Pulse on Citizenship: Seeking and Setting the Standard for Corporate Responsibility

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a new monthly series from Microsoft’s Citizenship team called “Pulse on Citizenship,” which will appear at 6 a.m. PT on the second Wednesday of every month. Pulse on Citizenship will provide insight and commentary on topics and trends in corporate citizenship.

Posted by Steve Lippman
Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft

The Internet gains approximately eight new users every second. Sitting in the Corporate Citizenship team of a large public company like Microsoft, it sometimes feels that there’s a similar rate of growth in the number of global corporate responsibility ratings, certifications and voluntary codes and initiatives. This is an exaggeration of course, but it’s worth noting that the think tank SustainAbility conducted an inventory of corporate responsibility ratings two years ago, which found 108 separate ratings, of which only 21 had existed in 2000. In my experience, the number of ratings has only increased in the two years since that inventory.

In many ways, that’s great news. It demonstrates the growing recognition of the importance of corporate social responsibility among a wide range of groups, including institutional investors, government policymakers, the media and customers. It provides a wealth of opportunities for feedback, learning and collaborative partnerships between companies and their important stakeholders.

Yet, the flip side of so many ratings and codes is the challenge of understanding and prioritizing which of them provides the best information and carries the most credibility. I know from my own experience and from talking to colleagues in other companies that the growing number of requests for performance information—often requests to report similar information in slightly different ways—can start to crowd out time available for doing anything but responding to information requests. And I’ve seen different ratings that produce wildly different results provoke confusion and skepticism from colleagues who ask, “Why did we do so much better than our competitor on the list I saw last month than on this other list you are sharing with me now?”

At Microsoft, we rely on a number of global standards to help guide our Citizenship work and commitments. Widely-accepted standards can help focus our efforts on the most important issues and allow stakeholders and rating agencies to more easily assess our performance against their expectations and compare us to other companies. For instance, the UN Global Compact provides an overarching global framework for our commitments to human rights, labor standards, the environment and anti-corruption.

The Global Reporting Initiative provides important guidelines we follow in our annual Microsoft Citizenship Report to publicly disclose our policies, practices and performance in working responsibly and serving communities. We’ve also sought to play a productive role in helping to found corporate responsibility standards for our sector, such as the Electronic Industry Citizenship Council’s Code of Conduct.

For those seeking more information about our performance against these standards and others such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, this page provides a one-stop shop. We welcome your thoughts on which corporate responsibility standards you think are most useful and important in the comment section below.

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