new book, Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World, to describe a wide range of activities. It includes Silicon Valley CEOs using “venture philanthropy” to fund new, business-minded nonprofits; stock market traders developing socially weighted investment funds; bankers extending microcredit loans to the poor; and “social entrepreneurs” aiming to simultaneously serve a “double bottom line” of positive public impact and shareholder return.

The activities covered under the umbrella of philanthrocapitalism are diverse enough to offer exceptions to any generalization about the category. But its practitioners would almost uniformly describe themselves as “results-oriented,” implicitly critiquing the ineffectiveness of existing nonprofits and voluntary organizations. Their unifying idea is that business is more efficient and outcome-driven than government and civil society, and that unleashing market forces is the best means of addressing entrenched problems such as poverty, malnutrition, preventable disease, and poor education.

In Edwards’ words, “the basic message of this movement is pretty clear: Traditional ways of solving social problems do not work, so business thinking and market forces should be added to the mix.” During his nine-year tenure as a director at the Ford Foundation, Edwards saw the popularity of this argument skyrocket. He writes, “if I had dollar for every time someone has lectured me on the virtues of business thinking for foundations and nonprofits, I’d be a philanthropist myself.”

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Good Intentions

Bubble On Green
Photo by Limbo Poet

The Wall Street Journal seems to take great delight in the idea that the corporate social responsibility “fad” might be passing. Hmm. An 8% reduction in corporate donations in 2008? By what percentage did sales fall in that year? More importantly, it’s been quite awhile since anyone advanced the idea that a company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility should measured simply by its donations. Read the article here.

When the going gets tough, costly good intentions can go out the window. Company spending has been squeezed by the global recession and budgets for corporate social responsibility have suffered disproportionately.

A survey of U.K. businesses by KPMG and Business In The Community found a third of companies cut their corporate social responsibility budgets in 2009. Corporate philanthropy has also been hit, with a study by the Giving USA Foundation revealing that charitable donations by U.S. companies fell by 8% in inflation-adjusted terms in 2008.

Perhaps this is not so great a loss. There is a growing feeling among company executives that marginal initiatives, which can so easily be dispensed, are not enough to alter corporate behavior. In a speech last year, Stephen Green, chairman of U.K. bank HSBC, said: “There has been a tendency to compartmentalize so-called corporate social responsibility activities as an adjunct to the mainstream business activities.” Mr. Green believes in replacing corporate social responsibility with a new focus on “corporate sustainability,” which, rather than being an add-on to a business. “is about the raison d’être of the company itself.”

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Toyota’s Tylenol moment

Read the article here.

For guidance — and perhaps inspiration — Toyota should do some research on the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol recall of 1982.

That year, seven people in the Chicago area died from taking Tylenol capsules poisoned with potassium cyanide. The case remains unsolved, and no suspects were ever charged.

But Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, Fortune 500) didn’t wait around for the authorities to act. It stopped production of Tylenol and issued a nationwide recall of 31 million bottles already in circulation with a retail value of over $100 million.

The murders stopped, and J&J’s actions led to changes in packaging — those annoying seals on everything from aspirin to milk — as well as federal anti-tampering laws. Through its prompt action, J&J was able to actually enhance the value of the Tylenol brand by making product safety one of its attributes.

Toyota has a much tougher job ahead of it. That’s because the problems in its cars are not the result of a crazed individual but are systemic to the product development process. Fixing the system that allowed the defects to occur will be complex and expensive.

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