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Harv Bus Rev. 2004 Dec;82(12):125-32, 150.

The path to corporate responsibility.

Author information

1
AccountAbility, London. simon@accountability.org.uk

Abstract

Nike's tagline,"Just do it," is an inspirational call to action for the millions who wear the company's athletic gear. But in terms of corporate responsibility, Nike didn't always follow its own advice. In the 1990s, protesters railed against sweatshop conditions at some of its overseas suppliers and made Nike the global poster child for corporate ethical fecklessness. The intense pressure that activists exerted on the athletic apparel giant forced it to take a long, hard look at corporate responsibility--sooner than it might have otherwise. In this article, Simon Zadek, CEO of the UK-based institute AccountAbility, describes the bumpy route Nike has traveled to get to a better ethical place, one that cultivates and champions responsible business practices. Organizations learn in unique ways, Zadek contends, but they inevitably pass through five stages of corporate responsibility, from defensive ("It's not our fault") to compliance ("We'll do only what we have to") to managerial ("It's the business") to strategic ("It gives us a competitive edge") and, finally, to civil ("We need to make sure everybody does it"). He details Nike's arduous trek through these stages-from the company's initial defensive stance, when accusations about working conditions arose, all the way to its engagement today in the international debate about business's role in society and in public policy. As he outlines this evolution, Zadek offers valuable insights to executives grappling with the challenge of managing responsible business practices. Beyond just getting their own houses in order, the author argues, companies need to stay abreast of the public's evolving ideas about corporate roles and responsibilities. Organizations that do both will engage in what he calls"civil learning".

PMID:
15605571
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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