Seven years before Plantagon was founded I started a consulting company named Corporate Citizenship AB, specializing in Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), together with Göran Pettersson, at that time the managing director for the Red Cross Idea and Development Center in Mariefred (Sweden) and my old companion Magnus Hjelmare. 10 % of the shares in Corporate Citizenship were owned by the listed technical consulting company Sweco.
Along with Sweco's former environmental director Gunnar Nordberg, we developed the first management tool for what today is called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Global Compact Index. The work was done in agreement with the Global Compact - the UN and Kofi Annan's initiative for increased voluntary responsibility among the multinationals.
Our objective was to identify, educate and carry out concrete projects that enabled our clients to become more responsible companies and simultaneously increased their productivity.
I can relate many fascinating stories from these years, although my own feeling increasingly came to be characterized by "nailing frames on other peoples paintings”; I had for so many years been totally focused on building up my own entrepreneurial spirit, now I was only a consultant for others.
The crucial story, relevant to the development of the companization is only one.
Global Compact Index consisted of eighty questions based on the UN recommendations in the Global Compact. The areas where human rights, labor and environment. Building on existing international agreements had the UN, on the direct initiative of Kofi Annan himself simplified all these agreements and broken them down to nine points which he urged the international business community to unite around. Behind every point in the program, there were specific recommendations, such as how a company should handle a situation involving child labor that had come up.
Global Compact Index was formed with these recommendations as a launching point. Our work was quite simply to rewrite the UN recommendations as questions.
Example: If one of the recommendations behind the principle of child labor was to provide education to a child who was accidentally used in production, our question was "Should the company offer training to a child who was accidentally used in production?" The alternative answers to this question spanned from “definitely” to “definitely not”.
The questions were thus from an international law perspective such, that the best alternative as answer was obvious.
After an extensive survey of Swedish industry, we found that the answers were not so obvious. Although the results we presented in conjunction with the Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (SCORE) showed that many companies showed a relatively positive attitude towards the UN's recommendations, there were also many serious exception.
The report received a great deal of attention, it was even published on the UN site of the Global Compact, and can still be downloaded from there.
What is not included in the report are comments, opinions and attitude of some of those invited who did not want to participate in the survey. It was they who made the greatest impact on me. Despite the fact that the UN ’s support for our methods and for the study itself provided the perfect opportunity for us to sit around in TV sofas and establish ourselves as the "gurus" in the CSR field (to this day I think we are the only company that has had similar material published by the UN), we decided to do a total remake of our business concept.
We knew what we knew, that we were good at what we did, but we could also draw three conclusions:
- The market for CSR consulting as we knew it was bound to shrink. We managed just too sensitive information and wanted to draw moral conclusions based on that information. Even if we connected all work to profit, we were also idealists and our customers ran the risk that our personal ethics would carry more weight than our professional.
- The growth of more PR-geared, superficial CSR consultants among advertising and PR-bureaus was easy to predict, a direction likely to gain a strong fast-hold and with which we did not want to be associated.
- What we meant by Corporate Citizenship and CSR companies could not handle. They were simply not designed for it.
That I personally also found it difficult to continue to relate issues of child labor, debt bonded labor and environmental pollution to whether it was profitable or not was finally decisive.
At a dinner at home with my family I made my final decision. We sat talking as we normally did about how the day had been; I shared with them a few details from mine and said "What if mom and I raised you in the same way we talk to each other at my work ... Then I'd tell you to go to school tomorrow and just take responsibility when you yourselves can benefit something from it... What would you think about that?"
The children's moral concerns when I tried to answer all their questions and explain to them that it was not always so simple, that things just have to take time sometimes and ... This feeling of not telling the real truth was what finally tipped me over.
Corporate Citizenship AB, which at this point had changed name to Swecorp Citizenship Stockholm AB discontinued all of its consulting services in order to focus completely on what we called CSR 3.0 – projects which implements environmental, social and economic responsibility in the business from the outset and then assures these areas of responsibility forever.
We went out with a press release about this and got a lot of attention. Five full pages in the leading Swedish business-daily Dagens Industri under the headline “Many business leaders don’t know much, have no idea what they want and understand even less”. Although it was misquoted, it would have been ”corporations” and not ”business leaders” – it was an effective way to exclude ourselves from all CSR – assignments.
We were also covered in a long story in the weekly magazine ETC, a Swedish radical newspaper under the headline: "Capitalism will save the world!" (this was not expressed by me or anyone else at Swecorp as we truly do not believe in it, but from a PR-perspective for what we really wanted to say it was effective).
Both articles were as interesting for us to see. We had obviously taken a position that interested people with a range of different perspectives.
One of our early project initiatives was to investigate if a so called ”socially public corporation” could meet the upcoming food crisis by developing technologies to grow food vertical on an industrial scale inside cities.
Today this project is named Plantagon, and Swecorp owns 15%. Together with our fellow owners we will transfer 10% to you and everyone else that want to be part of, support and influence what we do. As far as I know the Plantagon Companization will be the first real socially public corporation and show that a hands-on way of understanding corporate citizenship and CSR is possible. It will not change capitalism as such but it will challenge its basic values.
P.S. As a comment to CSR and policies: This film was shot privately by me in Burma. Children, men and women. Building an international bank. Do you think they have a CSR-policy? Yes, they do. D.S.