A Manager’s Role in Triple Bottom Line: Global Compact and Responsible Value Creation

Steven D. Olson

A Brief History of the Evolving Social and Moral Expectations Regarding Business

As consensus statements rooted in declarations and conventions that are as close to universally accepted as humans can currently manage, the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact reflect humanity’s best, shorthand understanding to date of what our baseline priorities ought to be in all our commercial activities. The Ten Principles are grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (1996), and the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998) and were crafted to cultivate corporate contributions to the UN Millennium Development Goals (Nations, 2000). The adoption of the Ten Principles by some 7,000 businesses established a voluntary, global learning platform that focused managers’ attention on the four areas of greatest ethical risk for the socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable operation of businesses and markets: human rights, workplace rights, environmental impact, and corruption (Kell, 2013; Kell and Levin, 2003).

These four areas delineate the types of rights that we have come to recognize that every human has and that every human must recognize for others (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). As such, these rights sketch out the baseline expectations for socially responsible behavior that every company must meet. Rights, of course, logically and practically infer correlative and/or converse duties (The Foundation of International Human Rights Law, 2013; Knox, 2008; Küng, 1998; Saul, 2000; Suter, 2009). As The Universal Declaration of Human Rights obliges, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (Article 1) and “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his (sic) personality is possible” (Article 29.1).

Correlative duties to respect the rights of others and converse duties owed by individuals to society, future generations, and the environment share a common presupposition, namely, that you cannot will for yourself the conditions and behaviors that respect your rights without also willing those conditions for others. The Ten Principles delineate what managers and corporations can do to create those conditions for themselves, their employees, and for the other entities, persons, and communities that they affect.

Just as the experience curve focuses managers’ attention on the learning that they and the corporation must do to meet the industry’s steady improvements, improvements that not only decrease cost and price (adjusted for inflation) but also increase quality and value, the Ten Principles focus managers’ attention on the learning that they must undertake to keep pace with the evolving expectations regarding business (Hirschmann, 1964; Stern and Michael, 2006). The Ten Principles direct a manager toward four key areas in which they must continue to learn and innovate in order to meet evolving social expectations regarding human rights and moral value while at the same time decreasing the cost to produce and the price (adjusted for inflation) to consumers. Whatever else managers do in creating and sustaining value, they must make sure that they respect these rights and fulfill these responsibilities.

John Ruggie, a principal architect of the Global Compact, facilitated the subsequent global learning process around the elaboration of what respecting human rights entails for corporations. In his role as the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Ruggie led a global exploration of what it would mean for corporations, states, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other actors to make our universally accepted duties toward other human beings a reality. His final report to the Human Rights Council (Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, 2011) culminated 6 years of learning and elaboration on Global Compact’s shorthand commitments to human rights, namely, to “support and protect the protection of international human rights within their sphere of influence” (Principle 1) and to “make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses” (Principle 2).

By endorsing the Guiding Principles, the Human Rights Council formally signaled an end to “the era of declaratory CSR” (Ruggie, 2013). Corporations and other actors would no longer be able to get away with simply saying that they support human rights. They would have to prove it. The “Protect and Remedy Framework” and “Guiding Principles,” together with the “Ten Principles,” make clear that corporations and their managers have a duty “to respect human rights in terms of risk-based due-diligence” (Ruggie, 2013: 125), to remediate violations, just as they would any other area of business risk, and to communicate “a balanced and reasonable presentation of the organization’s significant economic, environmental and social impacts, and enable[s] stakeholders to assess the organization’s performance” (Making the Connection: Using the GRI G4 Guidelines to Communicate Progress on the UN Global Compact Principles, 2013).

The move from declaring a commitment to the UN principles to actually managing these rights and responsibilities through corporate mechanisms of risk and remediation marked a sea change in corporate practices. Though the “Ten Principles” were affirmed by statements of support from nearly every major business association, as well as several major transnational corporations and other actors, Ruggie found that in 2005 less than 100 of the approximately 80,000 transnational corporations—one-tenth of 1 percent—had explicit, due-diligence policies and practices regarding human rights! I think we can safely say that the vast majority of the world’s corporations are failing in their self-acknowledged, socially expected duties both to know what their human rights risks are and to show what they are doing to address them (Ruggie, 2013: 120–122).

Combined with the State’s duty to protect human rights and civil society’s role in mediating between governments and corporations, the Human Rights Council also endorsed a vision in which corporations play a vital role in a system of “polycentric governance” (Ruggie, 2014; Taylor, 2011). By internalizing these universally accepted social norms and standards into their strategic and operating principles, corporations make universal rights and responsibilities a reality within their unique spheres of action and influence (Blitt, 2012). The vision of polycentric governance was cast as a solution to the “governance gaps” that have permitted transnational corporations to act unethically and unsustainably (Backer, 2012; Prenkert, 2014; Weiss and Thakur, 2010).

