Home / Technology Policy & Ethics / January 2018 / The Slow Tech Journey: An Approach to Teaching Corporate Social Responsibility – Part 2

The Slow Tech Journey: An Approach to Teaching Corporate Social Responsibility  – Part 2

By Rebecca Lee Hammons, Norberto Patrignani, and Diane Whitehouse

January 2018

In Part 1 of this article published in the November 2017 issue of the Future Directions Newsletter, the authors provided a background to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and ethics in the information, communications and technology (ICT) industry along with a description of the Slow Tech journey and the importance of educating students in good, clean and fair ICT practices. Part 2 of this article provides more insight into the importance of this type of education in relation to people and the planet. It also offers some examples of case studies that can be used as a method for teaching Slow Tech principles and engaging students in critical thinking.

Why do social responsibility subjects matter?

Young people – and not only the young – are spending increasing percentages of their budgets on personal, connected communications. The way in which science and industry operate forms a critical, and important, area of young people’s education. Many of the ways in which industry works deserve demystification.

If you are one of the billions of smart phone users on the planet [1], you are a stakeholder. You exchange funds with a supplier for the physical mobile computing device and the monthly services that provide you with data, voice, and text support on this device. A 2016 Money Magazine assessment of a variety of mobile plans estimates Verizon devices and services to cost between $US2490 (for an individual) to $US7480 (for a family) over a two-year period [2].

Compute this across the more than two billion consumers of mobile devices. Given the variety of cellular phones and especially Internet of Things devices now available, one can easily see that this is a growing and fruitful market.

Data is especially available to illustrate the growth in the Internet of Things. Gartner “forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. Total spending on endpoints and services will reach almost $2 trillion in 2017” [3]. The consultancy goes on to state that “the consumer segment is the largest user of connected things”.

Whole industries are being built and are thriving – industries that did not exist until the late 1980s. Are the companies that are capitalizing on this new technology operating in a way that is socially responsible, and that is good, clean and fair? What are the implications for citizens and consumers? What should technology and business students learn before joining the workforce?

Students worldwide are encouraged to pursue their education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As stated by Froschauer [4]:

We need to educate students and celebrate inventors, explorers, and creators in our society. They can serve as role models for students and provide them with enthusiasm for considering STEM. Maybe then we will find students interested in developing a deep understanding and appreciation for STEM and perhaps dedicating their lives to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics professions.”

These fields are considered to represent the future in terms of employment opportunities, preservation of the planet, exploration of the universe, and problem solving at its best. Many students in the STEM fields will work in technology creation, design, development, servicing, or sales at some point in their careers. Educating students in both high school and college on the principles of Slow Tech and CSR is therefore a social responsibility.

These students will not only need to deal with the environmental complexities of consumerism, they will also play a role in deciding how to:

  • Spend their budgets,
  • Design and source socially responsible products,
  • Assure fair and safe labor treatment both within their future companies and with their suppliers,
  • Promote sustainable consumption practices,
  • Engage communities to strike an ethical balance in meeting individual and social needs,
  • Assist local, national and international governments and institutions in oversight practices, and
  • Address discrepancies between marketing and reality, when faced with corporate social irresponsibility and business practices that are unclean, not good, and unfair.

Why is Slow Tech important in Secondary and Higher Education?

Education is often viewed as a means to align human resources with economic growth and development [5]. The social and environmental impacts of our ICT choices should be understood and considered when establishing and growing ICT industry segments. An educational focus on CSR and Slow Tech, as an enhancement of business and computer ethics training, enables students to understand and apply models to their future endeavors in technology and participate in the Slow Tech Journey.

Young people are influenced by trends (as are many of us): the smart phone trend has engaged a large percentage of the world’s population. Gutierrez et al [6] reviewed literature related to cell phone addiction, encompassing Internet abuse, and provided a comprehensive view of issues resulting from the smart phone phenomenon.

