The 5th International Conference on Social Responsibility, Ethics and Sustainable Business held in Milan on the 6th and 7th October brought together practitioners and scholars from a wide range of disciplines and sectors from 29 countries around the world. The conference was coordinated by Dr Georgiana Grigore (CMC), Dr Alin Stancu (Bucharest University of Economic Studies) and Professor Elio Borgonovi (Bocconi University). The theme of the conference this year was CSR in the digital economy and papers presented ranged from studies of ‘slacktavism’; CSR and digital communications in independent restaurants; IT support for management control systems, changes in the oil industry in Norway, to the growth of mobile financial services in Pakistan. However, a recurring issue across many of the papers was sustainability and the need for businesses to reduce their impact on the environment. This question of sustainability was addressed directly by three of the four keynote speakers and the role of consumers and governments was also considered.
Denise Baden, Associate Professor at University of Southampton explored continuing confusion around definitions of CSR and suggested a way forward might be to drop the voluntary, ‘philanthropic’ element from the construct to focus more clearly on the obligations businesses have to meet in order to maintain their license to operate. Environmental issues took centre stage in Marco Frey’s – Director of the Institute of Management of Scuola Superiori di Studi Universitari e di Perfezionamento Sant’Anna of Pisa – address which explored the UN Global Compact and the challenging goals nations and their citizens have been set to meet by 2030. Caroline Dale Ditlev-Simonsen, Associate Professor at BI Norwegian School and Co-Director of BI Centre for Corporate Responsibility – looked at the ways governments and businesses can ‘nudge’ consumers to reduce their carbon footprint and waste. Offering some interesting examples such as how a small a charge for plastic bags dramatically reduced the number of bags used and thrown away, or encouraging greater use of public transport and bicycles by cutting the number of parking spaces at work could be much more effective than information campaigns. This opened a debate as to whether people simply shifted negative behaviour to other areas and whether governments should be focused more on reducing consumption and heading towards a low or no growth economy. There was also discussion, by Paolo D’Anselmi from University Rome Tor Vergate and others around the role of competition in helping achieve CSR goals where some disagreements emerged. These arguments tended to be between those in the tradition of Milton Friedman who would roll back the state, especially in southern European countries such as Greece and Italy, where waste and poor productivity were identified. Others pointed to problems with privatisation in countries like the UK where the costs to society such as lost employment rights and erosion of public services had been felt sharply by many.
The two days saw a lively exchange of ideas and perspectives from different countries and disciplines. Lead organisers Dr. Georgiana Grigore and Alin Stancu offered their thanks to Professor Ellio Borgonovi and others from Bocconi University for the warm welcome and support the conference participants received. The wonderful sights, sounds and tastes of this stylish, exciting city will be hard to match, so preparation for next year’s conference in Berlin have already begun.