Directly or indirectly, knowingly or unwittingly, many corporations have been guilty of or complicit in the violation of universal rights and responsibilities toward humans and nature. In industry after industry—oil and gas, mining and minerals, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, consumer products, and financial services—corporations and their subsidiaries, partners, and suppliers have violated human rights and defaulted on their duties (Schwartz and Gibb, 1999). Some pointed to conflicts and contradictions in domestic and international law and pled innocence. Others pointed to the compliance of their own operations and pled ignorance regarding what their suppliers or vendors were doing. Both responses leave holes in our systems of governance and action. Neither response can be socially or economically sustained.

Polycentric governance proposes the most adequate, if still incomplete, solution to date (Abbott, 2009; Lenssen et al., 2008). The Global Compact Principles aim to establish the conditions of integrity that businesses must create within their organization and operations in order to partner with governments and NGOs to fulfill the UN Development Goals. The risk-based due diligence that Global Compact and the Guiding Principles require of businesses ensures that corporations fulfill the conditions that partnering with integrity requires.

Many corporations have already taken up this vision, making it part of their corporate strategy (Avina, 2013; Isdell, 2010; Jones et al., 2004; Prahalad, 2009). For its part in realizing a risk-based, due-diligence approach to baseline CSR, the United Nations Global Compact modeled its “Ten Principles Self-Assessment Tool” on the “Human Rights Compliance Assessment Quick Check,” a tool developed by the Danish Institute for Human Rights to flesh out the implication of the Human Rights Council’s “Framework” and “Guiding Principles.” Therefore, to understand what the Global Compact means for a manager’s role in the triple bottom line we have to view managerial responsibilities within the context of this evolving vision of polycentric governance and risk-based due diligence.

Consensus—Conflict-Clarifying Principles

As consensus statements, the Global Compact Ten Principles and Guiding Principles are not free from conflict, but far from it (Hoover, 2013). An earlier attempt to go beyond the Global Compact Ten Principles in delineating corporate responsibilities for human rights, the “Draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights,” aroused sharp divisions between rights advocates and business organizations (Doing the wrong thing: Human Rights Activists Fall Out Over How to Deal with Companies, 2007). Many companies, managers, management scholars, legal scholars, and human rights organizations oppose some or all of Ten Principles and Guiding Principles.

The consensus thinking, reflected in Global Compact’s Ten Principles, about a manager’s role in the triple bottom line does not resolve challenge and controversies, it clarifies them. This conflict-clarifying and engendering feature of Global Compact is not accidental. It is, argues Nobel Prize–winning economist, A.K. Sen, an essential feature of “the general discipline of human rights” (Sen, 2005). When we recognize a right we acknowledge that if we can plausibly do something that would prevent that right from being violated, then we have a duty to do what we can. What might we do? Which rights are in play? How do we integrate the rights claims with other important claims in play? All of these questions remain open to debate and interpretation (Giacomazzi, 2005; Knox, 2008; Kung and Schmidt, 1998; McGregor, 2013). Their resolution into action stands as the hallmark of ethical learning.

To lay out an alternative paradigm for a manager’s role and for the role of management education and training in the triple bottom line, we must first appreciate what it is about these principles that offend so many. I will briefly describe the provocative, learning-stimulating challenges and controversies that surround the Ten Principles. With an appreciation of these challenges in mind, I will then outline the emerging shape of the manager’s role in managing with people and planet, as well as profit, in mind. Managing for the triple bottom line requires the ability to generate sustainable profit margins ethically. The evolving expectations reflected in the Ten Principles have emerged as the “curriculum” that managers will have to master in order to create and sustain triple-bottom-line value. In light of the emerging curriculum for value creation, I will close this chapter by describing the new competencies that managers and corporations will need to develop in order to equip themselves and their organizations to deal with the challenge of creating the triple-bottom-line value.

What’s So Challenging about the Ten Principles?

The challenge of the Ten Principles starts with their emphasis. The Ten Principles weigh heavily toward people and planet. Profit, the main concern of modern management theory, is absent. The absence of explicit reference to profit among a manager’s responsibilities makes most management scholars and managers nervous, if not downright suspicious or hostile. Most Anglo-American scholars and managers believe, wrongly, that both law and economic analyses require managers to maximize the wealth of shareholders (Stout, 2012). Due to the fact that it is both logically and practically impossible to maximize two variables at the same time, most modern management scholars and managers cannot and do not support any rights and duties, legal or moral, beyond that of maximizing shareholder wealth. They even fight many laws and regulations on the grounds that those laws and regulations violate the requirement to maximize shareholder wealth. People (Principles 1–6) and planet (Principles 7–9) have few friends and lots of enemies in modern management theory and in much modern management practice (Ghoshal, 2005).

