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In order to spread the CSR concept throughout the corporation, it is important for it to become a stated corporate value and, as suggested by a Carrefour manager, there are tools to be applied in order to reinforce such statements and foster continuous implementation. Therefore, it is easier for everyone in a workforce of 48, in a country like Brazil to access it and incorporate these values into daily routines.

Regarding aspects of industry structure and competition, a Carrefour manager with whom direct contact was established for the present study commented on how the CSR actions of corporate competitors are monitored as a source of information with the aim of understanding and enhancing its own CSR performance. This Carrefour manager suggests that monitoring the CSR actions of corporate competitors is important because of the intense competition in the sector. This reinforces the context of CSR within the competitive powers, as argued by Porter and supported by Husted and Allen , employed with the intention of facing this intense competition and getting ahead in such a competitive environment as the supermarket sector.

It is also relevant to mention that the information gathered from monitoring helps build a stronger CSR section in the company and that sustainable development management will be able to implement new projects, thereby not letting competitors offer such projects alone.

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When asked about the details of this CSR monitoring, the Carrefour manager answered:. Besides competitors, Carrefour also monitors companies chosen for CSR benchmarking, considering that a new project can be created out of an idea based on a different company that has better CSR practices and that Carrefour could adapt new projects, thereby generating an innovation.

The influence of stakeholders on CSR actions in the case of Carrefour can be seen in the conception of some CSR actions, which are demanded by the community through the regular surveys that assess their needs and priorities. Each store has its own customer services sector and community information collector. If the community wishes to go there and pick up a form to fill in with their requests, it is of easy access.

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In our customer surveys, we include issues related to social responsibility and sustainable development in order to gather information on what they think. CSR actions could have an impact on their consumer behaviour; so we try to listen to their opinions. There are reports on the relationship between Carrefour and the community, the aim of which is to help the community, improving the quality of life and aggregating value to the company. In some situations, store directors take part in local community associations in order to find out more about how the company can contribute.

We are concerned about them. The corporate relationship with employees can generally be considered rather healthy. Although there is no systematised way for employees to propose CSR actions and projects, there is some openness for this to happen. It very much depends on the initiative of each employee. The company requires responsible behaviour from its suppliers, even more so from those that provide Carrefour's own brand.

These special suppliers are regularly audited and some receive a corporate stamp. It is thus acknowledged that Carrefour has a cordial relationship with the community and often forms partnerships with the local community. According to Donaldson and Preston and Freeman , consumers, suppliers, employees and the community all have an important influence on CSR.

Based on the approaches taken by Husted and Burke and Logsdon , an analysis of Carrefour's CSR projects in relation to alignment to the core business reveals that most have low centrality and low specificity. The low specificity means that most of the CSR projects do not relate highly to the core business retail commerce ; there are CSR projects related to education, health, the environment and others.

Regarding the low specificity, the case shows that none of the CSR projects are specific to Carrefour's characteristics, which lowers its chances of obtaining a competitive advantage. These are certainly important social issues for society and, as such, deserve corporate attention, but they do not play a leading role in corporate competitiveness in relation to its value chain.

Despite the activities undertaken by volunteers in the local communities surrounding the store, there is no evidence of any CSR projects focused on generating jobs and income for community members, for instance, aimed at expanding the consumer market, or even CSR projects focused on professional qualification, which could lead to new jobs within the corporation. Such actions could improve the quality of life within the local community. No CSR projects focused on enhancing the value chain or social actions that could improve corporate competitiveness were found.

Returning to Porter and Kramer , Carrefour focuses its CSR actions on generic social issues, characterised by social actions that do not have a significant influence on its value chain or even its business context and therefore do little to enhance its competitive advantage. This is a limitation of applications towards the potential of CSR in generating competitive advantage.


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The data collected for the Carrefour case study offer evidence of some benefits obtained through CSR actions, including employee motivation, image and reputation enhancement as well as awards. For instance, Carrefour's volunteer programme plays an important role in employee motivation. However, there are as yet no records on the results, and measuring methods need to be employed in the stores where this programme has been implemented.

This is something really difficult to measure. We perceive the result as good. You notice there is a different environment in the stores where the volunteer program has been implemented, but it is difficult to measure. Despite the feeling of content that helps motivate employees, Carrefour's CSR actions and, in this particular case, the volunteer programmes are not enough to offer other advantages, such as, employee retention, which could be an important competitive advantage.

