THINKPIECE: If corporate PR chiefs don’t take the lead as the global ethics watchdogs, reputations will suffer

New Gallup International findings for Transparency International, the anti-corruption organization, show that business leaders in emerging market countries see US firms being just as willing to pay bribes as German and British corporations. Meanwhile, the media report allegations that US firms are exploiting child labor in Vietnam, violating human rights in India, destroying the environment in Brazil and bribing senior officials in Argentina.

New Gallup International findings for Transparency International, the anti-corruption organization, show that business leaders in emerging market countries see US firms being just as willing to pay bribes as German and British corporations. Meanwhile, the media report allegations that US firms are exploiting child labor in Vietnam, violating human rights in India, destroying the environment in Brazil and bribing senior officials in Argentina.

New Gallup International findings for Transparency International,

the anti-corruption organization, show that business leaders in emerging

market countries see US firms being just as willing to pay bribes as

German and British corporations. Meanwhile, the media report allegations

that US firms are exploiting child labor in Vietnam, violating human

rights in India, destroying the environment in Brazil and bribing senior

officials in Argentina.



Many corporate PR chiefs tell me they are most interested in corporate

global ethics, but are absent from the crisis-prevention stage and only

spring into action once a Nike-type crisis is raging.



Global business ethics is rising as a central issue on the globalization

map: it is both an opportunity and a liability. Corporations seen

worldwide as pursuing excellent ethics will win new business, secure

better relations with governments and other stakeholders and compete

more effectively.



Ask Johnson & Johnson, which invests in a major way to secure its global

ethical reputation. Corporations seen as ignoring integrity issues will

face rising pressures that can do exceptional damage to their sales,

their profits and their long-term image. Ask Coca-Cola, which has

suffered scandals in Europe that have eroded consumer trust and

loyalty.



Corporate communications chiefs need to be their corporation’s global

ethics leaders, but they are not. Corporate PR chiefs are ducking the

tough topics crowding the global corporate ethics agenda. They need to

take the time and make the investments necessary to understand the

issues, the pressure groups, the threats and the opportunities. They

need to be the chief global corporate ethics advisers to their CEOs -

this is the essence of effective reputation management.



If corporate PR leaders fail to lead here, then they will be doing their

corporations a grave disservice. Consumers, governments, suppliers and

shareholders the world over will increasingly back the firms that behave

well and contribute to local communities, and slam the firms that are

perceived to be less than totally ethical.



Preventative PR is urgent as most international firms are facing

mounting criticisms from interest groups. These groups are effective in

promoting their views by using young democracies, the Internet, the

world’s media, and, as we saw in Seattle, by organizing protests. They

are also becoming savvy at using shareholders and annual meetings to

raise global ethics questions.



Across the landscape of PR activities the business ethics issues are

more and more central. They are too important to leave to just the

lawyers - it’s time corporate PR executives got educated, got energized

and got with their corporation’s globalization programs.





- Frank Vogl is president of Vogl Communications, a Washington DC-based

strategic management PR firm.



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