Professor Jem Bendell

Notes from a strategist & educator on social & organisational change, now focused on #DeepAdaptation

Archive for the ‘Counter-Globalization Movement’ Category

Alterglobalisation, Global Social Justice, anti capitalism etc

The Final Annual Review from Lifeworth – challenging Capitalism!

Posted by jembendell on February 1, 2010

For the past 9 years I have written an annual review of the corporate responsibility field. In each review I have focused on what I thought were key trends, and sought to promote heartfelt and progressive engagement in this field. 2010 is the final year of my writing quarterly reviews in the leading Journal of Corporate Citizenship. Next year, therefore, I will produce a new edited book, with co-author Ian Doyle, that analyses the last 5 years. Then, Ill focus less on written commentary and more on implementing the ideas and insights from the past decade.  So, as this is the final annual review, I thought it important to encourage us all to use this time of post-crisis reflection to go deeper, and see how our work might relate to the kind of economic transformations we need for a fair and sustainable world. Hence, when I saw how many people are now debating fundamental elements of “capitalism” I thought it important to bring this to the fore. Because, as the World Economic Forum draws to a close in Davos, the real debate about the future of our economic systems is only getting started… in the real world of people’s communities and businesses. The press release for the new review follows below.

Post-crisis, Capitalism now a focus for CSR, says Lifeworth Review

Press Release from Lifeworth. February 1st 2009.

Capitalism is up for debate, and that’s a good thing, according to a new review from a management consultancy. “The dual financial and climate crises are leading people in all walks of life to question the kind of economy that makes sense for their businesses, communities and families,” explains lead author of the review, Associate Professor Jem Bendell. “As well as some anger at bankers, the financial crisis has led many to ask deeper questions about finance in general and, therefore, about capitalism. From bars to seminars, bookshops to board meetings, capitalism is being discussed – openly and critically,” he claims.

Entitled “Capitalism in Question”, the annual review describes how politicians and even business leaders are calling for more critical assessment of what kind of economic system we need for a fair and sustainable future. The review from Lifeworth Consulting summarises over a dozen books that have been published in the last weeks that debate the relative merits of capitalism and what form of economic governance is needed post-crisis, and in a new era of economic power. “The majority of these new books seek to do something that previously seemed neither necessary or interesting − to defend capitalism,” says John Stuart of Greenleaf Publishing, which supports the review.

Bendell explains that defensiveness wont help. Referring to the “Restoring Trust” report overseen by Allianz, Barclays Capital, Blackstone, and Carlyle Group, among others, he said “seeking to defend one’s immediate interests, as the banks writing the recent World Economic Forum report clearly did, is not how we are going to discover together the next step in our economic evolution. Fearful people in incumbent institutions may waste our time with diversionary drivel, but real exploration of the core issues is unavoidable. The question now is who should participate and how.”

Co-author of the review, Lifeworth Consulting’s Ian Doyle, explained that “much of the corporate social responsibility, or CSR agenda, has been predicated on a belief that government is constrained by global finance and can, or should, only intervene in markets to a limited extent. The giving of huge amounts of money to private banks may suggest that global finance is still dominant, but it also shows that sometimes when called on to act, most governments will intervene in markets in dramatic ways. So it’s not unreasonable for people to look to their governments to now shape responsible business practice more than before. And that is what we are seeing.”

The review is a call for people to become more involved in exploring how to evolve economic systems to promote fair and sustainable societies, says Bendell. “We are calling for this kind of engagement because after doing nine years of quarterly responsible business trends analysis for the Journal of Corporate Citizenship, we have concluded that there is a nascent social movement for the transformation of business and finance. Behind the jargon of corporate social responsibility, corporate accountability, environmental management, social enterprise, and responsible finance, are people like you and me who want to change the way business does business and the way money makes money. As such we need to think through what we are aiming for, longer term, and how we can work in concert. We all need to look up from our projects and shape the unfolding programme of economic transformation.”

To contribute to the debate, Lifeworth offers a framework for democratising capitalism. As Bendell, who is also Lifeworth’s director explains, “It’s simply that we need more governance of capital by people who are directly affected by its ownership and control. From that one concept flow many implications for tax, currencies, stocks, and all social and environmental regulations. This democratisation of capitalism could be the ultimate goal of the corporate responsibility movement, and the seeds of this approach are already to be found in the ideas and practices of many people working on corporate responsibility today.”

