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Weekend reading: urban farming & CSR in Japan, China’s middle class and more

This weekend, I will mostly be outside enjoying the summer and reading Just Enough: lessons in living green from traditional japan. But if you are looking for some additional reading, here are some suggestions from this week.

Urban farming in Tokyo
Continuing with Japan, I want to share this crowdfunding project on Kickstarter: Growing City by Nick Sugihara. Sugihara is planning to produce a documentary about urban farming in Tokyo, which sounds really interesting, but he still needs some more funding to be able to do this.

Wayne Visser on Japan
I also came across a post on CSR in Japan by Wayne Visser (of CSR 2.0 fame). It’s interesting to read his ideas on the development of CSR in Japan, which seem to be based mostly on earlier visits. He also sketches a much more positive picture of CSR & sustainability in Japan than I have seen when I visited recently, which is interesting to find. The vision and front-runner examples he talks about are something that I have not recognized as clearly in Tokyo.

China’s middle class
McKinsey is continuing their coverage of market developments in China with a post on the developing middle class. An interesting post, as it highlights which regions and which categories of the population are expected to grow most quickly – and would therefore become more interesting target groups for business.

A Swedish look at human rights and business
And closing off with a video, from the Swedish consultancy EnAct, who’ve put together a prezi to give an overview of recent developments in the field of human rights and business and made this into a Youtube-clip. The video mostly highlights Swedish examples of issues and companies, but it’s easy to substitute these with Dutch examples (and probably examples from your own country if you’re reading this from elsewhere). The issues are the same everywhere.

Weekend reading: responsible business conduct, telecom in Myanmar, killer presentations & more

Another weekend, another round-up of this week’s news that caught my eye.

From Paris
I spent some of this week in Paris, at the Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct. These two days, organized by the OECD, were all about how to promote responsible business conduct – or, corporate social responsibility – and linked this to the practical application of the OECD Guidelines. There were various thematic workshops on Bangladesh and the textile industry, on the extractive industry, on transparency & reporting. I attended for the second day of the Forum which discussed responsible business conduct in the financial sector.

One of the moderators of the first day, Bhaskar Chakravorti, wrote a post talking about his expectations for the Forum and developments that he sees happening that can offer a way of taking the addition of ‘responsible’ away from responsible business conduct. Because shouldn’t CSR considerations be part of business as usual? In Chakravorti’s words:

You cannot scold, regulate, punish and nag your way to responsible conduct. It has to become part and parcel of regular business practices.

The twitter feed of the Forum provides a nice overview of the discussions and speakers.

Human rights in Myanmar’s telecom industry
One of the sessions at the Forum talked about responsible business conduct in the IT sector. At the same time, news broke about a large telecom investment in one of the most prominent developing economies right now, Myanmar. Two companies have been given licenses to develop the nearly non-existent telecom market in the country. The Institute for Human Rights and Business provides a good overview of the human rights’ challenges that lie ahead for the two winning companies, Telenor and Ooredoo, and calls on them to take care of implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business in their human rights due diligence process.

Swimming in China’s rivers
China’s environmental problems are never far from the news, and Chinadialogue.net’s executive editor Sam Geall writes about popular movements to increase awareness of the environmental disasters happening in China and pressure (local) government to do something about it.

Creating stories
And lastly, a different topic – but one that relates to all of the above. Because all of the above articles talk about important topics and issues, and it’s important to find a way to get them out to a wider audience. One way of getting a wider audience is presenting at TED. And that requires being able to tell a great story.

There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about.

The Harvard Business Review published an article this month by TED’s Chris Anderson in which he shares how to craft a ‘killer presentation’. I agree with pretty much all of his points, and this is what we practice at Toastmastersas well. Recommended read.

Weekend reading: Chinese design, MUJI’s local handicraft, crowdsourcing in Malaysia and time-lapse videos

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What better way to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon than by catching up on this week’s blogs and news. These are some articles that caught my attention this week (admittedly, some are a little older and only found now as I was away travelling – more up to date things next week!)

I’ll start off with a slightly older article, but only spotted Friday, from the Financial Times in March (via China Design Hub) on the developing design market in China, where Chinese designers are struggling to find their place in the domestic market and at the same time gaining attention abroad.

Global Witness has published an interesting post with recommendations on how to get more Chinese companies involved in EITI, the Extractive Industries Transparancy Initiative. I think most of these recommendations are also valuable for other CSR initiatives, especially the point of localisation and clearly showing the (investment) benefits of joining an initiative such as EITI.

Moving on to Japan, I want to share this post by a fellow Japanologist Aike Rots – researching the connection between Shinto and nature – who recently visited the Tohoku region. A year after I visited myself, it is interesting to read his observations on the region, now more than two years after the tsunami hit in 2011. As I found also, despite the destruction around you, there is a strong sense of hope and expectation for things to become better again which is great to see.

