The UK is in danger of losing its global lead in the fast-expanding area of corporate social responsibility – as the USA closes the gap with massive ‘catch-up’ investment, a leading academic warned today.
Decades of research have established the UK as world-wide Number One in the field of formal tuition of social and environmental accounting.
But now that position is at risk, according to Professor Alyson Warhurst of Warwick Business School’s Corporate Citizenship Unit.
American universities – backed by big business and the deep pockets of their wealthy alumni – have joined the race to dictate the rules on social accounting in corporate governance.
And there is more at stake than national pride, says Prof Warhurst, who has worked in this field for 25 years. Whoever helps write the rulebook will exercise considerable influence in boardrooms around the world. There is a great deal of research to be done on methodologies and tools in respect of promoting norms for responsible business practice.
Warwick Business School is playing its part in helping the UK to retain its lead by establishing an international benchmark for the social accounting revolution.
Companies world-wide are feeling the ethical backlash of commercial decisions that fail to take account of social and environmental issues, as big institutional investors increasingly seek the moral high ground demanded by their own shareholders.
The trend now is for companies to report on the ethical aspect of their business in the same way that they inform shareholders of financial issues.
April sees the launch by Warwick Business School of a revamped programme in social accounting, auditing, reporting and assurance aimed at cutting through the confusion many executives feel about how to bring transparency to the process, exactly what they should be declaring in their accounts, and what codes should be guiding them.
It has been designed to take account of recommendations in the recently-published July 2003 Communiqué of the European Commission on CSR.
Warwick Business School’s Corporate Citizenship Unit has been tracking trends over several years and has developed a wide range of course material, in collaboration with the Institute of Social and Ethical Accounting, based on genuine case studies.
An intensive five day residential course is sandwiched between two three month-long modules of web-based learning. Essay guidance is offered by members of the faculty, and candidates are encouraged to interact with other participants.
Course director Anupama Mohan said: “The course is targeted at the operational level and is really aimed at practising managers, but the understanding that it gives of key social accounting issues is also appropriate for more senior managers.”
She added: “Our programme is unusual as it goes beyond the five day residential element to a more sustained learning process, and has the advantage of offering a means of keeping in touch with fellow participants, and tapping into a wealth of knowledge that helps people put the learning into practice.”
She said participants were supplied with research data from ‘live’ cases, within weeks of the studies being completed, and were encouraged to apply what they learned in their own organisations.
The programme looks at the issues of social and environmental responsibility, and traces the supply chains of some of the biggest names on the High Street back to the developing countries.
“We have had quite a bit of interest from firms that are sourcing from developing countries,” Ms Mohan added.
Professor Warhurst added: “I believe it will not be long before international standards are introduced in this area, similar to the ISO regulations. That may well lead to a situation where large multi-nationals will refuse to trade with suppliers that don’t have a recognised policy in place."“It’s not optional any longer – it’s a business imperative. At present the UK has a world-wide lead in developing and applying these standards, but the US has now woken up.”
Diana Holton, Press Information Officer, tel. 024 7652 2985