Second, the “ought-ness” of the Ten Principles and Guiding Principles puts them, and any manager who adheres to them, at odds, conceptually and morally, with the central thrust of modern management theory. Most modern management theory, and by implication, management practice, strives and claims to be “value free” or “value neutral.” While laudable in some respects, the striving for value neutrality has led to much methodological and practical mischief.

Methodologically, management scholars have pursued their vision of a value-free or value-neutral science by overemphasizing falsification as the most important criterion for rigorous knowledge (Van de Ven, 2007). We can say we know something significant, management scholars maintain, when we have established claims that have withstood the attempts of others to disprove those knowledge claims. Disproving a claim requires the ability to conduct an experiment to test it. This condition narrows the focus of management researchers toward variance studies that isolate independent and dependent variables, studies that therefore favor laboratory experiments conducted upon people who have no prior experience with the experimental conditions. All variables that can’t be scientifically controlled, including values, are ruled out.

The knowledge such studies produce is intersubjectively rigorous, but the findings have very limited application. The findings apply only to situations in which such variables can be controlled. In addition, the findings only apply to people who have no experience with the variables under these conditions, that is to say, to beginners only.

A manager’s need for knowledge, by contrast, arises only after extensive experience. Moreover, managers operate in a teeming sea of relative values (cultural, organizational, social, and individual), dynamic conditions, and changing variables (Klein, 1999). In seeking to create value for customers and to return reasonable rates of profit to owners and investors, managers are much more concerned with the problem of fixation than falsification (Klein, 2009). Precisely because they cannot isolate or control all the variables that play upon them and their actions, managers worry about getting stuck in ways of thinking and acting that are not producing their intended results. Management science offers little guidance in this respect. The very conditions that make modern social science “rigorous”—the “boundary conditions” of the research—render that knowledge largely unusable by managers.

The practical mischief wrought by management science’s striving for falsifiable rigor and value neutrality is perhaps the most insidious of all. It blinds us to the value laden, moral concerns that are an ingredient in all management decisions. The quest for scientific objectivity and value neutrality suppresses or rejects all value-laden forms of description and analysis, all the while surreptitiously valorizing status quo structures, policies, and priorities. This simultaneous blinding and valorizing mislead many scholars and managers into opposing the Ten Principles as unnecessary, even illegitimate, add-ons to the value-free core of modern management science.

Here’s how the misleading most commonly occurs. Managers and business organizations stake their claim to legitimacy and authority on the basis of their efficiency and effectiveness (MacIntyre, 1984). Our trust and reliance on them for so much of our economic and social lives is warranted, so the claim goes, because managers achieve our ends and purposes, our “values,” whatever they might be, in an effective and efficient manner. We determine our ends (values), and managers and management science simply provide us with efficient and effective means (value free; Bellah et al., 2007). This sounds good, and it tilts toward a bias in our neurological functioning, but it’s not true (Boyatzis, Rochford, and Jack, 2014).

First, efficiency is a relative value that requires the invocation of other values in order to be used as a criterion. For example, consider the act of efficient teaching. It might be efficient in the short run for me to do something myself and just let my students watch. Big lecture halls with one teacher and multiple-choice tests conducted electronically reflect this idea. But in the long run it might be more efficient to let my students do it themselves while I observe and comment on their performance. Small, intimate labs and clinics reflect this idea. Efficiency itself won’t help me decide whether I should prioritize—that is, value—the short term or the long term. Efficiency also won’t tell me how to teach, let alone what to teach. Those valuations have to come from somewhere else. And they do. They come from our values (Schwartz, 1992).

Second, effectiveness is also not value neutral because, like efficiency, it always presupposes some additional criteria. By itself, “effective” tells us nothing. We need to know “Effective for what end?” or “Effective for whom and for what purpose?” The answers to these questions are all value laden. There is no realm of human endeavor in which a value-free assessment of “effectiveness” exists (Taylor, 1989).

The implications of the practical mischief done in the name of value-neutral management and management science runs a wide gamut, from cigarette company executives cynically abjuring all moral responsibility for the impact of their actions in manufacturing, marketing, and selling harmful products, to transnational corporations adjuring all responsibility for human rights violations committed by their subsidiaries and partners (Wolgast, 1992). Supposedly value-neutral management and management science always advance some values, and therefore somebody’s values, over other values and other persons’ values. Supposedly value-neutral management and management science also always imply that the particular state of affairs under study—the status quo, as for example, in studies of the “efficient stock market”—is the ways things are and therefore how things “should be.” Management theories are not “cameras”; they are “engines” (MacKenzie, 2008).

Note the connection between management science and management culture’s understanding of a manager’s role and the understanding of a manager’s duties. Management science purports to tell us “how things are in the world of business.” Managers define and justify their duties on the basis of their view of “how things are in business.” Thus, management theory provides managers with a model of how reality is and managers take it as the model for what they ought to do (Geertz, 1973). A person’s view regarding a manager’s role relies on his or her theory of management (Olson, 2007). The triple-bottom-line “theory” of management implied by the Global Compact Ten Principles, and its implications for managers’ roles, is what offends so many.