According to direct information from a Carrefour manager, employee retention is considered difficult to obtain if only taking the CSR contribution into account, but CSR together with other variables can make a difference in employee retention. Employee retention is far more complex, I think. In the stores, it is indeed something relevant [to employee retention], but mentioning CSR in general is not. The major advantages mentioned by the interviewee relate to the image of the corporation and its social and environmental reputation.

Despite the fact that there is little publicity regarding the CSR actions, the surrounding community keeps up to date with daily corporate activities, which is good for the corporate image. The image we have in the eyes of the local community is very positive and this is the best [CSR investment] return.

We have reduced our electricity consumption significantly as well as water consumption and refrigeration fluid, because it causes ozone depletion. The education for citizenship programme, which offers classrooms for our employees, won another award. In the beginning, the company appreciated awards for CSR actions using similar activities undertaken by competitors.

For example, Carrefour is gaining visibility because of its social projects. Let's make a comparison: What companies are taking part in what award competitions?

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What is the major goal? Is it relevant or not? The company intends to become a global reference for CSR, particularly in the retail sector and as a result add even more value to the Carrefour brand in order to expand its competitive advantage in the highly competitive supermarket industry.

This is our ambition, our mission. You can bet on it. The major competitive advantage for Carrefour through CSR is mainly related to image and reputation, which are important advantages according to Mahon and Logsdon and Wood These aspects are also internal resources that are difficult for competitors to copy Barney, In the following section, a theoretical framework is presented that takes into account the theoretical references addressing social corporate strategy and competitive advantage, as well as the Carrefour case study.

Proposal for a Theoretical Framework. On the assumption that corporate strategy is designed considering the response to a perceived economic threat Pasa, ; Zadek, , a proposal for a theoretical framework that allows the comprehension of social responsibility as a strategic creator of competitive advantage is presented in this section. Figure 2 displays a formulation model for corporate social strategy, in which the formulation of this strategy is the result of values, understanding of the importance of stakeholders, analysis of resources and internal competences, opportunities in the external environment and industry structure.

These variables are essential elements for the formulation of social corporate strategy and should all be taken into account. Market opportunities that harm the environment or increase unemployment should be reconsidered in order to find alternatives that either do not have a negative impact or that decrease or justify this impact. After the formulation of the social strategy, we can then go on to the acquisition of the competitive advantage created by this strategy, which is shown in Figure 3.

As such elements are intangible resources of the company, we can say that they are capable of creating competitive advantage if the company makes them rare, irreplaceable, inimitable and valuable. Another point is that these elements should be legitimised by society. In order for this to occur, CSR actions should be in harmony with societal expectations. From the formulation of social corporate strategy, the organisation can obtain competitive advantage by taking social responsibility into account. Thus, from this theoretical framework, we can obtain a strategic management of social responsibility integrated with the core business and strategies of the company.

Regarding the association between social responsibility, corporate strategy and competitive advantage, the information provided herein can be used by companies that intend to create competitive advantage. However, there are many factors that influence this association, such as organisational values, the relationship with stakeholders, the external environment and competitive context, internal resources, the ideologies of top management and community expectations. These factors should be addressed in future empirical studies seeking to understand the influences governing the strategic management of social responsibility.

The competitive advantage that stems from social responsibility can be seen through the direct influence of its resources, creating an improvement in reputation and image, the retention of exceptional people, employee motivation, aggregate value, better economic performance provided by social responsibility aligned with corporate strategy, innovative and efficient projects, better environmental performance, better social performance and improvement in corporate governance.

Such elements are intangible resources; they are rare, irreplaceable, inimitable and valuable.

Finally, according to Husted and Salazar , CSR strategies resolve the existing tension between social objectives and profitability, as society and shareholders expect both and the results should be positive. Thus, it is important for companies to take into account the strategic actions of social responsibility, which can bring positive results in both economic as well as social terms, thereby resolving the issue of the social objective of the organisation. Due to the expansion of the social responsibility field, further topics should be addressed with the intention of adding to current studies.

The authors showed the existence of the intense association between social responsibility, corporate strategy and competitive advantage. Thus, we may creatively consider way of evaluating the implications of theoretical-empirical studies. Abreu, M. Aguilera, R. Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: a multilevel theory of social change in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 32 3 , Alessio, R. Almeida, S. Amato, L. The effects of firm size and industry on corporate giving. Journal of Business Ethics, 72 3 , Andrews, K. The concept of corporate strategy.

Homewood: McGraw-Hill.

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