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  • 03.03.10

Who decides what is acceptable?

A few days ago an employee within Citi cut off the internet business account of a customer, Fabulis. The Citi employee determined Fabulis breached Citi rules for what internet business accounts Citi is prepared to support.

A few days ago an employee within
Citi cut off the internet business account of a customer, Fabulis. The
Citi employee determined Fabulis breached Citi rules for what internet business accounts Citi is prepared to support.

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In
fact it was a mistake. The employee made what seems to be a serious
misjudgment that the Fabulis website contained pornography. The site
didn’t contain pornography and didn’t breach Citi’s standards (although
perhaps the content did breach the individual’s personal standards
regarding sexual orientation) and the account has been reinstated.

Lots
of interesting issues, but from a corporate responsibility perspective
I am most fascinated by the question of whose values should be applied
and how, by a corporation operating across regions, countries and
cultures.

Citi’s clarification of the situation
for Internet Business Accounts includes the statement “we will continue
to reserve the right to decline or suspend an account if we find
illegal or discriminatory content, or if the site involves gambling or
pornography.” Citi is clearly defining a set of standards, beyond
legal, that they will require their customers to adhere to.

I have written a couple of posts suggesting that we should include sustainability criteria
in selecting our target customers. This approach from Citi takes things
a step further by refusing to do business with customers that are
carrying out activities that do not meet certain standards, although
they are legal.

I
believe that a fundamental characteristic of corporate responsibility
is ‘beyond compliance’. On a related note, as I once wrote in a blog, I
believe that ‘legal doesn’t equal sustainable’.

But
in practice, and employee error aside, when you start refusing to do
business, the challenge is twofold. First, whose standards define what
constitutes discriminatory content, pornography and gambling? Are Sports Illustrated’s
‘paint-on’ swim suits considered to be porn? Are state lotteries
gambling? Are ethnic, gender or sexually oriented websites
discriminatory?

And secondly who actually reviews the material and decides?

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I
welcome companies trying to apply their CR values broadly, but I am
going to have to give a bit more thought to how it plays out in
practice and where I draw the line.

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