The management theory implied by the Ten Principles offends because it prioritizes a set of values on behalf of people and issues that modern management theory and practice has represented poorly, if at all (London and Hart, 2004). For that reason, the Ten Principles imply a different understanding of a manager’s role and responsibilities. Specifically, the Ten Principles value:

Radical human equality, which is entailed by international human and labor rights, many of which exceed the laws and/or practices of many nations and organizations, including industrialized ones.

Abolition of all forms of child labor in favor of child development and education.

Collective bargaining and worker’s right to voice in the workplace.

A bias toward those populations of humans within and across societies who are potentially or actually the most vulnerable to corporate harm and who are also the least likely to have effective means of seeking justice and redress for those harms.

Environmental precaution.

Environmentally friendly technologies.

Active prevention and correction of corruption in all its forms.

The Ten Principles offend because they openly state a commitment to the underserved people and values that were addressed by the UN Millennium Development Goals. Some of these values, and at different times and occasions, perhaps all of them, will offend, or at least present challenges, to all of us, whether we are acting as managers or owners, regulators or consumers, shareholders or stakeholders. Traditional management principles shy away from such substantive commitments. The Ten Principles confront managers and scholars with the unfinished business of recognizing and respecting the rights of ALL people and nature (The Foundation of International Human Rights Law, 2013; Suter, 2009).

In short, I suspect that the real reason that managers and management scholars find the Ten Principles so challenging is because they are so very challenging! To fulfill them implies that a manager or scholar will have to think, value, and act more complexly. Complexity can be daunting for even the best managers and scholars (Senge, 1997). More details, interacting with greater dynamics, require higher levels of thinking (cognition), feeling (affection), and acting (conation). Developmental psychologist Robert Kegan argues persuasively that the “curriculum” of modern management presents managers with challenges already “over the heads” of most managers (Kegan, 1998; Kegan and Lahey, 2009). By adding to these challenges, Global Compact doesn’t pave the way for easy acceptance and adoption, especially when careful analysis reveals that over a 10-year period (1985 to 1995) the top-half of the Standard & Poor’s 500 created a mere 1 to 4 percent return on invested capital, while the bottom half actually destroyed economic value (Thakor, 2011). If managers are not proficient at creating sustainable economic growth and profits given their current ways of thinking and acting, then they’re not likely to embrace readily duties that appear to make their work more complex or less profitable.

This very complexity, however, makes the Ten Principles so attractive to so many. If it is true that there is nothing as helpful to a manager’s personal and professional development—cognitive, emotional, and conative—as the presence of robust contradictions within his or her own thinking, acting, and valuing, then perhaps managers and management scholars recognize that the Ten Principles summon them to internalize a set of conflicting values, beliefs, and actions that will spur them to develop greater managerial capacities (Kegan and Lahey, 2001). Furthermore, if such learning is at the root of the real sources of the core competencies and dynamic capabilities that enable competitive advantage, then the managers and firms that internalize these challenges gain a learning-curve and experience-rate advantage over firms that do not internalize them (Christensen and Raynor, 2013). Data analysis from the Edelman Trust Barometer Global Survey strongly supports this connection (Czarniewski, 2014).

Implications for Managers’ Roles

Given the conceptual, axiological (values), and developmental challenges and opportunities presented by the Global Compact Principles, what are the implications for a manager’s role? I will first lay out the range of consensus-suggested role requirements, derived from the Global Compact “Ten Principles Self-Assessment Tool” (hereafter referenced as “TPSAT,” and for sections and subsections “MA.,” “HU.,” “LA.,” EN.,” and “AC.,” referring respectively to the sections on “Management,” “Human Rights,” “Labor Rights,” “Environment,” and “Anti-Corruption”; Global Compact Self-Assessment Tool, 2015). Grouped under the three categories of People, Planet, and Profits, these role requirements reveal areas of risk, opportunity, and reward that reside within the sphere of influence of every manager and every corporation. These areas coincide with the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 Sustainability Reporting sections on “General Standard Disclosures,” “Disclosure of Management Approach,” and “Indicators” (Making the Connection: Using the GRI G4 Guidelines to Communicate Progress on the UN Global Compact Principles, 2013). Managers need to be prepared to manage both for the risks and for the rewarding opportunities these risks give rise to, as well as communicate them to stakeholders (Esty and Winston, 2009; Porter and Kramer, 2006). I conclude the chapter with a brief description of new and newly emphasized management competencies that managers will have to master in order to seize these opportunities and transmute them into social and economic value.

