Events - 20.02.2012 - 00:00 

Ethical standards as guidance?

Who determines who is responsible for what? Do standards help organisations and professionals to pursue their economic activities in an ethical way? These questions were discussed at the St.Gallen CSR Days.


17 February 2012. What corporate responsibility means in a global age was discussed by specialist journalist Achim Halfmann with the audience and the speakers on 16 February 2012. The panel consisted of Prof. Dr. Ludger Heidbrink (Essen Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities), Birgit Riess (Director of the Bertelsmann Foundation), Andreas Schneider (Austrian Economic Chambers), Prof. Dr. Josef Wieland (Konstanz University of Applied Sciences) and HSG President Prof. Dr. Thomas Bieger.

At the beginning of the discussion, Thomas Bieger homed in on the responsibility which a university has as a public space. HSG students, he said, were familiarised with the principle of “local roots” and learned that each of their entrepreneurial actions would have an impact on society, the economy, the environment and politics. Business universities such as the HSG had a mission to enable young people to make a positive contribution to the configuration of society in their capacity as entrepreneurs.

Renegotiating areas of responsibility

Globalisation was compelling government, civil society and the economy to renegotiate areas of responsibility, said Ludger Heidbrink of the Essen Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities. He interpreted the discussion about responsibility as an expression of a social value crisis. Actors in politics, the economy and society only assumed responsibility if this created value for themselves. The CSR debate should not only be conducted on a moral plane; rather, the legal level should also be taken into consideration since laws had a strong impact on ethical standards in corporations.

Standards for better orientation

The panel agreed that supranational organisations such as the UN and the EU had a great influence on the value debate. Whether ethical codes and standards would indeed make value-creation cycles more sustainable was appraised in different ways: Birgit Riess regarded ISO standards as a practical set of guidelines for the establishment of sustainable processes in companies. “In times of disorientation, a corrective is required”, said the Director of the Bertelsmann Foundation. Josef Wieland doubted the efficiency of international standards. “Standards were born out of necessity”, he said. They would not inevitably result in more responsibility in a society unsettled by globalisation. Nonetheless, standards would help make the abstract issue of responsibility measurable in the form of “efficiency, diligence, embeddedness and impact”, conceded the professor from Konstanz.

CSR as a torch for “sustainability leaks”

Andreas Schneider of the Austrian Economic Chambers described CSR as a kind of torch with which entrepreneurs were able to screen the processes in their firms for sustainability. Particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises, CRS standards would help to create sustainable processes for the benefit of their environment and, for example, of the supplier chain. “Freedom and responsibility are closely linked”, said Schneider. Heidbrink emphasised that consumers, too, had to exercise their responsibility at the end of the value-creation chain. “Integrated responsibility also means taking a product out of the range if it is not good and does not satisfy ethical standards”, said Bieger.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Riess emphasised that the awareness of proximity was important for people to be able to experience CSR. Responsibility primarily became concrete in people’s own direct environment, said Bieger. Globalisation enabled professionals today to carry out a wide variety of jobs around the globe. However, such flexibility resulted in a lack of commitment, which organisations would only be able to counteract with the help of the principle of “embeddedness”.

Discover our special topics