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Appears positive

By Elaine Cohen (BeyondBusiness) on April 14, 2009 at 5:21pm.

Content:

The world's largest software company (this phrase appears 3 times in 12 pages of text) has produced a 10th annual Corporate Citizenship report (brochure). Microsoft's definition of corporate citizenship is "serving the public good through innovative technologies and partnerships that contribute to economic growth and social opportunity and by delivering on our business responsibilities of growth and value to customers, shareholders, and employees".  No mention of environment, though one page is devoted to the headlines of environmental stewardship (Windows Vista lower power usage could eliminate 3 million tons of carbon emissions in the USA alone).  However, what overrides citizenship in this summary is the sheer size and power of this corporation to influence the lives of billions of people through the use of its core business to create positive impacts in disadvantaged or unconnected communities. The report takes us on a tour of the core (material) issues of the IT industry - the Microsoft "ecosystem", which is comprised of all Microsoft resellers and users and employs 42% of the global IT workforce. Microsoft tells us how it helps people and communities unleash their potential by providing "affordable" Microsoft software for students, "affordable" access for entrepreneurs to new Microsoft technologies, and enabling jobs and opportunities by selling Microsoft technology to NGOs who use it to train people to get into the job market.  Cybercrime, Internet safety and privacy, innovation all feature.  Similarly, Microsoft tells us about tailored solutions for local communities in Morocco, Russia and Brazil to enable them to use Microsoft platforms to get connected and get ahead. There is no doubt that Microsoft, as a powerful software developer, could easily ignore these small or localized solution requirements and focus on its global mainstream. By not doing so, it is applying the very essence of socially responsible principles to leverage its core businesses for the benefit of many rather than the profits of a few. This comes through loudly and clearly in this short summary of Microsoft's activity. So you have to value this report for what it is: a tribute to Microsoft's enlightened benevolence and positive contribution to world economic development, at the base of which is accessible technology. This review is not a model of transparency, nor is it a comprehensive review of Microsoft's corporate social and environmental responsibility.  The few pieces of data in this brochure refer to the Microsoft "ecosystem's" global economic impact – i.e. everyone that does business with Microsoft is included. Microsoft tells us their target is to reduce the carbon footprint of computer use by 54 million tons by 2010. This gives us an insight into Microsoft thinking in relation to CSR – global, indirect, collective impacts via positive partnerships. Big, broad thinking. Somehow, I just can't help wondering what's going on at ground level. 

Communication:

Navigating Microsoft's report is a nightmare. Everything is yet another click or download away… want to know how much Microsoft donates in political contributions? There's a PDF you can download if you click away long enough. Want to know how many Microsoft managers are female? Good. So do I. Take out a paid subscription to one-report-dot-com and you can (probably) find out, as that's where Microsoft hosts G3 data. Want to know want ‘Imagine Cup’ is all about? Four clicks and open-new-windows later you get to the about-Imagine-Cup page (a technology competition for students around the Millennium Goal themes). Try to find your way back there and you get lost in the labyrinth of alternative links. Web links lead you to different unconnected sub-sections on the Microsoft site – citizenship, environment, business conduct etc – but to get to anything meaningful, you have to delve so deep that you forget what you are looking for. Sorry, Microsoft, really don’t like it. No index. No site map. There is a lot of information, mostly declarational, policies, guidelines, procedures. Want to know what the Millenium Goals are? Look no further. Want to understand the Global Compact? You have come to the right site. Heard of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)? Spend long enough on Microsoft's citizenship website and you will.  Want to know the detail of Microsoft Corporation's social, environmental and economic impacts? You are going to be disappointed. Or thoroughly worn out.

Credibility:

At this point in my reviews, I always think – is this credible? Has this report caused me to have greater trust in this Company? More often than not, gullible as I am, even if the report is technically lacking, I often see a sparkle of intent, which causes me to have greater trust in the business. Microsoft clearly are doing some fabulous things to make IT accessible to millions, and this will support the evolution of a more equitable global economy, I am sure. And maybe, after all, that's the most important thing. But there are so many things we do not hear about in this report, such as stakeholders, future programs or targets, details of workplace impacts. I tried to find some numbers on diversity. I found over 40 Diversity Advisory Councils for every minority and special interest group imaginable – but not a single piece of data about how diverse people at Microsoft actually are, or how many people are actually involved in the diversity initiatives. This report, supported by the website, appears to reflect genuinely good impacts, but it's opaque. There are great chunks of information which are hard to digest on the complex Microsoft website, that cause me to experience this reporting style as frustrating.  Microsoft stories create an aura of credibility, but the lack of a structured reporting approach and comprehensive treatment of CSR issues makes it hard to relate to this report as anything more than a very clever PR effort.  IMHO.

Recommendations:

1. Make the website more easily navigable – index, sitemap, fewer links
2. Make key data available and accessible

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel, specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses.