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Guest Blog: Urminsky on CSR, Labour Rights, and Business Schools

I did an entry recently questioning how it is that Schools and Faculties win awards in Corporate Social Responsibility when they have little or no course specializing in labour laws and labour rights issues. For example, I noted how Schulich School of Business here at York sucks up these sorts of awards even though it does not have a single faculty member whose specific expertise is labour and employment law.  Michael Urminsky, a labour lawyer with a background at the ILO and international human rights and his own blog (Canadian Labour Law and Industrial Relations), prepared his own thoughtful response to my queries.

Here is his Guest Blog entry:

David Doorey pondered in a recent post several questions about how business schools are approaching corporate social responsibility. I worked on CSR issues with the International Labour Office for 8 years so I know a bit about this. In particular while at the ILO I advocated for the ILO to work with business schools that had CSR programs. These programs were just begining in those days. I tried to convince my colleagues that we need to integrate ILO standards into business education programs around the world.

Doorey’s post sparked my interest in this area again so I spent a bit of time with google and my old bookmarks from the ILO and found some interesting information I thought I would share.

Prof Doorey asks,

“[D]o the business schools and the CSR rankings consider labour practices to be a central part of ‘corporate social responsibility’, or is CSR really about environmental issues and philanthropy?”

1) Business Schools

In my experience business schools and CSR programs ignore the labour rights dimension of corporate social responsibility almost entirely.

Why is this? Business schools market their graduates to companies. As such they need to respond to the demands of companies (at least to a certain extent). Companies have a wide range of views on what constitute CSR, for some it means Philantropy, environmental issues, community involvement, employee volunteering, and others it means human rights and or workers rights.

I tend to believe the vast majority of companies see CSR as primarily environmental, community and philantropic, with the exception of the apparel, footwear, textiles and agricultural sectors, workers rights do not get the same level of attention that environmental and community issues do. If you agree with this it is not surprising that business schools do not have courses that look at human rights or workers rights as there is likely little demand for skills that these courses would teach.

That is not to say there are not some exceptions out there. One that is close to home is St. Mikes at University of Toronto which has a
Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility. The program lists employee relations and human rights as part of
Module 2. However, its not clear how they address it or what module 2 even is. Maybe St. Mikes can invite Prof Doorey to come down and give a talk on labour rights in their program?

CSR Rankings of Business Schools

Doorey also asks about the rankings of CSR programs and whether they take into account labour rights. I looked into this a bit and found the Corporate Knight Survey. The Corporate Knights seem to do annual rankings of selective university programs such as law schools, MBAs, and public policy programs.

In 2007 their survey addressed Canadian business schools, and in particular how well these schools were integrating CSR into their curriculum. The 2007 survey methodology is online. A search of the document reveals no focus on the components of CSR (ie human & workers rights, environment, community, …), there are just general references to CSR or social and environmental issues. This is disappointing and consistent with what Prof. Doorey questions in his post.

As I said earlier in this post, I had tried to encourage the ILO to work with business schools to integrate the fundamental principles and rights into business school curriculum. Writing this post got me wondering how one would go about doing this now. I started looking into it and found that the United Nations had started a initiative called the Principles for Responsible Management Education – and I though, someone read one of the Memo’s I wrote one of the memo’s I wrote while working in the ILO.

The UN`s Principles for Responsible Management Education claims to be inspired by the UN Global Compact`s. Four of the Global Compact’s principles are the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (Freedom of Association, Collective Bargaining, Child Labour and Forced Labour). However, despite the inspiration of the Global Compact, the PRME seems focused almost entirely on environment and community issues. I will acknowledge that this is based on a fairly rudimentary review of their web site and I stand to be corrected. So alas those memos sit waiting to be read in the archives of the ILO. Nevertheless if the ILO wanted to try to start integrating labour rights into business school curriculum this may be a useful place to start their efforts, at least you have a group of schools that may be receptive to the issues.

The ILO is also well placed to begin this, as they have a suite of products that business schools could take and adapt.

When I was working in the ILO, one of my jobs was developing a course for managers on the fundamental principles and rights at work. I taught the course to managers and trainers in 10 countries and was even invited to a few European Universities to perform short courses for students. One of the reasons we sought to develop this program was because of a perceived lack of training for companies from existing business schools. The ILO Training Center in Turin Italy also offers a number of courses in what would generally be called the labour dimension of CSR.

You can see a general description of their program here. I use to teach some of these courses between 2000 and 2005 but I don’t know what they are like now. Subjects include;

Socially Sensitive Enterprise Restructuring,
Global Supply Chains,
International Labour Standards and CSR.

I think this program, though far from perfect is a good attempt at trying to integrate labour rights into the CSR movement. Maybe the ILO Training Centre should start partnering with Business schools to start getting labour rights on their curriculum.

Thanks Michael, very interesting.  I intend to take a closer look at the criteria used in these CSR rankings to assess the extent to which labour issues are deemed important to the CSR world.  If any readers have insight into CSR programs at universities, your comments would be appreciated.

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