It is ethical and responsible to provide education to students, for example, on the approaches that are being used by application developers to drive their addictions. A Google search of the phrase ‘creating addictive applications’ has about 642,000 results. As such trends continue with the growth in popularity of Internet of Things devices, and as yet unexploited future products, education on good, clean and fair ICT practices is essential. This education will be instrumental in driving sustainable and ethical business models from the points of design and sourcing to labor practices and, finally, disposal or reuse of devices.

Case Studies

Case studies are a useful way of illustrating advances made in specific fields. Three examples have been chosen from companies around the globe to show how corporate social responsibility, standards-related work, and Slow Tech can be put into practice. They include the work of Apple Inc. in the USA, Fairphone in the Netherlands, and Loccioni in Italy.

There are various types of critical inquiry that are beneficial for students to undertake as part of their formal studies, whether they examine the activities of specific companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, or other multinational firms that dominate the technology industry. The results of such an inquiry can be applied in computer and information technology education to enhance critical thinking on topics such as the ICT supply chain, product and user experience design, development, finance, marketing, and public relations.

One educational method could be to examine how an individual’s or a company’s choices might be rated if they were to be assessed in the context of ISO 26000’s principles of social responsibility or from the perspective of Slow Tech’s good, clean and fair principles. Cook and Jardim [7] have published a Guide to Greener Electronics through Greenpeace Reports Inc. that reinforces the need to dig deeper into an understanding of the supply chain and lifecycle of electronics. The Guide highlights the status of a number of influential corporations and provides them with a letter grade, such as those awarded in school, for the efforts of the corporations to address sustainability, fairness and other critical elements of CSR.

Starting from the Greenpeace example as a basis, and following a similar set of proposals for letter grades, the suggested grades in the tables that follow can be perceived as: qualitative; not comparative; not the basis for a ranking; based on interpretations by the authors based on publicly available materials related to Slow Tech, which have been referenced where possible – some from the middle of this decade; and should be read as being considered in terms of each company on its own (i.e., whereby a company could seek to enhance its dimensions of either good, clean, or fair).

The main aims are to start a dialogue among students but also within a company. The texts and tables outline a combined and comprehensive overview of the three dimensions of good, clean, and fair together, as they are handled in or by any one company. This is primarily because good, clean, and fair are often treated as three separate dimensions, whereas the contribution of Slow Tech is to view all three elements as equally important and holistic.

Apple

In May 2017 Apple Inc. shares closed with a market capitalization of over $US800 billion, the first company to ever do so [8]. It was Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, who once said, ‘With great wealth comes great responsibility’. Clearly, this mantra would apply as relevantly to managers of Apple, Inc. as it did to those in Microsoft. Tim Cook, Apple Inc.’s CEO, took over leadership of the company in 2011, and was seen to embrace this responsibility with commitment.

Tim Cook hired Lisa Jackson, former Environmental Protection Agency employee, as Vice President of Apple’s Environmental Initiatives [9]. Apple now provides several formal policies on its website related to its position on CSR. They include the following:

  • Statement on Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery in Our Business and Supply Chains,
  • Apple’s Commitment to Responsible Sourcing,
  • Apple Supplier Code of Conduct,
  • Supplier Responsibility Progress Report,
  • Apple Supplier Responsibility Standards,
  • US SEC Form SD for Conflict Minerals Report,
  • Smelter and Refiner List.

Third party and internal audits are the main methods for assessing compliance to the standards included in several of these policy statements. The first case study provides an overview of how Apple performs in the context of the Slow Tech Journey and CSR.

