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Business Ethics: Keep the Balance

Report on the Third „Transatlantic Doctoral Academy on Corporate Responsibility”

From February 8th to February 13th, 2010, the third Transatlantic Doctoral Academy on Corporate Responsibility (TADA) took place in Montreal and Toronto, Canada. Twice a year, the conference organized by Dr. Thomas Beschorner (Universities of Oldenburg and Montréal) and supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offers a forum for academic exchange to 18 PhD-Students from Germany and Canada, who are preparing their doctoral thesis on issues related to Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility.

The students come from diverse academic fields such as management, law, sociology, culture studies, history and psychology. Most of them had already presented their work at the previous TADA sessions and gave updates on its state of art. The projects revealed different perspectives on CSR. From an institutional point of view, private standards as ISO 26000, SA 8000 and industry-related norms were discussed. Presentations about respectful leadership, self-organization and internal promoters of normative issues highlighted the company perspective. Sabine Mirkovic (European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/ Oder), for instance, focused on the changing role of business, co-providing public goods. From a third perspective, Imke Schmidt (Essen University) reflected the responsibility of consumers for sustainable development, exemplifying the Carbon Footprint initiative.

An important CSR issue in Canada are mining companies’ impacts on society and environment. Claire Woodside (Carleton University Ottawa), for example, analyzed the evolution of conflicts between local communities and mining companies. Gerardo J. Munarriz (University of British Columbia) stated the necessity of internationally binding norms and mechanisms to hold multinational companies accountable for human rights violations. This was illustrated by the clashes between mining companies and indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon region.

On the second day, the TADA-participants worked on a Case Study on a German company with Christian background facing problems due to internal power struggles and a lack of consistent values. Five groups identified the causes of the crisis and presented solutions, based on their theoretical backgrounds. The recommendations included the adoption of a Code of Conduct offering orientation for decision-making, a clear positioning regarding the Christian values and changes to the corporate and leadership structure in order to make them more transparent.

Luc Bres (HEC Montreal) organized a lunch discussion with members of the “Groupe de recherche interdisciplinaire en développement durable” (GRIDD-HEC) for the third day. Several statements from TADAists opened a debate on the relationship between sustainability and CSR and on how these concepts can be communicated to students in management studies. Further, the voluntary nature of CSR was questioned, and the participants discussed if CSR activities necessarily lead to win-win situations or if trade-offs have to be made. Brazilian participants enriched the debate, arguing that the promotion of sustainability should not be reduced to governments and companies, but also relies on civil society mobilization.

The stay in Montreal concluded with an excursion to the Mont Royal, where participants exchanged their ideas during a “Walk and Talk” and went figure skating on the Lac des Castors – keeping the balance. The TADA continued with the joint three-day workshop “TADA meets CBERN” at York University, Toronto.

Thea Renner/ Maike Wiehmeier