A discussion of economic systems can seem distant from the day-to-day preoccupations of most executives and the academics who seek to educate them, but as Bendell suggests, “making such connections will be important if the corporate responsibility movement is to have a substantial and lasting effect on commerce and society.” In ‘Capitalism in Question’ some initial guidance is given for how business leaders and educators can play a socially progressive role at this time. Specific multi-stakeholder initiatives are recommended.

The review of trends in corporate responsibility during 2009 includes analysis of government stimulus packages, responsible tax management, responsible mining, responsible cosmetics and beauty businesses, as well as particular trends in Asian and Francophone countries. It also explores the potential of ‘design thinking’ for sustainable business innovation, and provides in-depth analysis of the implications of the Copenhagen climate summit.

“Deep changes will be required in economic governance if we are to achieve a sustainable society… Capitalism will change, there is no doubt, and it must change so that it delivers both private wealth and public good” explains Professor Malcolm McIntosh of the Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise. “As we enter a period of potential reconfiguration of economic governance, leaders of organisations will need to better understand the issues, actors and dynamics to be successful. Part of Griffith Business School in Australia, Professor McIntosh’s centre supported the free release of this review to promote creative thinking at a time of critical global challenges and because “the lead author Jem Bendell, is an important commentator on the world stage.”

Dr Bendell says there are important implications for management education. “In Griffith’s new “Graduate Certificate for Sustainable Enterprise” we help our students to navigate increasingly complex social and political contexts so they can find ways to prosper by being part of the solution.”

‘Capitalism in Question: The Lifeworth Annual Review of 2009’ is available in pdf for free download at http://www.lifeworth.com/consult/2010/02/annualreview/

Lifeworth’s responsible enterprise trends analysis during 2010 can be obtained by subscribing to the ‘Journal of Corporate Citizenship’. New subscribers to the journal before March 31st 2010 receive all 2009 copies for free. Visit http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com

Information on Griffith’s research centre and graduate certificate is available at http://www.asiapacificsustainableenterprise.com/

For media enquiries about ‘Capitalism in Question’ contact Jem Bendell via connect [at] lifeworth.com or +44(0)2071936102

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, Reports, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

What will success look like for the CSR Movement?

Posted by jembendell on July 27, 2009

In recent months Ive been talking more widely about the existence of a new social movement of people who are making business and finance contribute to a world that is sustainable and fair. Im talking more with social entrepreneurs and social activists, and I find many people who have a sense of urgency and leadership are surprised at my view, as they regard mainstream CR or CSR as an effort to maintain the corporate status quo, not fundamentally transform it. In response I agree that much CSR is lacking, but I point to those initiatives, projects and people within the corporate world who are working of more systemic transformations of markets – whether through influencing standards, regulations, mindsets or financing systems. Yet, in these conversations, I realise that we dont have a clear set of successes to point to – so many of the examples are about the incredible efforts that people are making, rather than the results being achieved. Any movement needs to know what success looks like. So, it was interesting last month to hear a CR leader, Simon Zadek, ask a class of students to reflect on what they considered real CSR successes to date. I encourage you to reflect on these questions.

What is the most successful multistakeholder initiative and why?
What is the most important piece of CSR legislation, from a CSR perspective?
Think of three CSR CEOs who you believe have demonstrated CSR success, and what have they been successful at?
Think of a civil society leader who has promoted CSR really effectively?
What is it that you still dont know about CSR, and is critical to you future work?

Perhaps you could forward this email to your colleagues in your team, so you can discuss your responses together. I also invite you to post your responses on my blog, at https://jembendell.wordpress.com/

If you are interested in what it could mean for your own work to be part of a CSR movement,  I encourage you to get my book on the topic for your organisation’s library. “The Corporate Responsibility Movement”, available from.  http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

This message was included in the Lifeworth CSR jobs Bulletin for July.  To sign up for that bulletin, issued about once a month, visit http://lifeworth.com/main/sign-up/

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Applying ‘Movement Thinking’ to your work

Posted by jembendell on May 12, 2009

The scale of the challenges we face today, from climate change to economic instability, remind us that it is no longer smart, if ever, to plan our own work without attention to how we influence social change more generally on the issues that are of personal and strategic importance to us.