The Bedrock Requirement and a Managers’ Self-Concept

The bedrock of the manager’s role regarding people is the requirement to “support and respect the protection of international human rights within their [the business’] sphere of influence” (Principle 1, emphasis added). The concept of “sphere of influence” has had a contested legal and conceptual history. The most legally and practically sound conceptions of a business sphere of influence center on the corporation’s capacities to influence human rights, workers, stakeholders, and the environment (Porter and Kramer, 2006; Ruggie, 2013). These capacities flow upstream and downstream from the company’s value-chain activities—upstream to suppliers and partners and downstream to vendors and customers. In whatever capacities the corporation interacts with people along this extended value chain, it holds responsibilities toward their rights. Managers are responsible for conducting due diligence to understand the potential and actual risks to those rights (they are also responsible for remedying violations of them).

This “capacity-based” conception of the responsibilities that fall within a business sphere of influence can be usefully extended to all 10 of the Global Compact Principles, not just to the first nine principles that pertain specifically to human and workplace rights and the environment. Then I will take up the implications of Principle 10, anticorruption, the significance of which will be evident when viewed against the backdrop of the preceding discussions. In whatever way the corporation interacts with society and the environment, it has a responsibility to assess and manage the risks and remedy the violations delineated by the Ten Principles. These responsibilities form the basic stuff of management and the foundation for strategic, socially responsible corporate management (Esty and Winston, 2009; Porter and Kramer, 2006).

The debates surrounding the corporation’s sphere of influence have played an important role in clarifying a manager’s role and responsibilities. These debates, however, have not addressed the personal and professional motivation to act on the Ten Principles. Like other rights-based schemes, the United Nation’s concept of sphere of influence only works if individual managers feel an obligation, whether internally or externally motivated or both, to act upon the Ten Principles (Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, and Damon, 2001). Given the tiny fraction of corporations undertaking risk-based due diligence regarding the Ten Principles, this motivation has clearly been lacking.

Your view of your corporation’s sphere of influence largely depends upon your self-concept and on your perceived efficacy—your own (individual self-efficacy) and on that of your relevant group (collective self-efficacy; Bandura, 1997). If you do not view your role or your identity as encompassing a duty to respect and remedy the rights and responsibilities outlined in the Ten Principles, then you are not likely to act upon them as a manager (Reed II and Aquino, 2003). At most, you’ll comply. Furthermore, if you don’t feel and believe that you and your corporation have the capability to effect those responsibilities, then you are not likely to enact them. This is especially true in settings where laws, regulations, and institutional structures that might support and encourage such enactment are weak or nonexistent. Global Compact was designed for these places especially.

Given the centrality of self-concept and self-efficacy in determining individual and corporate action, you will find it worthwhile to assess your own self-concept and self-efficacy regarding the Ten Principles. Have you bought a smartphone or computer? Purchased new clothes? Owned an automobile? Eaten fruit? Sugar? If so, then you’re almost certainly implicated, personally, in the rights and duties outlined in the Ten Principles.

At root, these principles merely express organizationally and socially the universal value of life and human equality (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). Like the spectrum of colors dispersed from white, visible light when it is passed through a prism, the Ten Principles and the human and environmental rights they include make visible the components by which we respect and protect the lives of others, all others, including our own lives. In respect to the value of our lives, all people are equal and the values and actions that protect and respect life and human equality properly qualify as moral values (Hoban, 2012).

The Global Compact Ten Principles invite managers to express their moral obligation to respect and protect the universal life value by extending the perimeter of their moral concern and ethical action out through their spheres of influence (Kidder, 2009). At the heart of the vision of polycentric governance stands the moral identity of managers as protectors and respecters of life. People, planet, and profits are the essential means of living out that identity.


The manager’s role with regard to people starts with the direct impact that the corporation has on its employees. The list of managerial responsibilities to recognize and respect worker’s rights through risk-based due-diligence details the elements necessary for a productive, profitable, and sustainable workplace (MA.1-5). Global Compact extends these elements up and down the global supply chain (MA.6).

These responsibilities begin with the health and safety and the working hours, wages, and leave times of workers. Work facilities and conditions must be “safe, suitable, and sanitary” (HU.1). Things that so many of us take for granted—good lighting, adequate space, adequate temperatures and ventilation, food, water, sanitation, and privacy—must be available to all up and down the supply chain (HU.2-9). Equipment, machinery, protective gear, and the training for using them must be regularly provided or affordable (HU.2.a-f). Employees must be informed and involved in their own safety issues (HU.3). The special needs of vulnerable populations such as temporary workers, “residential” workers, and pregnant women must be especially attended to (HU.1.h).

As a rule of thumb, managers can safely assume that any dependency creates a node of specific managerial responsibility. That is, any time a worker depends on some thing or condition to fulfill his or her job, the manager has a special responsibility to ensure its provision or fulfillment. Managers are responsible for ensuring that all these responsibilities are met, maintained, and tracked not only within their company but also within their supply chain (MA.2-4 and 6).

