Apr 152008
Authors: Trevor Simonton

Tuesday night, economist and sustainable development expert Michael Conway spoke to students about what he labeled a “revolution” in business practices and ethical policies.

The topic of his discussion matched the topic of his recently released book, “Branded! How the Certification Revolution is Transforming Global Corporations”.

Conway’s visit was hosted by the College of Business’ Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program, in conjunction with the Center for Fair and Alternative Trade Studies.

GSSE director Carl Hammerdorfer said that CSU wanted to bring Conway to students because his topic, the “certification revolution,” is an “interesting intersection between sociology, anthropology, and business.”

Joseph Darnell, a CSU student participating in the GSSE program, helped set up Conway’s visit.

“His speech represents part of the future in the reality of business,” Darnell said. “Any business student not paying attention to this is foolish.”

The certification revolution is Conway’s reference to “the unparalleled changes in the accountability of global corporations in a social and environmental context.”

He explained that the standards consumers hold to the ethical practices involved with business in global corporations are on a steady rise.

Internationally, people are becoming increasingly aware that global companies can dodge governmental restrictions on trade by simply setting up businesses in countries with less government involvement in business.

“The world needs governance of these global corporations,” said Conway, who is referred to by colleagues as “the godfather of fair trade.”

Conway is an advocate for independent “social responsibility” organizations that seek to set published standards for ethics in global business practices.

These groups are separate entities from the corporations they watch, and are nongovernmental so they have no boundaries.

They work hand-in-hand with companies that abide by their standards, in that companies will benefit from their certification.

Conway said consumers would start to look for fair trade certification when they are making purchases, and those companies who do not abide by these consumer-based regulations do not have the certification to help make a sale of their product.

These days, Conway says, big corporations make global news when poor ethical practices are discovered, as Nike discovered years ago when it was made public that they did not disallow child labor in foreign countries; they lost 57 percent of their market share value.

Conway said that these fair trade certification programs provide good press for the corporations that cooperate as well as assurance to consumers that the certified companies do not conduct such frowned-upon practices.

He said that big business these days have such a large percentage of their value based on a brand name that certifying that name is a worthy investment.

One major problem such organizations face, however, is funding. Most are non-profit, and find difficulty in supplying adequate checks when large corporations like Starbucks and Wal-Mart start asking for certification. This is partly why Conway will be turning over all royalties made from his book to these fair trade organizations.

Staff writer Trevor Simonton can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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