Based on some of the analysis in my new book, I have developed a simple process to applying ‘Movement Thinking’ to your responsible enterprise efforts.

APPLYING ‘MOVEMENT THINKING’

Social movements theories point to four categories of factors that shape the generation and development of social movements. Reflecting on how we relate to these factors can help us to understand our contribution to, or benefit from, a social movement. Work through the following questions to aid you in applying ‘movement thinking’ to your responsible enterprise efforts. Make notes on a piece of paper, and discuss them with a friend or colleague.

To understand more about these factors in movement generation, refer to pages 16-20 and 24-29 of The Corporate Responsibility Movement.

Assessing general movement participation

Ask yourself the following questions, in relation to your work on aspects of responsible business and finance.

1) How have I contributed to identification and pursuit of common interests of a particular group of people (like me)? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

2) How have I contributed to the development of shared identities and social ties? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

3) How have I contributed to mobilising resources for a particular group? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

4) How have I contributed to the shaping or identification of significant political and societal opportunities for further action? Have I benefited from others doing this? What more could I do, or be done?

Applying a ‘movement approach’ to strategic responses to organisational challenges

Choose a particular organisational challenge you are working on that you recognise has public-interest dimensions. Ask yourself:

5) To what extent are my motivations for addressing this challenge instrumental (benefiting myself and employer), relational (benefiting my social relations at work and private life) and/or moral (relating to my values)? If relational or moral motives rank highly, go to question 7. If not, then go to question 6.

6) In some cases even instrumental reasons require collective changes in society in order to be successful at the organisational and personal level. To transform society in ways that help resolve a challenge you face, you may benefit from understanding how to interact positively with social movements. Therefore, if relational or moral reasons rated fairly low in the previous question, ask yourself what the limits of individual action might be on the challenge you have identified. – if you see the need to participate in social change for instrumental reasons, go to question 7.

7) With the specific organisational challenge in mind, work again through questions 1 to 4. i.e. append “related to the specific challenge I am working on now” to the end of each question.

Sharing

Share the results of your thought processes with professional confidants. Focus on the question “What more could I do, or be done”?

Share the results to the question “What more could I do, or be done?” here at https://jembendell.wordpress.com/by using the comments option below.

Example

Excerpt from page 28 of The Corporate Responsibility Movement

“As I [Jem Bendell] see myself as a participant in the corporate responsibility movement, I decided to test the theory on myself. I challenged myself to identify at least one thing that has emerged in me and one thing that has emerged from me for the corporate responsibility movement over the past 13 years, that relate to the four aspects of movement generation described above. In terms of common interest, I have learned that my interest is not related to a specific profession, such as consulting or academia, but with people who believe in being entrepreneurial in any sector in order to make economic activity contribute to a better world. For others in the movement, my consulting and training has sought to connect people to that sense of their own interest. In terms of common identity and ties, I have now developed camaraderie with people in a variety of sectors who are pioneering ways of making significant changes in business practice, and benefit from extensive networks of professional colleagues, many of whom I consider friends. For others in the movement, I have helped facilitate connections through online networks and newsletters, and promoted awareness of a potential common identity through my writings. In terms of resource mobilisation, I have benefited from people in the movement commissioning me to work with them on projects, and I have created more resources for such work by helping to conceive new non-profit organisations working on corporate responsibility that now have incomes of over a million dollars. In terms of opportunity structures, I have now benefited from the efforts of others to help shift the mainstream corporate responsibility agenda onto a more transformative one, and, for others in the movement, I have helped shape discursive opportunities through successfully challenging some mainstream interpretations of concepts through my writings.”