And more positive news from Japan, with CSRWire’s publication on MUJI’s decision to join the Business Call to Action initiative by announcing plans to source and produce in Cambodia, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan. In these countries, MUJI will be working with local producers on MUJI designs and materials through the BCtA, which also aims at supporting the local economy in these countries.

From handicrafts to the digital world, with this piece on the development of crowdsourcing in Malaysia – an interesting read on how the government is experimenting with crowdsourcing initiatives as one way of alleviating poverty and give more people access to (micro)finance.

I will leave you with some visuals, enjoy these stunning time-lapse videos from major cities across Asia.

Weekend reading: on Japanese & European politics, Chinese art and Hong Kong skyscrapers

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A selection of articles & blogs I came across this week, not only on Asia or sustainability – but this week also on storytelling and ‘Europe’. Happy reading!

Shanghai vs Beijing: China Design Hub compares these two cities as a first entry for the headquarters of your retail brand. Conclusion: Shanghai shouldn’t be an automatic choice. There is no one China, and the article emphasizes researching the various large cities to decide which city is the best fit for your retail strategy.

On East Asia Forum, Aurelia George Mulgan summarizes clearly the changes to Japan’s Constitution as proposed by current PM Abe. Changing Article 9 comes up often, but what surprised me when I first heard about this in Japan is the proposed change to Article 96 which would then make it easier to make other changes to the Constitution, some of the changes on the table include seeming limitations on freedom of association, speech, etc. Considering that Japan isn’t exactly at risk of fundamental or revolutionary groups, I don’t really understand where the heightened focus on public order is coming from… and why it would be necessary.

Moving from business and politics to art: for anyone interested in contemporary Chinese art, I recommend subscribing to the SinArts Newsletter started not too long ago by Alex Lebbink. Every week, this newsletter contains an impressive amount of news, references to articles, reviews etc.

Many of us are often trying to explain something, get a message across or share information. And what better way to do that than by using stories. Doug Stevenson explains how to build a good story which fits your message and audience.

When you’re done reading, listen to this speech by the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans, in which he’s talking about the issues we are facing in Europe, about European cooperation, and offering suggestions on how to move forward. All done by quoting Game of Thrones.

And for some stunning photography, Co.Design shares the work of photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagreze who has been taking stunning shots of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers. Good reminder to look up from street level more often, and discover what else the city, any city, has to offer.

FairPhone – almost here?

Last week I wrote about fair fashion, but a topic which is possibly even more complex is fair electronics. The more information gets out about the supply chain of producing electronics – and let’s face it, don’t we all live with our cell phones, laptops, e-readers, tablets? – the more it seems that there is no good done in any part of it. Whether it’s materials (such as conflict minerals) or local labour circumstances (such as the issues that came out at Foxconn several times last year), it seems it would be pretty much impossible to make a fair smartphone – exactly because of those complexities in the supply chain.

A Dutch start-up is courageously trying to do exactly this: produce a fair phone. Or at least, one that is as fair as feasible currently. I’ve been following the company as they share their dilemma’s and the choices they need to make, such as which Chinese production partner to work with.

I admire a group of people like this, who see a problem and set out to find a solution to this problem. And be honest about it. It may not be quite 100% fair just yet, but it’s looking more and more likely that it will be the next best thing – by a long way.

It’s also starting to look very likely that this might be the answer to my personal dilemma of whether or not to get a smartphone…

Saturday reading: on street art in Beijing

My Saturday so far has mostly been spent catching up on my neglected Google Reader subscriptions, Twitter favourites and more. It’s been good taking the time reading about so many different things happening around the world, ranging from:

But the thing that has stuck with me most and that I’d like to highlight here especially is an article I found through UrbaChina, on the evolution of street art in China, focusing on Beijing. Interesting to read on something that has always been part of urban culture here, but which is still a very small movement in China. But growing. I would love to see the documentary about it as well, hopefully it’ll find its way to one of the (Asian) film- or documentary festivals here.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMfSjagb36s]

MVO Exchange: perfect bestaat niet

Twee weken geleden organiseerden MVO Nederland en Agentschap NL een zakelijk evenement over Internationaal Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Ondernemen: hoe doe je nu op een goede manier zaken in het buitenland?

Onderwerpen die gedurende de dag aan bod kwamen waren bijvoorbeeld corruptie, ketenverantwoordelijkheid, communicatie, financiering en allerlei andere aspecten waar je in het buitenland mee te maken krijgt. Maar die ook vanuit Nederland enorm moeilijk te controleren en te beïnvloeden zijn. Want hoe kom je er achter of alles gaat zoals afgesproken in, bijvoorbeeld, die Chinese fabriek waar jij onderdelen inkoopt? En als je er wel achter komt dat niet alles gaat zoals je wil, wat doe je dan? Complexe dilemma’s, en dat blijkt telkens weer uit de ervaringsverhalen die ik van bedrijven hoor over deze thematiek.

Dat is ook wat me vooral is bijgebleven van deze dag, of wel de MVO Exchange: complexe materie dat bijna niet helemaal perfect uit te voeren is.

