The official blog of the book:
The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business,
By Wayne Visser
Forward by Jeffrey Hollender.
Publisher: Wiley, 2011
Editions: Hardcover and Kindle (408 pages)
"It is difficult to run a sustainable business in an unsustainable world. So forget about the defensive, charitable, promotional and strategic versions of CSR. The Age of Responsibility is a call for companies to shift to CSR 2.0 – where success is judged by improvements in the overall socio-cultural, economic and ecological systems. If not, CSR will continue to fail, argues Wayne Visser. With an array of cases Visser guides you through the evolution of business responsibility – from the Ages of Greed, Philanthropy, Marketing and Management to the Age of Responsibility – and shares the five principles of sustainable business actions. Wayne Visser’s insightful book is at the same time a compelling personal story about the existential questioning of whether or how it is possible to make a difference through CSR."
Tania Ellis, international speaker, business advisor and author of The New Pioneers
The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business is possibly Wayne Visser's greatest work yet. It is deeply reflective of the state of the world, society, business and people who change our lives. It is as much an intimately personal account of Wayne's evolving relationship with Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility as it is a guide to the way these concepts have emerged to drive practices - which have in some ways made a positive difference in the world, but failed spectacularly in other ways to harness the power of capitalism into a force for positive impact.
In many ways Wayne's view of the state of CSR today is rather depressing. Wayne writes: "At worst, CSR in its most primitive form may be a smokescreen covering up systematically irresponsible behaviour. At best, even the most evolved CSR practices might be just a band-aid applied to a gaping wound that is haemorrhaging the lifeblood of the economy, society and the planet." At another level, it is quite uplifting: "We are on the brink of the post-industrial revolution and we need to decide whether we will be accomplices in slowing that transition, or catalysts in speeding us towards a better future."The core message, however, is that CSR as we know it has failed to create a demonstrable improvement in the quality of social, economic and ecological life. For CSR to succeed, it needs to transform itself into something new, CSR 2.0.
Wayne Visser's 9th book on CSR, The Age of Responsibility, is cleverly structured walking us through the "Ages and Stages" of the CSR movement. There are five ages according to the author:
The Age of Greed: characterized by "bigger is better" and shareholder rule in which unfettered growth is fueled by the concept that "greed is good" and that corporations who make more money (for shareholders) actually benefit society.
The Age of Marketing: characterized by the concept that reputation and brand matter most, leading to CSR for PR gains, with a good measure of greenwashing thrown in.
The Age of Management: characterized by the alignment of CSR with business strategy and adoption of voluntary codes and industry standards. Embedding CSR is the name of the game.
The Age of Responsibility: characterized by what Wayne Visser calls "CSR 2.0, or Systemic CSR, based on a new set of principles." The Age of Responsibility has been heralded by iconic leaders such as Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, Ray Anderson of Interface and Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. CSR 2.0 also makes use of the new social media era as business begins to "redefine its role in society."
Getting to CSR 2.0 requires inspired, committed and capable people who understand their role in leading change to make the new promise of CSR 2.0 a reality. The final part of The Age of Responsibility is a lesson on change and includes a Change Matrix which plots the many change agents who have emerged to date to advance CSR and several change models that can assist our thinking as we aspire to make it happen.
Wayne Visser distils four types of CSR change agents within the community of CSR professionals: the Expert (whose motivators are projects, systems and technical excellence); the Facilitator (who shares knowledge and creates opportunities); the Catalyst (who initiates change and gives strategic direction) and the Activist (whose motivation is related to broader social and environmental issues in the world). The point is that motivation for change in business organizations comes in different forms and driving change successfully requires recognition of individual motivators and organizational context. At the heart of it all are individuals and their actions.
What is rather unique and appealing about this book is that it is not simply an erudite chronicle of the evolution of CSR together with a nicely packaged solution to all CSR's inadequacies. The appeal is the sense you are actually working through the dilemmas and challenges at each step of the way with the author, who ultimately asks whether working in Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility is a good answer to his life's question: Is advancing CSR truly a worthy enough cause for us to devote our energies to? Or is it a hollow shell that provides capitalism with a softer face but doesn't make any substantive difference to the way businesses work?
From Wayne's early beginnings as a strategy analyst with Cap Gemini, through leadership with KPMG's Sustainability Services in South Africa and then back to academia to pursue a Ph.D., Visser has grappled with the manifestations of the ages and stages of CSR in a way that reflects his deep sense of personal responsibility to make a difference. This journey has led him to develop a vision of a new CSR, which is more holistic and "judged by its success in improvements in the overall socio-cultural, economic and ecological system." In the forward to the book, the Age of Responsibility protagonist Jeffrey Hollender writes: "The hour may be late and the clock loudly ticking, but the story of responsible business is not over yet. There's still room for a happy ending. And the time has come to write it for ourselves."
We should all read this book. We are all potential change agents. We are all part of the problem and part of the solution. We are all living in World 2.0, where CSR 2.0 can become a reality. We are all likely catalysts in the Age of Responsibility.
It is nearly ten years later and the pharmaceutical companies are still trying to rebuild their reputations. As Mail & Guardian journalist Qudsiya Karrim reported for Inside Story in 2010: The past decade has been a public relations nightmare for big pharmaceutical companies – and deservedly so, their critics say. Activists and nongovernment organizations the world over have slated Big Pharma for putting profits ahead of people and vigorously enforcing their intellectual property rights, preventing many from gaining access to life-saving medication. It’s an ugly story told repeatedly – in the media, over dinner, at AIDS conferences and during university seminars – and it has earned the pharmaceutical industry an unmatched notoriety.