The book

The Corporate Responsibility Movement: Five Years of Global Corporate Responsibility Analysis from Lifeworth, 2001-2005

Jem Bendell et al. March 2009 387+viii pp 234 x 156 mm paperback ISBN 978-1-906093-18-1 £72.00 http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

The advisors

This exercise was prepared by Dr Jem Bendell, Lifeworth Consulting, a responsible enterprise strategy advisory, evaluation, education, inspiration and liaison service. http://www.lifeworth.com

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth | Leave a Comment »

Globalising Trusteeship

Posted by jembendell on April 12, 2009

Jem At Jallian Wala Bagh in April 2009

Jem Bendell visiting Jallian Wala Bagh in April 2009

On April 13th, ninety years ago, a British General ordered the firing on people peacefully protesting the repression of India. Mohandas K Gandhi was so moved by the massacre in Amritsar that he called for a special week to be observed every year – a Satyagraha Week. “Satya” means truth, “Graha” means both ‘involved in’ and ‘global’. Gandhi used satyagraha to describe a non-violent way of life, that does not participate in oppression wherever it occurs, and challenges it in non-violent ways. It became synonymous with India’s liberation movement.

Due to the work of Varsha Das and her colleagues at the Gandhi National Museum I was reminded of Gandhi’s teachings, and began re-reading what he said and did about life, politics and economics. As you probably are yourself, I was familiar with his famous phrases including that “we must be the change we want to see in the world’. But as I read on, I realised his views are very relevant to the current global economic crisis and the work I do on sustainable enterprise and finance.

The recent G20 failed to launch a deep reconsideration of the global economy, and some of its precepts, such as current concepts of property and a consumption-led economy. I suppose the pressures on the leaders for more-of-the-same were immense. But it has become clear that is up to us to begin a broader dialogue. Gandhi called for the Satyagraha Week to be one of fearless yet convivial dialogue about the truth of society and to redouble our efforts to live by that truth. Reading that affirmed some of the work I did this past year, with the Global Finance Initiative. After consultations with finance professionals and stakeholders in dozens of countries we concluded with a recommendation that dialogues on changes in financial systems are required that are:

  • Foundational, addressing profound questions about the purpose of the financial system and the principles that direct its actions;
  • Comprehensive, encompassing the connections between accounting systems, currencies, regulatory systems, economic structures and all parts of the financial system;
  • Inclusive, with processes reaching beyond traditional insiders, to engage responsible investors, multi-stakeholder groups working on finance issues, asset owners, labor, NGOs and critical academics, and be truly global;
  • Systemic, connecting financial stability to the real economy, social equity, and environmental sustainability.

This dialogue could be part of a global truth-seeking — a ‘Global Satyagraha’. Beyond his views on dialogue and truth-seeking, MK Gandhi’s views are relevant to the future of the global economy and our work on responsible enterprise and finance in at least four ways: economic equality, appropriate technology, self-reliance, and trusteeship.

Challenging both the caste system and negativity between religions, he promoted the equality of all peoples, which meant non discrimination in employment and economic affairs. He also believed that technology could be good if did needed work, but bad if it put people out of work. This philosophy led him to spend many hours working on the spinning wheel, a technology that was appropriate to the economic level of villagers across India at the time. Another important aspect of the spinning wheel was how it generated self-reliance. Gandhi spoke of ‘swadeshi’ or economic self-sufficiency, as the only way that India would achieve self-determination. He called on his country-people not to pay into the system of empire by buying foreign clothes. In our current context the implication here is not simply that we produce for ourselves, but that we seek to become independent of systems of exploitation for our own livelihoods and lifestyles.

Jem Bendell at site of MK Gandhi assasination, March 2009

Jem Bendell at site of MK Gandhi assasination, March 2009

These aspects of Gandhian economics are well documented and discussed. Like many business folk the world-over, many Indian executives do not see the relevance of these approaches to modern business, viewing them as anachronistic. Yet, in a resource-constrained and climate-threatened world, where hyper-inequality fuels violence, the need for principles and practices of equality, appropriateness and self-reliance to pervade business is clear.

What stunned me was the resonance of his views on ‘trusteeship’ with the latest thinking within the corporate responsibility movement. More of us have come to understand that we need to redesign the systems of corporate governance and finance in order to create more sustainable and responsible economies, and that business executives can and should engage in public policy debates to promote that redesign. In my latest book, I develop the concept of “capital democracy” to describe an economic system that responds to this understanding. I write:

Corporate Responsibility Movement, Bendell et al, March 2009

Corporate Responsibility Movement, Bendell et al, March 2009

“In a democratic society, property rights should only exist because people collectively decide to uphold them; they are not inalienable but are upheld by society as a matter of choice. Therefore, if society confers us the right of property, then we have obligations to that society. Today property rights have become so divorced from this democratic control that they are undermining other human rights. A reawakening to a basic principle is required: there can be no property right without property duties, or obligations. From such a principle, it should not be left up to the powerful to decide if they are responsible or not, or if they are carrying out their obligations or not. Instead, the focus shifts to the governance of capital by those who are affected by it” (Bendell, et al, 2009, Pg 33 to 34).

