Home / Technology Policy & Ethics / November 2017 / The Slow Tech Journey: An Approach to Teaching Corporate Social Responsibility

The Slow Tech Journey: An Approach to Teaching Corporate Social Responsibility  – Part 1

By Rebecca Lee Hammons, Norberto Patrignani, and Diane Whitehouse

November 2017

There is a need for action research in secondary and higher-education curriculum to focus and expand on the Slow Tech journey for Good, Clean and Fair technology business practices. These practices support our environmental and societal need for greater corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the development of information and computer technology (ICT). CSR policies and practices are optional for ICT companies, yet many of their choices and behaviors have significant and long-lasting, if not irreversible, impacts on our people and our planet.

At the core of the stakeholders’ network are information and communication technology companies. While their products and services are shaping the future of society, debate about their social responsibility is largely absent. Ideally, from a normative position, these companies must be transparent about their social, environmental, and ethical impacts on society. In general, computer and technology professionals must assess the added-value embedded in the systems they design.

By influencing the global educational curriculum for students to include an emphasis on corporate social responsibility and ethics in ICT, there is the possibility of achieving positive societal outcomes with the millennial generation. There is much to teach this generation about business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and the concept of Slow Tech addressing ‘good, clean and fair’ technology. Slow Tech provides “… a new starting point for systems design: … based on a long-term view of the desirability and social importance of technologies, their environmental impact and sustainability, and the fairness and equity of the conditions of workers.” 1

Core to this two-part article is the aim to ensure that, whether in their work life or educational life, upcoming generations will be both knowledgeable and passionate about the role they play in reinforcing the integrity and reducing any negative impact of ICT companies of the future.

What is Slow Tech?

Slow Tech is a “proactive computer ethics” approach. The main difference between Slow Tech and traditional computer ethics approaches is that Slow Tech is based on the concepts of limits both human and environmental. 2 As a compass, Slow Tech proactively provides a positive and constructive direction for designers of complex ICT systems – it leads towards a good, clean, and fair ICT. The ICT systems should be designed by bearing in mind these three basic elements of Slow Tech. 1

Good ICT

First, good ICT means that technologies are designed by taking into account human limits. ICT are good for human beings when the systems are designed by using a human-centered approach, and their designers accept the complex interactions between human beings and ICT. User experiences are enjoyable only if the systems are designed by taking into account human limits. The skills and competences needed to do this include: HCI, Design-for-All, e-Inclusion and Participatory Design.

Clean ICT

Second, ICT should be clean. ICT generates toxic hazards throughout its entire lifecycle (including at the design, production, consumption and disposal phases). Therefore, the clean side of Slow Tech considers the environmental impact of ICT (the materials involved, chip manufacturing processes, power consumption of data centers and devices, ICT applications, e-waste management, and recycling). Engineers are now beginning to investigate the long-term sustainability of ICT, since its exponential growth risks being unsustainable. The growing importance of new paradigms based on cycles, like the “circular economy”, are likely to be of fundamental importance. 3

Fair ICT

Third, ICT should be fair. Today’s low cost ICT features are possible only at the price of the increasing costs paid by workers. The whole ICT value chain is indeed quite long and complex and, in many parts, definitely not transparent. Instead, fair ICT takes into account the working conditions of workers throughout the entire, globally extended ICT supply chain.

The Relationship of Good, Clean and Fair to ISO 26000 and Corporate Social Responsibility

ISO 26000 is an international standard that provides guidance on social responsibility (Reference number ISO 26000:2010(E)). The guidelines were prepared by the International Standards Organization’s (ISO)/TMB (Technical Management Board) Working Group on Social Responsibility. They were developed using a multi-stakeholder approach involving experts from different stakeholder groups and many countries and organizations. The guidelines are comprehensive and thorough, and can be mapped onto the Slow Tech concept of good, clean and fair technology and its associated business practices. 1 However, overall, the ISO 26000 guidelines are more detailed in their approach to defining business practices that influence outcomes for human beings and the environment than is Slow Tech.

Other international principles are also available, such as those from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights from the United Nations. There are also connections between CSR and the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT (see e.g., www.orbit-rri.org).

