Corporate Citizenship Conference Recap Day 3: Breakout Sessions


On Tuesday, April 21, the final day of the 2015 International Corporate Citizenship Conference, the learning continued with more breakout sessions throughout the day. Heads filled with new ideas and inspiration from the day before, conference attendees had the chance to attend two additional breakout sessions before heading back to put what they learned into action.

Managing Reputation Across the Value Chain

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Moderator Cindy Conner, Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship teaching fellow and communications consultant, started off the breakout with this quote from Warren Buffett, saying that corporate citizenship is at the forefront of protecting company reputations. She then asked the three panelists—Crystal Barnes, vice president of corporate social responsibility at The Nielsen Company; Daniel Duty, vice president of global affairs at Target Corporation; and Jenny Robertson, director of sustainability at AT&T Inc.—how they use corporate citizenship throughout the value chain in a way that has impact on their companies.

ValueChainMap2All three panelists agreed that the first step is to understand what issues are material to the company and how they could potentially damage its reputation.

Robertson shared AT&T’s Value Chain Map, which looks at how each potential issue affects the company.

Nielsen has gone through a similar process, undertaking an assessment that resulted in the company’s materiality matrix.

Target’s Duty pointed out that the company’s value chain is extensive. As the second largest mass retailer in the U.S., Target manufactures nearly half of its own products. He said that making a positive impact on the world is crucial to what Target does to build reputation.

A key takeaway from the session was that there will always be risks, but how the company deals with them will determine their potential effect on reputation. All three companies try to assess what these risks might be, make a list of priorities, then develop a risk mitigation plan. The key question is always, “how can we proactively reduce the incidence of the risk.” Unfortunately, there will always be surprises, but the best a company can do is to be well-prepared. The key is to use the capital the company has built over the years, and remind the public of the good it has done in the past.

Managing the Changing Global Landscape

In this session, panelists discussed emerging international laws and how they are affecting corporate citizenship. Panelists were: Trisha Cunningham, chief citizenship officer of Texas Instruments; Katherine Cheng, head of global corporate citizenship at Expedia Inc.; and John Spinnato, vice president of North American CSR and president of the Sanofi Foundation for North America at Sanofi US.

Moderator Susanne Katus, vice president of business development americas at eRevalue, started off the session by citing the growing number of mandates and regulations businesses are subject to, many with mandatory reporting and disclosure requirements, and asked the panelists how they are navigating these difficult waters.

The panelists agreed that staying educated is critical. Whether it’s China, Japan, or Europe, it’s imperative to know what’s coming and understand what the obligations are for the company.

Spinnato said this is particularly difficult as a subsidiary of a foreign entity. His strategy is to first try to understand which regulations apply to him and his organization, then make sure that any action taken is consistent with the company’s human rights and other policies.

Cunningham said that the first test is whether it applies to the company. Then, is it something stakeholders care about? Is it something your supply chain cares about? Finally, do we already collect and report on this data?

Cheng agreed, saying that you may not have all the details of the regulations, but that’s not an excuse. It’s up to the practitioner to have his or her eyes and ears on the ground. She said that it helps to rely on employees in local offices, who can keep tabs on new issues as they are bubbling up.

Other helpful advice from the panel:

  • Build a network of ambassadors in each country. 
  • Be aware not only of new regulations, but of changes in enforcement activities and how this might affect operations.
  • No matter the current trends, stay true to the company’s core values—these should be your guide post.
  • Understand what your stakeholders care about.
  • Look to your local team and qualified organizations to help you vet local organizations to support.
  • In addition to working with local NGOs, look to your own employees to provide direct service where possible.

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