The Mahatma’s view of trusteeship is the same, but elegant in its simplicity. It arises from an understanding that everything is owned by everyone, and wealth is owned by those who generate it. Thus the one who controls an asset is not an owner but a trustee, being given control of that asset by society. Gandhi wrote “I am inviting those people who consider themselves as owners today to act as trustees, i.e., owners, not in their own right, but owners in the right of those whom they have exploited.” In the Harijan paper his views on trusteeship of property were later documented to clarify “It does not recognize any right of private ownership of property except so far as it may be permitted by society for its own welfare” and “under State-regulated trusteeship, an individual will not be free to hold or use his wealth for selfish satisfaction or in disregard of the interests of society.” He also wrote that “for the present owners of wealth… they will be allowed to retain the stewardship of their possessions and to use their talent, to increase the wealth, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the nation and, therefore, without exploitation.” All those years ago the Mahatma was proposing an economic system that many people are only beginning to conceive of today. If you have my book, I apologise for my prior ignorance of Gandhi’s trusteeship concept. If you don’t have it under your trusteeship yet, hey, it’s still worth reading!

Sangeeta Das of the Gandhi Smriti Museum revealed to me how some Indian industrialists supported many of Gandhi’s ideas and applied some to their own business. Upon reading the views of some current Indian business leaders I see the concepts of equality and trusteeship have informed their voluntary corporate responsibility efforts. However, I am left with a sense that the concept of trusteeship has much untapped potential as an economic system, codified into public policy and regulation. The current crisis demonstrates the need to globalise trusteeship, or capital democracy, as an approach that can be debated and interpreted into new principles and policies for economics, finance and enterprise. In addition it is clear that concepts of appropriate technology and self-reliance have much more to offer both to corporate strategy and public policy than currently the case. I wonder whether Indian business leaders could play a role in bringing this insight to the world.

The life of Gandhi is important not only for his views on economic systems but also on how to bring them into being. In my book I argue that the global challenges we face mean those of us who work to make business better must start thinking and planning like a movement. “The corporate responsibility movement is a loosely organised but sustained effort by individuals both inside and outside the private sector, who seek to use or change specific corporate practices, whole corporations, or entire systems of corporate activity, in accordance with their personal commitment to public goals and the expectations of wider society.” (Bendell, et al 2009, pg 24). As a movement leader, we could learn from Gandhi’s mastery of symbolic communication combined with personal authenticity, his embrace of both dialogue and direct action, his respect for people no matter the differences, and his demonstration that we must ourselves disengage with systems that uphold a lie. More of us can mobilise our networks and knowledge for transformative ends. And if it means changing our lives to be less economically dependent on the status quo, then that’s what we must do.

The recent violence from authorities against protesters and bystanders (and the truth) at the G20 is yet another reminder of the need to learn how to engage in a transformative non-violent movement that provides people diverse ways to participate while sucking energy out of violent systems. On the 90th anniversary of the hundreds who died in Jallianwala Bagh, we can remember how their memory inspired millions in the pursuit of truth and freedom.

I will be discussing some of these ideas in a webinar, online, and seminar in Geneva, called: “The Corporate Responsibility Movement: Where are we going and why?” Seminar: Thursday May 14, from 12.30 to 14.00 Swiss time, Uni Mail, 40 bd du Pont d’Arve, Geneva, room MR 150 (ground floor, opposite the cafeteria). Register: csr@unige.ch.  Webinar: Tuesday May 19, from 16:30 to 18:00 UK time, organised by CSR International. Venue is “online”. Register: clemence@csrinternational.org http://www.csrinternational.org/?p=273

The Corporate Responsibility Movement, Jem Bendell et al. March 2009 ISBN 978-1-906093-18-1
http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

Thx to Suzy, Satjiv, Inderpreet, Nandita, Varsha and Sangeeta for unwittingly guiding my serendipitous journey in India.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, My Life, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Loose Change We Can Believe In? Why Salary Caps Won’t Do

Posted by jembendell on February 5, 2009

Barack Obama has made international news announcing a salary cap for the heads of companies that are being bailed out by government. Other governments are expected to follow suit. Billions have been lost, and trillions pumped in to keep these companies afloat. Compared to that, these salary caps are loose change, not the ‘change we can believe in’ people hoped for.