Hours, wages, the right to appropriate, life-protecting time away from work, and the contracts that detail these form the other bulwark of a manager’s role regarding people (HU.4-6). Fair, livable wages that are both in line with industry averages and provide enough for workers to meet their basic needs and those of their dependents lay that foundation for commutative justice (HU.5). Workers who are paid fairly and “livably” are empowered to enter into their other commercial exchanges fairly and are less likely to engage in the “desperate exchanges” that characterize so many rights-denying relationships, such as undocumented labor, child labor, forced overtime violations, and usurious, predatory lending (Walzer, 1983). Control of overtime work—defined as work exceeding the global threshold of 48 hours—and its appropriate remuneration—minimum threshold of 1.25 hourly rate—as well as periods of rest—a minimum of 24 contiguous hours in every 7-day period—and family, medical leave must be ensured (HU.4). Security and privacy must be secured and ensured, especially by and from the very security and monitoring services that companies employ to fulfill those duties (HU.11).

Ensuring that these bulwarks in respecting the rights of workers are in place requires that managers develop an ability to “see around corners.” That is to say, managers must anticipate the ways in which others in their company or among their suppliers and partners will try to cut corners with regard to the rights of people. For example, bonus and piece-rate systems can easily be manipulated to deny some or all of the rights detailed above (HU.5.f). Workers in these systems frequently labor at overtime levels without earning a living wage. Residential properties and employee dormitories create numerous dependencies, each of which requires due diligence, including the protection of privacy and the security (HU.9). Procurement practices, such as pricing, delivery times, and incentives, can all contribute potentially to rights abuses under conditions that any competent manager can foresee (MA.6.e). Pleading ignorance of such conditions is no excuse for rights violations (Duhigg and Barboza, 2012).

Workers’ rights to associate freely and to bargain collectively must be recognized and honored, even if the company discourages or otherwise restricts the operation of independent trade unions (LA.1-2). Ensuring that workers have to associate freely and give voice to their work-related concerns is not only a manager’s moral duty, it’s also good for business. Two-way communication demonstrates respect and provides the rich, shared information that characterizes profitable, efficient operations and partnerships (Levering, 1988; Patnayakuni, Rai, and Seth, 2006).

Managers must ensure that no labor is forced or bonded and that all minimum age laws are complied with (LA.3-4). This includes ensuring that none of the subtle forms of forcing labor, like retaining identity cards and passports, are practiced inside the organization or among its supply chain partners (LA.3.a-k). Hiring, firing, and other decisions related to employment must be based on work-relevant criteria (LA. 5). Like two-way communication, management policies and practices that are free from discrimination are not only moral obligations, they are also good for business. The evidence from the practices of industry-leading firms strongly supports the performance- and profit-enhancing impact of having rigorous, work- and performance-related criteria for hiring and promotion (Smart, 2005).

The key factor that determines whether managers’ responsibilities are fulfilled or not is the presence of policies and procedures for the engagement with, and fair treatment of, workers (Tyler, 2010). Do workers have a voice in the decisions, practices, and policies that affect their work? Do all workers have the right to work in an environment that respects and protects their privacy and ensures freedom from all forms of harassment, threat, and abuse? Do all workers have the right to report violations of their rights and seek redress without fear of retaliation? If they don’t, then you can almost be certain that some portion of the workers’ basic rights are being obstructed or denied, if only out of culpable ignorance. Finally, do employees perceive that the policies and procedures are fairly enforced, regardless of status and rank, and violators sanctioned? If they do perceive that procedural fairness is upheld, then employees will themselves comply and cooperate in respecting the rights of others. If they do not, their voluntary compliance will drop to low levels. Managers bear responsibility for ensuring that these conditions are fulfilled.

Moving out from the company itself to its capacity to influence and impact consumers and communities, the manager’s role remains constant, that is, to ensure through diligent assessment and preparation that the lives and rights of consumers and community members are protected and respected, if not enhanced (MA.7-9). Wherever and to whomever its products and services extend, the corporation’s managers have a responsibility to prevent harm to others and to prevent violations of their rights (HU.13). From product defects and improper usage, to complicity in rights abuses and violations of laws by third parties, managers bear a moral responsibility to ensure that consumers and communities are protected (HU.10-14). Managers may not plead ignorance regarding rights abuses committed by either their host country government or by their host country society (HU.14). All known and foreseeable abuses, that is, potential abuses, must be assessed. This requires managers to engage with their communities and consumers directly so that they can see for themselves what the conditions and issues really are and inform themselves deeply so that they can “see around corners” and anticipate potential abuses (HU.12.a and HU.14.a.3).

The challenge of undertaking an honest assessment of such risks should not be underestimated because it runs up against deeply ingrained psychological biases that afflict us all (Bazerman and Tenbrunsel, 2011). Managers will do well, therefore, to engage proactively with NGOs and other third-party human rights groups who can provide a measure of objectivity to such assessments, not to mention their expertise in remedying abuses. Such substantive interchange between businesses and NGOs forms a crucial link in the vision of polycentric governance.


