What do beef, soy, palm oil, timber and bio-fuels have in common? What might appear to be the innocuous contents of an emergency survival kit for campers, is arguably, the most powerful set of commodities in the world. From hamburgers and chocolate chip cookies to shampoo and toilet paper, the Big Five and its derivatives are found in hundreds of common-place products on supermarket shelves. Growing demand for these commodities has a profound effect on global commerce and presents a tremendous opportunity for developing nations to generate wealth. To satisfy the global appetite for these products, developing countries are channeling the one free resource they still possess – forests. It is estimated that the Big Five play a significant role in the destruction of nearly 13 million hectares of tropical forests every year. To put it in perspective, that is an area the size of Greece. Who is responsible for this rapacious trend? In the second post in the series, Chalk It Up, we will examine new methods to chart out the impact of commodity trade on forests and try to understand if these metrics can help save the most valuable living resources we have left on our planet.
Have you ever sat at a restaurant and wondered what the kitchen looks like? Do they keep all the surfaces clean? Do they use fresh ingredients? Do they follow the “Employees must wash hands” policy to the letter and then some? If only the kitchen had glass walls, the germophobe in you thinks wistfully. Now extend that to knowing what went into any everyday product, where they were made and what happens to them once you throw them out and you have a wonderful, transparent world. With the multitude of information sources on the internet, that scenario is not that unthinkable. Customers, investors, employees or any concerned citizen can find and create searchable information on businesses. What about companies themselves? One way for businesses looking to stay one step ahead and put out accurate, permanently available and third-party reviewed information on their operating practices is to publish a sustainability report. Continue reading
Ever heard the words “fiduciary duty”? I hadn’t either, till I looked up Corporate Law for Dummies. Here is what caught my attention, “Unless modified by statute, traditional fiduciary duties require corporate officials to
further the interests of shareholders, and thus require them to maximize corporate profits subject to the obligation to comply with independent legal constraints”. Translating into English, it simply means it is the legal responsibility of a corporate to maximize profits and protect the interests of its shareholders. On the flip side, it is not within the scope of the “fiduciary duties” of a corporate to consider the interests of other stakeholders, including, employees, suppliers, communities and the environment. If they do, a corporate can set itself up for some expensive lawsuits by profit-hungry stakeholders. Craigslist found out the hard way. Ben and Jerry’s, that role model do-good business, lost a lot of its glory in the Unilever buyout and the founders still think it cuts deep. Continue reading