In Your Words: Christine Bader on Leadership

October 4, 2011

Christine Bader, an advisor to BSR on human rights, is the nonresident senior fellow at The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. She is also the former advisor to John Ruggie, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for business and human rights.

What does the notion of redefining leadership for sustainability mean to you?

Stop calling number-crunching a “hard” skill and stakeholder engagement a “soft” skill. Anyone can learn Excel in a few hours. Real leadership means not just listening to stakeholders—which seems difficult enough for many companies—but engaging in real dialogue with them. And then taking what is emerging from that dialogue and acting on it.

In your opinion, what are the most significant sustainable business trends of the last decade?

I’m biased, having spent five years supporting the United Nations Special Representative for business and human rights, but I do believe that the growing dominance of human rights discourse in the sustainable business conversation is significant. Human rights has one universal framework, a common starting point—in the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—which CSR and sustainability lack. The UDHR is far from a business manual, but it is the authoritative statement of what business should aim to respect no matter what they do or where they operate.

When it comes to promising opportunities for sustainable business now and in the next five years, where are you placing your bets?

First, transparency and reporting seem to be the current frontier of sustainable business: Integrated reporting, sustainability labeling, and gathering and publishing an increasing amount of data on suppliers and environmental impacts are all on the rise.

Second, now that the UN has endorsed the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, I see more and more companies seeking help in conducting human rights gap analyses and impact assessments to see where they might be falling short of this new global standard.

Finally, with all of us moving increasingly online and into the cloud, privacy concerns will only grow. There are major opportunities for companies that get that right to win the trust of customers, governments, activists, and the general public. I hope the Global Network Initiative grows—we need companies making robust public commitments to protect privacy and free expression to become the rule, not the exception. 

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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