That bankers are being bailed out, while home owners struggle, and people are laid off, is galling to many. Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America’s Future, has said that “many homeowners were misled by predatory lenders to taking mortgages that they didn’t understand and couldn’t afford. It would be simply obscene to help the predators and not those that they preyed on.” Some also question the revolving door between bankers and regulators, and whether people like former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who became super-rich from working in one of the firms whose practices had helped create the crisis, should have been deciding how to hand out billions to the same sector. News that the bankruptcy courts released $2.5bn to secure Lehman Brothers bonus payments at a time when savers were losing out, is just one example of a situation that seems to many like a systemic abuse of power by a professional elite of regulators, judiciary and bankers. Then Merryll Lynch giving out more millions to its staff as the crisis really crunched is not just obsence, as time may tell, it is likely criminal.

The bail-outs are defended by the fact that a financial institution is “too big” or “too interconnected” to fail and that its failure would cause a systemic risk. If governments and regulators have let financial institutions become so big that they cannot be allowed to collapse, shouldn’t they be encouraging more competition and more diversity? This is at least the view of trade unions. UNI Finance, the global trade union for finance workers, has repeatedly called for a diverse finance market that includes not only private banks and insurance companies but also public banks, savings banks and insurances, co-operative banks, mutual insurance companies and foundations. However, this does not seem to be the view of governments and regulators who are pushing failing institutions into the arms of healthier ones (e.g. acquisition of Merrill Lynch by of Bank of America in the United States or the takeover of HBOS by Lloyd’s TBS in the United Kingdom). As Lina Saigol, a Financial Times columnist, has argued, this “new generation of gargantuan institutions [will have] the power to dictate the next financial boom and bust.” With the new injection of funds from governments, many banks have since turned their attention to attempts at buying each other out, and thus compounding the problems associated with market domination by too few players, rather than quickly getting back to the business of lending money to people in the business of making things for others.

In many cases the bailouts have became part nationalisations of the banks involved. This gives governments some additional influence over their practices, yet most politicians are currently cautious about what influence they exert, and act on issues like future executive pay, as the new announcement from the US illustrates. The irony of increasing government ownership of the banks, is that the tax payer may face a double whammy of their own. Not only have they bought up bad debts, but they have bought into potentially massive legal liabilities. In a comment in The Guardian, Nick Leeson, the trader who brought down Barings Bank in 1995, said: “For my role in the collapse of Barings I was pursued around the world, and ended up being sentenced to six and half years in a Singaporean jail. Who is going to go after the reckless individuals responsible for the financial catastrophe? Apparently no one”. However, there appears to be growing pressure to hold companies as well as individuals responsible for the global financial crisis. Regulators have announced the broadening of the investigations into the collapse of the subprime mortgage market to include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG. In addition, many observers expect a sharp rise in shareholder lawsuits against investment banks and other financial institutions following the millions of dollars of losses they made by gambling money in asset-backed securities and the like. Law suits are emerging from Hong Kong to Paris to Rekjavik.

These actions slam the legal door after the capital horse has bolted. Rather than punishing the individuals who profited from using other people’s money to buy derivatives they did not fully understand, but knew could turn a profit in time for their next bonus, this legal action will cost the companies’ new owners, including the tax payer. First the bankers, then the lawyers, will have bled the collective purse. The sick irony of this is that many ex-bankers are getting in on the game: they are helping fund the lawyers to pursue claims against financial institutions for those who have lost their money. In doing so they aim to make a nice commission. They screwed the public purse once, and now will do it again, through taking a slice of payments paid out by their old employers. As this situation becomes visible to the general public, calls for the people who made millions from speculating with their money to replenish their depleted pension funds may grow. There could be investigation into whether there was abuse of fiduciary duty by those who received large bonuses through creating, investing, rating or trading in mortgage backed securities or credit-default swaps since the deregulation of those markets in 1999. Given the mobility of capital, such processes would require international cooperation, to freeze assets of those being investigated. If this happened, it would remind us of Interface CEO Ray Anderson, who said that people like him would in future be regarded as criminals for doing things that at the time they considered normal business. Letting bankers live as millionaires, some as billionaires, from creating a crisis that has emptied the pensions funds and now the coffers of government, would sadly stand as a testament to systemic injustices of contemporary societies. However, it is unlikely that governments will want to see such a wave of litigation. As such there may be growing calls for some form of ‘financial truth and reconciliation’ commission, to explore how this crisis developed, where fault lies, and how to repatriate some savings.