The manager’s responsibility toward the environment extends the moral responsibility for risk-based due diligence from people to the ecosystems of which they are a part and upon which they depend. As such, these responsibilities further extend the managers’ moral responsibility to protect and respect the universal value placed on life. To protect and respect human lives and equality of all others, managers must attend to the biological and ecological dimensions of the company’s sphere of influence in order to ensure that they are not harming the ecological bases upon which those lives depend (EN.1-2). The economy, after all, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.

The principle of addressing the environmental impacts of the company’s operations and products with precaution tilts the manager’s responsibilities toward the ever-increasing environmental responsibility. Like all forms of risk, environmental risk also contains the possibility of reward. Those companies and managers who embrace these moral constraints not only fulfill their moral duty but also tap into an important source of innovation (Lovins, Lovins, and Hawken, 2007; Nidumolu, Prahalad, and Rangaswami, 2009). From wringing out costs and risks, the benefits of which can, and often do, drop straight to a company’s bottom line, to increasing supply chain efficiencies and reducing material inputs and throughputs, precautionary environmental responsibility spurs innovations that would otherwise remain untapped.

Each of the interdependencies between a business and the environment creates not only a moral obligation and a risk but also a node of potential reward. Responsible managers attend to these impacts and reduce or remedy the harms they cause (Esty and Winston, 2009; Porter and Kramer, 2006). Strategic, responsible managers attend to these impacts and create value-enhancing capabilities. Global Compact Principles 7 through 9 direct a manager’s attention to the largest and most important of those risks and opportunities. Greenhouse gases, the impact of which add directly and indirectly to reducing the resilience and productivity of the ecosystem services upon which we depend, tops that list (EN.3). In addition to reducing the risks associated with energy consumption, water use, waste disposal, and air emissions (EN.3-6), the Global Compact also directs precaution toward the conditions for sustaining productive, resilient ecosystems. The safe handling and use of toxic chemicals, protection of biodiversity, and sustainable use and management of natural resources (EN.8-10), all drive managerial focus toward life-protecting and enhancing practices.

As noted by experts and markets, none of these environmental responsibilities can be fulfilled without the use and development of environmentally “friendly” technologies (Pernick and Wilder, 2007). The technological reach of the company’s sphere of influence extends the manager’s responsibilities into zones of impact and potential reward that have historically been treated in “value-neutral” ways (EN.11). Our increasing recognition of the environmental impacts and potential impacts of our technology, for ill and for good, forms an ever-expanding horizon for innovation. Managers who take on this moral duty in a proactive way will join the ranks of companies who are doing well by doing good, whether “well” is measured in reduced cost and risk or top-line growth in revenues, goodwill, and reputation (Anderson and White, 2009).


By now it will be clear to the reader that the Global Compact’s main contribution to the manager’s role in creating and sustaining reasonable profits resides in the moral insistence that managers shore up the necessary but insufficient conditions for sustainable value creation—socially, environmentally, and economically. Taken together, Principles 1 through 9 outline the managerial roles and responsibilities that are required of businesses within their spheres of influence and which enable those businesses to play their role in the value-creating and sustaining system of polycentric governance. Management science and the history of management have also revealed these role responsibilities to be the basis for superior, sustained value creation.

None of the value-creating principles can be reliably fulfilled, however, without vigilant attention to Principle 10, anticorruption. The legitimacy of economic markets and the social license to operate that societies extend formally and informally to business corporations depend entirely on fair competition and the risk-weighted return on investments. Managers and businesses that engage in corrupt practices like bribery, counterfeiting, and bid rigging betray both the value-creating logic of economic markets and commit treason against every party to the social compact that makes market exchanges possible and justifiable. Economic value cannot be created and sustained unless those firms that have devoted their scarce time, energy, and resources to creating “core competencies” receive their just rewards. Fair markets make this possible. Firms who lack these value-creating competencies and therefore fail to create the level of social benefit and welfare that their superior competitors create cannot be allowed to cheat for their unfair share. Cheating through corruption distorts the internal meaning of markets themselves and perverts their public purpose (social welfare) for private gain.

Like parasites who feed of and eventually kill their host, managers who engage in corruption destroy both economic value and the conditions that create and sustain it. Corrupt practices undermine trust, the most basic emotion and the key driver of corporate and social value creation. The data linking corruption to value destruction are incontrovertible. Transparency International’s 10 most corrupt nations in 2014 had an average unemployment rate of 17 percent compared to only 5.6 percent average unemployment among the 10 least corrupt countries. The 10 most corrupt countries suffered from an average inflation rate of 13.9 percent compared to the 1.3 percent average inflation rate in the 10 least corrupt. The total GDP of the 10 most corrupt nations amounted to a meager US$593 billion. The GDP of the 10 least corrupt nations totaled a staggering US$6.533 trillion. Corruption renders life and economic life nasty, poor, brutish, and short. The infant mortality rate of the 10 most corrupt countries is 13 times greater than that of the 10 least corrupt. For every 1,000 live births in the 10 most corrupt nations, an average of 40 infants die before reaching their first birthday. In the 10 least corrupt nations, only three infants in 1,000 die before age 1. If you want to protect the lives and rights of others, then fight corruption.

