Monday, August 27, 2007

Supply-Chain Management an "Ethical Issue"

Supply-chain management was one of the main topics of the research trip I recently took in Southeast Asia. For companies and their stakeholders, keeping tabs on suppliers, maintaining quality control, and recruiting good supply-chain managers have become ethical issues. Not only is it an area in which companies can make a positive difference in the global economy, many believe that companies can actually lead on creating norms--way ahead of governments--this way.

The quote of the day is in The Wall Street Journal's article "Recent News Events Should Have Executives Reviewing Priorities," by Carol Hymowitz. Top of the list is to make supply-chain management a top priority. Hymowitz quotes Adam Fein of Pembroke consulting:

"Supply-chain management has moved from the back room to the board room and become an ethical issue."

Supply-chain management is a strategic issue: It has an effect on a company's brand and it now concerns managers and board members. Excellent companies are the most ethical in their practices: Excellent companies lead on best practices. Check out our recent article by consultant Carol Holding on corporate social responsibility and brand in Policy Innovations.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Climate change ethics talk with RSA--Manhattan, the fragile ecosystem

That torrential rain storm and the tornado in Brooklyn yesterday proved that Manhattan is indeed a fragile ecosystem. Floods halted the the nation's largest transit system. In my neighborhood, the Second Avenue bus line had lines of people stretching around the block. People were waiting for buses, not free ice cream.

Today, we just finished an excellent public forum on the Ethics of Climate Change at the Carnegie Council with RSA's Robin Thompson. In my mind some of the main ethical questions related to climate change cover the burden and solutions:

Burden: Distributing the burden of climate change, but on whom? On rich countries? On those most affected? On those with a history of polluting? On those with the ability to address the problem? Or shall we think about the actors that can help--countries, companies, or individuals? As one person said in the conference, it is probably all of the above.

Solutions: Kyoto has been criticized as being insufficient, but you have to start somewhere. What about the role of technology and transfer? The world has at its disposal much more advanced technologies now compared with those available during the Industrial Revolution. Or, as Peter Singer has suggested, how about dividing up the world's population to get a country's right to pollute and then trading polluting rights between countries based on need?

Some of the main points articulated during today's meeting include:

The importance of educating the public, of having accurate information, and considering what the data mean for the future.

Importance of interconnectedness, which can help people to change in faraway places, having a ripple effect.

The need to change the culture, to redefine environmental awareness as not just ethical but also cool. Al Gore is now considered a rock star--that's a good start.

The approach must be sane--we shouldn't panic or beat ourselves up. Sane and calm action needed.

Unintended consequences abound--a taxi driver who chooses an energy saving cab can use that money to put his kids through school, presenting odd tradeoffs like gas vs. education.

Think small, scale up, and imagine the possibilities. Get involved, push for political action before it is too late.

Finally, people and organizations must cooperate to put human development first.

We will be putting a summary up on soon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

"World Without the West" at the Nixon Center

I had a chance to respond to Steve Weber in person yesterday at the Nixon Center on his excellent "World Without the West" article in the National Interest. Editor Nick Gvosdev (he blogs about it here) convened about 40 senior scholars, government officials, and writers to discuss Weber's provocative article, which warns of alternative power centers--namely in China, India, and Russia--in the international system.

Weber's research shows that these three economies are integrating more rapidly with the developing world than one would expect. He suggests that the United States either: 1. try to stop these economies from integrating more rapidly with the developing world; 2. vie for contested relationships (or "make more friends" as I put it); or 3. do nothing and allow this group of economies to do what they will.

I initially lead the critique online--on the National Interest's website here. As I mentioned yesterday, the World Without the West argument ignores the inevitability of economic change between the RICs. It is likely that one of the three economies will grow faster than the other two, changing their relationships and shared interests. As the gap between these economies grows, their relationships with the developing world will also change. Second, these three rising powers face pressures for more transparent, accountable governance from three sources—pressure from their citizens, bilateral partners and the international community.

Third, these three states have little in common with one another. Moreover, when I ask Russians or Chinese about the potential for cooperation between the two, they look at me like I am telling them a joke. As one commenter said yesterday, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is "meaningless." Meanwhile, India is a ball of paradoxes just like any other state. The National Interest actually published an article about this point in the same edition--the article is John Thomson's "Inconclusive India," which ends on an optimistic note about Indian society:

" became clear to me that India can continue to build on its current momentum if the people and government coalesce around principles of responsibility, charity and restraint. To do so, they will need to successfully embrace a broad spectrum of issues—most particularly values that are personified by the father of independent India," Thomson writes.

I ended my comments by offering a few thoughts for discussion. First, ethics and leadership are linked. A power that is unethical is unsustainable. In other words, if a rising power is viewed as immoral, illegitimate, or not benign, the classic balance of threat mechanism snaps in to place and countries will likely balance against the perceived divergence in values.

Second, which actors drive norms in the international system? It is no longer just the state. These days, civil societies, consumers, and corporations are increasingly at the forefront of addressing problems of climate change to labor abuse--far ahead of governments.

Finally, where do liberal values come from? Are they the result of a culture's experience with philosophical traditions or are they the pragmatic result of interactions between international businesses? In other words, transparency and accountability are not only right but they also facilitate business relationships.

The Nixon Center will be posting a summary of the event soon. To read more about it, visit their site here.