ISO 26000 CSR principles  Alignment with Slow Tech   Apple Grade* Commentary/Basis for Proposed Grade 
 Accountability Fair**  C  While the company’s revenues are sky high, some critics would say that moving the company’s tax basis to Ireland from the USA has deprived the USA of considerable tax revenue. Apple is also behind on paying taxes to the Irish government [10].
 Transparency  Good  C  Apple’s stated CSR policies are more thorough and accessible than most of the company’s competitors. That said, Apple’s 2017 Progress Report could be criticized for its elements of marketing and self-promotion [11].
 Ethical Behavior  Fair  B  According to its Supplier Responsibility 2017 Progress Report [11], Apple claims to have cut ties with three suppliers and reduced business allocation to 13 suppliers in 2016 based on Code of Conduct performance issues.
 Respect for stakeholder interests  Good  C  Sales of the iPhone mobile device are strong around the globe, yet many critics would believe there has been a deterioration in the quality of life due to the addictive nature of many mobile technology applications [5], [12].
 Respect for the rule of law  Fair  C  See the Wall Street Journal article about Apple’s tax evasion [10] and the China Labor Watch reports on supplier labor law violations [13].
 Respect for international norms of behavior  Clean Fair  C  A BBC investigator said that “the team had found an exhausted workforce making Apple products in China, as well as children working in extremely dangerous tin mines in Bangka, Indonesia” [14].
 Respect for human rights  Fair  D  The China Labor Watch report of May 3, 2017 stated that, “In all of the four [of Apple’s supplier] factories (Foxconn, Pegatron, Compel, and Green Point), weekly working hours surpassed 60 hours and monthly overtime hours surpassed 90 hours, with most overtime amounting to [of] 136 hours over a month.” The report also stated that “Workers at Pegatron and Green Point were continuously working overtime without compensation” [13]. 
*US Academic grading scale: A grade of A is excellent, B is good, C is fair, and D is poor.
**When the term ‘fair’ is used in the second column of the table, it refers to ‘fair’ in a Slow Tech sense, i.e., fairness and equity experienced by the labor force through the supply chain.

 

Part 2 (continued) of this article to be published in the next newsletter shares two additional, internationally-based case studies of Fairphone and Loccioni, companies striving to be good stewards of our planet. The authors provide conclusions and recommendations for enhancement of ICT curriculum to incorporate Corporate Social Responsibility and the Slow Tech Journey for future leaders in the technology field.

References

  1. eMarketer. 2017. “2 Billion Consumers Worldwide to Get Smart(phones) by 2016”. [Online]. Available: https://www.emarketer.com/Article/2-Billion-Consumers-Worldwide-Smartphones-by-2016/1011694
  2. K. Brandeisky and M. Leonhardt. “The Best Cell Phone Plans of 2016”, Money, Jun 15 2016, [Online]. Available: http://time.com/money/4355078/best-cell-phone-plans/
  3. Gartner. “Gartner Says 8.4 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use in 2017, Up 31 Percent From 2016”, February 7, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3598917
  4. L. Froschauer “STEM careers.” Science and Children, Mar. 2010, p. 6. Science in Context. [Online]. Available: link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A221204154/SCIC?u=munc80314&xid=e613d38a
  5. P. Aghion, L. Boustan, C. Hoxby and J. Vandenbussche. “The Causal Impact of Education on Economic Growth: Evidence from U.S.” Harvard, 2009.
  6. J. Gutierrez, F. Fonseca and G. Rubio. “Cell-Phone Addiction: A Review”. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2016, v7, p. 175.
  7. G. Cook and E. Jardim. “Guide to Greener Electronics”. Greenpeace Reports, 2017. [Online]. Available: www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/greener-electronics-2017
  8. BBC. “Apple breaks $800bn market cap as US stocks hold steady”, May 9, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-39860704, accessed 12 July 2017.
  9. Mallen Baker’s Respectful Business Blog. “How Tim Cook brought corporate social responsibility to Apple”. March 10, 2016. [Online]. Available: http://mallenbaker.net/article/clear-reflection/how-tim-cook-brought-corporate-social-responsibility-to-apple
  10. G. Ip. “Apple’s Tax Avoidance Illustrates Gap Between Law and Economics”. The Wall Street Journal. September 7, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.wsj.com/articles/apples-tax-avoidance-illustrates-gap-between-law-and-economics-1473264984
  11. Apple. “2017 Progress Report”. 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/
  12. M. Salehan and A. Negahban. “Social networking on smartphones: When mobile phones become addictive”. Computers in Human Behavior, 2013, Vol. 29, Iss: 6, pp. 2632-2639. Elsevier. [Online]. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2013.07.003
  13. CLW. “A Year of Regression in Apple’s Supply Chain: Pursuing Profits at the Cost of Working Conditions”. China Labor Watch, May 3, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/report/124
  14. R. Bilton “Apple ‘deeply offended’ by BBC investigation”. December 19, 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30548468