Those calls will grow louder in the coming months, with major activist mobilisations planned to call for financial justice before the G20 meeting in London. Obama was expecting a hero’s welcome at his first big meet up in London. But saving a few million in salaries in return for the trillions thrown at the financial sector, while millions of people lose their jobs? Salary caps aren’t the loose Change We Can Believe in. He will have to do more. Far more. As will the rest of the G20. They can start by endorsing a more legitimate and inclusive process to develop principles and rules for a new financial order, and coordinating a process to repatriate some funds from the pockets of the irresponsible bankers, some of whom now seek to even profit from the coming litigation.

– More analysis of the future of the financial system will appear in the next Lifeworth.com Annual Review of Responsible Enterprise, released at the end of the month.

– For a discussion of the corporate responsibility movement’s contribution to the future of capitalism see my new book http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Colourful Cuba (cos your gray ain’t my grey)

Posted by jembendell on October 26, 2006

I sometimes chat with my flatmate about what it was like growing up in the Communist East. We joke about how grey it was. In my books and films it was grey… the buildings, people, all shades of dull depressed and repressed grey. She tells me that books about the West that she read in East Germany showed the West as… also grey! “OK, so it was so grey in the East, that even our pictures of the West were grey!”.

Was an absence of neon lights and bright paints and colourful advertising actually grey? Its amazing how urban our thinking is… nothing is as colourful as nature. Walking through the UN today I saw paintings from an exhibition sponsored by Cuba. The artist from this communist country, Luis Antonio Espinosa Fruto, chose to paint all his pictures in… grey. But hey, they are bright, brilliant, beautiful images. They are all paintings of the natural environment in Cuba (continues below…).

artwork_images_424056915_238119_luis-antonio-espinosa-fruto.jpg

Cuban nature is mentioned in the depths of a report published by WWF earlier this week. The Living Planet Report tells a shocking story of what we are doing to ourselves and our planet… as Frank Dixon said at a talk on Monday, “the science is telling us we are like the meteor that hit the Yucatan and wiped out the dinosaurs, we are the new great exterminator”. We really are behaving on this planet like we have another one to go to.

On page 19, in a section comparing the amount of resources each country is gobbling up in comparison to the social development they have acheived, as indicated by the UN’s Human Development Index, shows that only one country has achieved a level of social development and environmental protection that can be considered “sustainable development”. That country? Grey-painted communist Cuba. The journos seem to have missed that one in their coverage of the report.

This state of affairs should make us ask some serious questions about current forms of economy and capitalism… are they helping us get what we really want? Is the world any more colourful for its shining lights and gaudy adverts, if these help melt the glaciers, dry up the lands, and degrade nature? Is it any more colourful when people run the rat race to souless material excess while others are malnourished and oppressed?

I guess one reason Cuba comes out on top is because the HDI statistics dont place decisive weightings on certain political freedoms. Cuba probably comes out on top environmentally because of the US embargo has encouraged local production of foods for local consumption. Organic market gardening isnt a lifestyle choice for the middle classes wanting some more meaning to their lives, but a basic necessity for many Cubans. Whats the policy conclusion? That everyone needs to be embargoed by the US?

Open borders only work when you’ve got a fair game going on, with ground rules that mean you dont trade away the environment or people as mere ‘externalities’ that can be disregarded. The evidence from the Living Planet Report is more an indictment of the West than it is praise for Cuba. But, well done Cuba for reminding us that our brains are the only grey matter in nature, and its our choice to make them vitally brilliant or deadly dull.

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, Funny, Sustainable Development, United Nations, WWF | 2 Comments »