Zo was er een ondernemer die sprak over zijn bedrijfje dat intussen succesvol lampjes op zonne-energie verkoopt in een aantal landen in Afrika waardoor mensen in kleine dorpjes licht krijgen, ’s avonds nog dingen kunnen doen, kinderen kunnen lezen en zo meer naar school kunnen. Allemaal ontzettend goed. Maar vanuit de zaal kwam de onvermijdelijke vraag: “Maar waar & hoe worden deze lampjes geproduceerd?”. In China, en hoe… dat wisten ze niet precies. De ondernemer gaf wel duidelijk aan dat wat hem betreft het doel van de onderneming is om licht te krijgen in die dorpen. En dat lukt. En aan de rest wordt gewerkt zodra hier goede en haalbare oplossingen voor zijn.

En er was de Dopper, het hippe waterflesje waardoor je gewoon kraanwater kan drinken en niet steeds nieuwe plastic flesjes water hoeft te kopen om die vervolgens weer weg te gooien. En een deel van het geld gaat naar een NGO voor waterprojecten. Wat wil je nog meer? Maar ook hier kritische, en terechte, vragen uit het publiek: “Waarom is dit wel geproduceerd van plastic? Waarom is het niet op z’n minst biologisch afbreekbaar plastic?” Etc. Nu blijkt dat het tweede niet technisch mogelijk is, maar het blijven scherpe vragen. Want zouden we in een ideale wereld niet van producten af willen die olie als grondstof hebben, en daarmee dus ook van plastic? Op dit moment zoekt de Dopper naar producenten in China voor een RVS-versie van de fles, maar ja… ook dat is niet zo makkelijk.

Dit zijn maar twee voorbeelden. Maar de dag zat hier vol mee. En niet alleen deze dag, maar veel andere ervaringen die ik hoor van bedrijven. Dit zijn niet alleen de ervaringen van kleine bedrijven, ook de grote multinationals van deze wereld lopen tegen dezelfde dilemma’s aan. Hoe goed deze bedrijven ook bezig zijn, ze hebben ook nog een lange weg te gaan. Maar gelukkig gaan ze allen met vertrouwen die weg op.

Perfectionisme op het gebied van MVO en duurzaamheid blijkt in elk geval niet te bestaan. Een bedrijf dat denkt zijn MVO-beleid zo in te kunnen richten dat het daarmee alle issues heeft afgedekt komt dus bedrogen uit. Want ja, de dilemma’s zijn ook vaak moeilijk bij elkaar te brengen.

Dit bleek ook eerder deze week weer toen een bedrijf vertelde over hun afwegingen bij inkoop in China, bijvoorbeeld rond overuren. Je wil als Nederlands bedrijf voorkomen dat jouw leverancier zijn mensen veel te veel uren laat werken. Maar ja, stel nou dat dat komt omdat jouw klant heel snel een grote order geleverd moest hebben? Maar ook: bij deze productielocaties in China werken vooral migranten. De enige reden voor hen om naar die plek te komen is om te werken, zo veel mogelijk om zo veel mogelijk geld te kunnen verdienen en terug te sturen naar hun familie en kinderen. Dus wat nou als zij gewoon die extra uren juist willen maken, en anders wel naar de buurman gaan om te werken…?

Chindia Rules!

Chindia Rules! is the title of a series of debates on how the rise of China and India is influencing the world, of which i attended the first evening last night.

The theme of this first debate was CSR & the new world order. A very broad topic to discuss on just one of those countries, let alone connecting these two countries in the discussion.

The panel was a varied group of China and India experts, though I felt that the group was a little unbalanced. On the Chinese side, Dutch men were speaking from a business and law perspective. And on the Indian side the panel included an Indian businessman and an NGO. This also meant that it really was difficult to get a good grasp on developments because no one could properly juxtapose these two countries (by themselves, or in response to the other). The moderator was clearly struggling.

This doesn’t mean that there were no interesting points raised. Stephen Frost, as one of the opening speakers, gave some interesting insights on the credibility of Chinese CSR reporting. This is mostly non-existent for two main reasons: 1) no assurance is provided on the reporting (eg, through auditing as is customary for CSR reporting); and 2) Chinese companies are resistant to transparancy.

This last point was confirmed by one fo the panel members, Henk Schulte Nordholt, when he said that sharing information is seen as losing power, as losing competitiveness.

Another point that has stuck with me is the difference between CSR and philanthropy in the Chinese context. The latter is something you are expected to do as a successful profit-making company, and also helps your relationship with the local community and local government. However, this train of thought doesn’t extend to CSR. Yet?

The final part of the evening brought some interesting questions from the audience. The one that probably shows best that there is still a long way to go was a question from a Dutch investor: she wanted to know how to approach Chinese companies as a potential investor. After some non-committal responses the clearest answer came from a Chinese man in the audience: “Don’t talk about human rights and such issues. Talk about business first. And then talk about something else.”

* A discussion paper was published to accompany this series of debates, which can be found here