 

Dr. Rebecca Hammons has extensive technology industry experience in establishing and leading software quality assurance, product development lifecycle services, and project management teams.  Strengths include technical leadership, process improvement and automation, predictive analytics for software, and strategic planning.

In addition to working at several niche software firms, Dr. Hammons has worked for Ontario Systems, Apple, Raytheon, Tivoli Systems and Wang. She is a Certified Quality Manager and Certified Software Quality Engineer with the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and a Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Product Owner with Scrum Alliance.

Dr. Hammons received her Ed.D. and M.A. from Ball State University and her B.A. from Michigan State University. She has taught Project Management and Software Quality courses for the Purdue School of Technology at IUPUI, the Certified Software Quality Engineer Body of Knowledge for ASQ, and numerous workshops for technology companies and BSU’s graduate program in Adult, Community and Higher Education. Dr. Hammons is currently an Associate Professor at Ball State University in the Center for Information and Communication Sciences.

Norberto Patrignani is a Senior Associate Lecturer of “Computer Ethics” at the Graduate School of Politecnico di Torino (where collaborates also with I3P, Innovative Enterprise Incubator of the Politecnico di Torino), an Associate Lecturer of “ICT & Information Society” at Catholic University of Milano, an Expert for the EU Commission – ERC (European Research Council), and a Scientific Advisor for Loccioni Group.

From 1999 to 2004, he was International Senior Research Analyst with META Group (Stamford, USA). From 1974 to 1999 he worked at Olivetti’s Research & Development (Ivrea, Italy). He graduated (summa cum laude) in Computer Science at University of Torino and in Electronics from “Montani” Institute of Technology (Fermo, Italy).

He is the Italian national representative at Technical Committee 9 (TC9) (Relationship between Computers and Society) of the IFIP, International Federation for Information Processing. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences and has published many articles in international journals and several books on the subjects of Responsible Research and Innovation and Computer Ethics.

Diane Whitehouse is a business partner in a UK-based business consultancy which concentrates on ePublic services policy. She is also the Principal eHealth Policy Consultant at the European Health Telematics Association (EHTEL). She has applied practical experience of European policy development in the domains of digital health and accessibility, and has worked in the domains of action research, civic and human rights, publishing, and academia. Her focus is on the social, organizational, and ethical aspects of ICT and, particularly, ICT for health. Diane is Vice-Chair of IFIP’s domain committee on health informatics; Chair of IFIP’s technical committee on ICT and Society; and Chair of IFIP’s working group on social accountability and computing. In 2017, she was awarded the HIMSS Europe eHealth Leadership Award. Diane has degrees in European Studies (political science) and information systems and has researched and taught at university level in organizational theory and behavior.

 

Editor: 

Dr. Tahir Hameed has been associated with SolBridge International School of Business in South Korea since 2012. He teaches courses related to information systems and technology management at the masters and bachelors levels. Prior to joining SolBridge, Dr. Hameed obtained his Ph.D. in Information Technology Management from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), and obtained his Masters in Computer Science from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). His research interests include the areas of information technology standards, innovation, IT policy, information systems adoption, and knowledge management. He has published extensively in prestigious journals such as Telecommunications Policy, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, World Development, and Journal of Knowledge Management. He has presented several papers at leading conferences including IEEE conference on Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management and Australasian Conference on Information Systems. Dr. Hameed’s current research focus is in the areas of health informatics, knowledge management systems, educational information technology, and technology commercialization. He can be reached at tahir@solbridge.ac.kr.