Are values universal? The Business & Society Workshop explores corporate responsibility in a world of diversity

On November 15th 2016, thanks to CONSTELLATIONS’ collaborator Dr. Maud Schmiedeknecht’s introduction, Prof. Klaus Michael Leisinger, founder and president of the Global Values Alliance Foundation, as well as professor of sociology at the University of Basel, came to Shanghai and held a talk on business ethics and corporate responsibility. He shared his views on values in a globalized world during the “Business and Society” workshop of the German Chamber of Commerce, moderated by Rolf Koehler, Board Member of the German Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, and Magali Menant, CONSTELLATIONS’ co-founder.

Prof. Leisinger was instrumental to the United Nations Global Compact, an international framework that establishes principles for companies to act and report on. He has been trailblazing the Corporate Responsibility discourse as a special advisor to former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan.

Prof. Leisinger gave an insightful speech on corporate responsibility in a world of cultural diversity and pluralism of values. Globalization has seen the spread of multinational companies (MNC) around the globe. Companies have a responsibility that goes beyond only abiding to the relevant laws and standards in a country, and the principles of the Global Compact.

For multinational companies, located in various geographies of the world, guidelines and processes from their home countries can sometimes conflict with the practices in the country. While it is not about foregoing from one’s company or home countries values, and the global code of conduct, it is about being sensitive to the host country’s culture and finding processes that enable a common ground. Companies have the possibility to find and define new working processes that bring together the people around common values.

If these decision and consensus processes are highly dependent on cultural context, how is it possible to create a global perspective on what corporate values should entail?

Corporate responsibility practices are established through the mindset of a given company and should then constantly be (re)negotiated through interacting with the civil society.

Dr. Leisinger underscores that implementing corporate responsibility is always bound to take cultural context into consideration. Thus, the Global Compact is less about exporting a set frame of implementation policies, but should rather be seen as a blueprint. Global principles should not be broken, but rather a decision-making and negotiation process has to be installed through consolidating local values and beliefs.

“CSR is a wicked problem”, Leisinger concludes, that has many complex layers to it. In a world of cultural diversity and pluralism of values, collaboration through joint action and meaningful dialog is needed to keep the conversation alive.

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