More evidence for a ‘values’ audit: European companies in the USA

Human Rights Watch recently published a report looking at the anti-union tactics of European companies in the USA.

It’s an interesting development. I’ve not seen such scrutiny on companies between two such developed markets before.

The companies named have all responded, of course, and offered their points of view.

The point of this post is not to name them and the allegations.

What’s interesting about this report is that it shows (if just say 10% of it is right) that it’s not just emerging markets you have to watch yourself in.

Just as Microsoft was recently caught out in Russia, European companies who develop US businesses have probably learned from this report that culture is everything. And that when you expand abroad you need to look west as well as east.

That’s what’s new here. We haven’t seen so comprehensive a report on European companies in the US in the past, at least not to my knowledge.

It demonstrates that point I made about the potential for a values audit in countries where you operate.

After all, if you hire locals, they will act as other locals do, in the main.

So your average manager in certain sectors in specific parts of the USA is going to be virulently anti-union.

I recall one head of corporate responsibility, on the subject of collective bargaining, turning to me and simply saying, “we don’t do unions”, not so long ago.

But if you are a company originally from Germany, for example, the culture of co-determination is so embedded (largely) that expectations are higher when it comes to unions.

Interestingly, a search on Google News for this report doesn’t generate that many headlines when you search for its title.

It may well be due to the search parameter, but the report has not generated as much coverage as you’d expect, from what I can see.

Perhaps the media has bigger fish to fry. It’s not that sexy a story after all.

And with all the other issues in CR, it’s all very complicated, particularly by national boundaries and cultures.

I’m not particularly pro-union. In certain places they are extremely important, in others, less so.

I’ve seen their successes in parts of history and the world.

But I’ve also, when running big events in the US, been asked for bribes by union members.

Once, together with colleagues, I was locked in a room by Teamsters demanding major additions to a final bill for an exhibition. (It was resolved when we called the police).

But this report at least shows us that European companies need to look both ways when expanding abroad. Not just to Asia, but to North and South America too.

Union policy at home or not, if you have ‘higher’ (or different?) standards where you come from, you’ll be called out on them as globalisation accelerates at its breakneck pace.

One more thing to put on the “to look out for” list if you are a European firm expanding or operating in the US.

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