What governments think of corporate responsibility, why brands matter more in poorer countries and how mobile phones drive development

Inside the heads of the policymakers

In the post-war period, it was the job of European governments to rebuild the continent’s shattered economies. Then came the era of privatisation and deregulation, and it was their job to let national economies grow freely. In today’s atmosphere of financial crisis, the economic role of government is up for debate once more.

Corporate responsibility, with a foot in both the business and public interest camps, has seen the pendulum swing both ways. In the 1990s, it was all about backing corporate voluntarism. In the past few years, the desire to pre-empt the regulators and their rulebooks has been driving company efforts towards better practice.

This timely paper provides a thorough analysis of the various approaches adopted by Europe’s policymakers to promote corporate responsibility. In doing so, it highlights different political visions, values and strategies at play across the continent. The paper concludes with a comparative study of Italy, Norway and the UK, where country-specific factors such as the welfare-state concept and business culture lead to distinctive policy outcomes.

“The changing role of governments in corporate social responsibility: drivers and responses” by Laura Albareda et al, Business Ethics: A European Review, Vol. 17, October 2008.

Brands and buying

Try buying Nestlé-branded baby milk in the UK and you will be disappointed. Walk into any supermarket in south-east Asia or South America, on the other hand, and the Swiss company’s milk substitutes abound.

Why the differences? The answer, this paper argues, lies in a product’s “intangible attributes”. Global media and global distribution chains mean consumers’ attitudes are changing towards branded products. Consumers have more money to spend and more information at their disposal to inform that spending. To complicate matters, that information differs from market to market.

This paper develops existing research on the subject by considering three categories of intangible attributes; brand, country of origin, and social attributes. To give a realistic edge to the investigation, consumers were required to consider the chosen attributes in the context of other tangible features and prices.

The six-country study found that brands were more important to consumers in developing countries when purchasing so-called “higher involvement products”, such as sports shoes. Strong domestic country biases were also apparent in both developing and developed countries. As the paper hypothesised, social attributes such as labour standards and environment issues were shown to be overwhelmingly more influential among developed country consumers.

The authors have honed their research, interviewing student and human rights supporters in Hong Kong and Australia. This latest phase incorporates two classes of social features, “labour practices” and “animal rights and the environment”. The conclusions can be found in the September 2008 issue of the International Journal of Research in Marketing.

“The Importance of Intangible Attributes in Consumer Purchasing Decisions” by Pat Auger of Melbourne Business School, Timothy Devinney of Australian School of Business, and Jordan Louviere and Paul Burke of the University of Technology, Sydney, September 2008.

Development rings

When emerging markets began to deregulate their telecommunications sectors, it wasn’t just the big private carriers that stepped into the market. Entrepreneurs from poor communities did so too. One of the first business models to emerge was the informal resale of mobile airtime among end users. An entrepreneur would buy a phone and allow others to make calls on a fee-for-call basis. The scheme provided a small profit for thousands of entrepreneurs across the developing world, many of whom were women.

As the phenomenon of mobile telephony has spread, so has the quantity of development opportunities that it engenders. Many relate to improvements in market efficiency. In Senegal, for example, hundreds of small-boat fishermen rely on a SMS-based service to determine which port is offering the best price for their day’s catch. Mobiles also provide a mechanism for delivering information to the poor. The paper cites a service in Kenya that allows customers to ask questions anonymously about HIV/Aids.

Development organisations are also using mobile technology to validate data, such as patient health information in remote areas of Africa, and to collect information, as in the case of “citizen journalists”.

Financial service providers are among the leaders in adapting the boom in the developing world market for mobile phones, worth an estimated $51.4bn. In South Africa, for example, it is estimated that half of all bank accounts will be administered through mobile phones by 2010.

“Dialling for Development” by David Lehr, Social Innovation Review, Autumn 2008.

News from campus

Business schools promoting the teaching of social and environmental sustainability to their students will be eligible for a new award. The Page Prize for Sustainability Issues in Business Curricula is being launched by The Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

The Aspen Institute, publisher of the Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey, is making its acclaimed Giving Voice to Values Programme available online. The innovative business ethics teaching programme can be downloaded from: www.caseplace.org.

Related Reads

comments powered by Disqus