But have they learned their lesson? The latest and possibly most responsive action has been from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Early in 2009, CEO Andrew Witty announced a major reform in their corporate policy on drug affordability and accessibility. In particular, he said GSK will cut its prices for all drugs in the 50 least developed countries to no more than 25% of the levels in the UK and US – and less if possible – and make drugs more affordable in middle-income countries such as Brazil and India. In addition, GSK will reinvest 20% of any profits it makes in the least developed countries in hospitals, clinics and staff and invite scientists from other companies,
NGOs or governments to join the hunt for tropical disease treatments at its dedicated institute at Tres Cantos, Spain. Many NGOs remain sceptical. Michelle Childs, director of policy and advocacy for Medecins Sans Frontieres, says that in China, GSK charges over $3,000 for the antiretroviral Lamivudine in the absence of generic competition, while in Thailand, by comparison, another pharmaceutical company, Abbott, offers the Lopinavir/Ritonavir co-formulation for $500. And as for reinvesting profits, Catherine Tomlinson of the Treatment Action Campaign says, ‘Wouldn’t it simply be better to slash profits and allow for countries themselves to invest in improving health infrastructure? The GSK argument is circular: We charge so much money so that we can give you some of your own money back!’
The most interesting and radical move, however, is that Witty committed GSK to put any chemicals or processes over which it has intellectual property rights that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a ‘patent pool’, so they can be explored by other researchers. Explaining this move, Witty said, ‘I think it’s the first time anybody’s really come out and said we’re prepared to start talking to people about pooling our patents to try to facilitate innovation in areas where, so far, there hasn’t been much progress.’ He went on to say, ‘Some people might be surprised it’s coming from a pharma company. Obviously people see us as very defensive of intellectual property, quite rightly, and we will be, but in this area of neglected diseases we just think this is a place where we can carve out a space and see whether or not we can stimulate a different behaviour.’
On this score, some critics have been cautiously supportive. ‘He is breaking the mould in validating the concept of patent pools’, said the head of Oxfam’s medicines campaign, Rohit Malpani. ‘That has been out there as an idea and no company has done anything about it. It is a big step forward. It is welcome that he is inviting other companies to take this on and have a race to the top instead of a race to the bottom.’
About the blogger
Dr Wayne Visser is the Founder & Director of CSR International and the author of 9 books on CSR, the most recent of which is The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business. He researches, writes, trains and teaches corporate sustainability & responsibility around the world, including at Cambridge University, Magna Carta College, Oxford and La Trobe Graduate Business School, Melbourne.
Let’s take a look at one of the biggest crises the world still faces: HIV/AIDS. According to the November 2009 UNAIDS report, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981. The number of people living with HIV has risen from around 8 million in 1990 to 33 million today, and is still growing. Around 67% of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa and Africa has over 14 million AIDS orphans. At the end of 2008, women accounted for 50% of all adults living with HIV worldwide. In developing and transitional countries, 9.5 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs; of these, only 4 million (42%) are receiving the drugs.
The topic of drugs presents a good case study in responsiveness (and the lack thereof). In 2001, Oxfam launched a campaign called ‘Cut the Cost’, challenging the pharmaceutical industry to address responsible drug pricing. In the same year, the Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla cut the annual price of anti-retroviral AIDS drugs to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to $350, as compared with the global industry standard of $1,000, and the Western market price of $10,400. Cipla also announced its intention to allow the South African government to sell eight of its generic AIDS drugs, the patents for which were held by other companies.
MSF put pressure on the five major pharmaceutical companies involved in the UNAIDS Accelerating Access Initiative to match Cipla’s benchmark. And to some extent, they responded. Merck cut the price of its HIV/AIDS treatments for developing countries, including offering Crixivan at $600 and Stocrin at $500. Pfizer offered to supply antifungal medicine at no charge to HIV/AIDS patients in 50 AIDS stricken countries. Bristol-Myers Squibb announced that it would not prevent generic-drug makers from selling low-cost versions of one of its HIV drugs (Zerit) in Africa. And Glaxo-SmithKline granted a voluntary licence to South African generics producer Aspen, allowing them to share the rights to GSK’s drugs (AZT, 3TC and Combivir) without charge.
So far so good. Apparently the drug companies are quite responsive. Why then, in 2001 (at the same time that they were doing all these good things), did 39 of the largest international pharmaceutical companies take the South African government to court over plans to introduce legislation aimed at easing access to AIDS drugs, arguing that it would infringe their patents and contravene the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement? Justin Forsyth, Oxfam Policy Director, said at the time, ‘This court case demonstrates how powerful drug companies are bullying poor countries just so they can protect their patent rights on lifesaving medicines.’
The pharmaceutical companies quickly realized that they had created a monster. Tens of thousands of people marched in protest all over the world, and 300,000 people from over 130 countries signed a petition against the action. Eventually, following public pressure, as well as pressure from the South African government and the European Parliament, Big Pharma dropped the case. Fanning the flames of public discontent, John le Carr_e’s 2001 book The Constant Gardener and the 2005 film adaptation depicted drug companies as corrupt profiteers. And so began the industry’s PR damage control campaign. ‘This is not about profits and patents’, said John L. McGoldrick, Executive Vice President at Bristol-Myers Squibb, ‘We seek no profits on AIDS drugs in Africa, and we will not let our patents be an obstacle.’