At the time of writing this article, an organization cannot be certified according to the ISO 26000 standard as can be done with some of the other ISO standards such as ISO 9001. (ISO 9001 is a quality management system that defines requirements and provides certification procedures, enabling companies to demonstrate the quality of their business practices to customers and suppliers.) That being said, some global organizations have begun to embrace CSR, as is evidenced from documentation listed on the corporate websites of such international companies as Apple, Alphabet, Cisco, Amazon, and Microsoft. Despite their well-written public-facing corporate CSR policy documentation, however, many of these companies find themselves cited in the mass media for infringements or insufficient observation of basic CSR guidelines. For example, the New York Times has covered articles in the middle of this decade about challenges related to both Samsung and Apple supplier labor practices. 4, 5

Looking back in time, the debate about the moral agency of corporations started forty years ago. The discipline of business ethics, which “addresses the moral features of commercial activity” 6, started by addressing fundamental questions like “Is the Corporation a Moral Agent? How and in whose interests ought the Corporation to be Governed?”. In at least two parts of the globe, associations that focused on business ethics and CSR were launched in the 1980s. In the United States of America (USA), the Society for Business Ethics was established in 1980, 7 while in Europe the European Business Ethics Network was set up in 1987. 8 The discipline of business ethics is therefore, however, still relatively young when compared to the sphere of ethics as a whole.

Toward social responsibility 

The introductory text to the ISO 26000 guidelines provides a compelling overview of the rationale for guidance to encourage organizations to become more socially responsible. 9

An organization’s performance in relation to the society in which it operates and to its impact on the environment has become a critical part of measuring its overall performance and its ability to continue operating effectively. This is, in part, a reflection of the growing recognition of the need to ensure healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organizational governance. In the long run, all organizations’ activities depend on the health of the world’s ecosystems. Organizations are subject to greater scrutiny by their various stakeholders.”

The principles of ISO 26000 overlap with the Slow Tech movement’s core criteria. This makes the ISO 26000 guidelines an appropriate baseline for evaluation of organizational performance in the context of good, clean and fair technology and business practices.

ISO 26000 principles of social responsibility
Accountability
Tranparency
Ethical behavior
Respect for stakeholder interests
Respect for the rule of law
Respect for international norms of behavior
Respect for human rights

The ISO26000 standard is just one reference model which goes in this direction. It represents a fundamental starting point at the international level for integrating CSR strategies throughout the organization. With its six core subjects, the authors of the standard state the baseline for the CSR plan of any organization. The challenge is to map these high-level principles onto the daily life of a company and, in particular, onto its specific market domain. The challenge is even greater with ICT companies, where the complexity of their products and services is high and their business partners’ network is global.

Core subjects addressed in detail by ISO 26000 include: organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. Each core subject has between four and eight associated issues that need to be considered when using the guidelines to plan and assess organizational CSR governance. ICT companies can use these guidelines in a very practical way to develop their policies and processes for good, clean and fair products and solutions.

In the next newsletter, the authors will describe three case study illustrations that can be included in contemporary ICT-related teaching. The case studies reflect examples of socially responsible behavior in the manufacturing, production, design, and handling of ICT in three countries.

As a result, a set of recommendations will be made for what the authors call the Slow Tech journey. The journey indicates some potential future directions for the applications of Slow Tech in teaching and research, to consolidate, expand and enhance sound business ethics in the ICT field. Part II of this article will provide a suitable accompaniment to the messages implicit in a new book outlining how businesses can apply Slow Tech messages. 10

References: 

  1. N. Patrignani and D. Whitehouse, “Slow Tech: a quest for good, clean and fair ICT”, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 12 Iss: 2, pp.78 – 92, 2014.
  2. D. H. Meadows, D. L. Meadows, J. Randers and W. W. Behrens III, The Limits to Growth, Universe Books, 1972.
  3. EMAF, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Economy, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org
  4. N. Gough and B. Chen, “Groups accuse Apple supplier in China of labor violations”. The New York Times, 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/business/Apple-Supplier-Is-Accused-of-Labor-Violations.html?mcubz=0
  5. D. Barboza. “Despite a pledge by Samsung, child labor proves resilient”. The New York Times, 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/11/business/international/children-found-working-at-samsung-supplier-in-china.html?mcubz=0
  6. A. Marcoux. “Business Ethics”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2008.
  7. SBE. “Chronological History”, Society for Business Ethics, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.sbeonline.org/about-us/our-history/chronological/
  8. EBEN, “European Business Ethics Network”, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.eben-net.org/
  9. ISO. “ISO 26000 – Social Responsibility, International Organization for Standardization, 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.iso.org/iso-26000-social-responsibility.html
  10. N. Patrignani and D. Whitehouse, Slow Tech and ICT: A Responsible, Sustainable, and Ethical Approach, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

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.