Managers bear the responsibility of ensuring that all the elements of ethical compliance and anticorruption are fulfilled: clear organizational policies regarding anticorruption; realistic training that prepares managers for the corrupting challenges to integrity that they will likely face; monitoring, investigatory procedures; appropriate governance oversight; and oversight of all agents, intermediaries, and supply chain partners (AC.1-5). Fighting corruption requires shared effort among the three sectors of polycentric governance (EN.6). Only through conjoint activity can governments, businesses, and nongovernmental watchdogs roll back the “black” and “grey” markets and corrupt practices that traffic in the violation of the Global Compact Principles.

New Leadership Competencies

The Global Compact Ten Principles cast the manager’s role in the triple bottom line in bold relief. Against the backdrop of the Ten Principles and the International Bill of Rights and supporting conventions and declarations that inform them, the manager’s role in creating and sustaining economic, social, and environmental value takes on moral urgency. Managers must fulfill their responsibilities, not only as an economic imperative, but also as an ethical imperative. Ethics and economics speak in one voice.

Managers who would speak and act in “one voice” face significant challenges. The systems, structures, policies, practices, habits, and values that produced violations of the Ten Principles will not be reformed easily. Technical solutions will only address part of the work that needs to be done (Heifetz, 1994). Managers will have to learn new competencies for novel solutions.

Renowned author and “futurist” researcher Robert Johansen argues that to make the future different from the past, managers will have to learn 10 new leadership skills (Johansen, 2012). Eight of those skills relate directly to the challenges evoked by the Ten Principles. They are described below. As you read them, ask yourself, “To what extent do I (and my fellow managers) possess these skills?”

1. The ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. I (we) are clear about what we are making, but flexible in how it gets made.

2. The ability to turn dilemmas into advantages and opportunities.

3. The ability to immerse oneself in unfamiliar environments and learn from them in a first-person way.

4. The ability to see things from nature’s point of view, to understand, respect, and learn from its patterns.

5. The ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down.

6. The ability to bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.

7. The ability to engage with, create with, and nurture purposeful business and social change networks.

8. The ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit all players involved and allow competition at a higher level to emerge.

To the extent that you and your fellow managers possess these abilities to a great or very great extent, you are well prepared for the challenge of the Ten Principles. To the extent that you do not, your management curriculum is clear. Welcome to the new paradigm for managers.


Taken together the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) and the operationalizing of them in the UN Global Compact Self-Assessment Tool (2015) mark the end of the era of declaratory corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the beginning of a new era: “Operationalized CSR.” By defining the social and moral obligations that are incumbent upon corporations and managers by virtue of their business operations and spheres of influence, the Guiding Principles and Self-Assessment Tool redress gaps in the governance, reporting, monitoring, and sanctioning of corporate behavior that have been created by globally integrated supply chains and the transnational operations of corporations. The voluntary nature of compliance with these principles, however, requires that corporate managers internalize these obligations, incorporating them into their “working self-concept,” that is, their understanding of their roles and duties as managers. The working self-concept enjoined upon managers by the Guiding Principles and the Assessment Tool derive from the triple-bottom-line theory of management. This theory of management and of managerial responsibilities and obligations rejects the purportedly value-free, descriptive theories of modern managerial science and replaces it with an ethically prescriptive theory. The conflict between these two competing views of a manager’s role and responsibilities presents managers and corporate actors with set of conceptual and operational contradictions. These contradictions can only be resolved developmentally, that is, by corporate managers transforming the way they think about and manage their operations. The Guiding Principles and Assessment Tool provide managers with the diagnostic categories and criteria for beginning that transformation.


1. What is your evaluation of the claim upon which the rights-based theory of managerial responsibility is based, namely, that you cannot wish for yourself the conditions and behaviors that respect you and your rights without also wishing those conditions for, and enacting those behaviors toward, all others?

2. Compare and contrast the view of a manager’s role and responsibilities in your organization, both explicitly stated and implicitly enacted and rewarded, with the triple-bottom-line theory of management that informs the Global Compact.

3. Do you find the specific categories and content of the ethical risk assessments contained in the Global Compact Self-Assessment Tool conceptually and managerially sound and useful? What evidence do you have that supports or critiques the claim that observing these obligations is “good for business”?

4. If “what gets measured gets managed,” then what managerial measures could you put in place to manage the ethical responsibilities and risks of your business operations?


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