Seattle Social Innovation Fast Pitch Competition

Today I competed in the quarterfinals of the Seattle SIFP Competition. What a great opportunity to hear from social innovators in for-profit and non-profit organizations, like Viva Farms. Plus, as a competitor, I received a free pitch clinic and mentoring from two very (VERY!) helpful advisors. The competition also required me to create a one-page ‘pitch’ sheet that I’ve already used numerous times to chat with people who are interested in the business-facing social responsibility initiative to Prevent Human Trafficking that I’m building for Washington Engage. Even if I don’t make it to the semi-finals, I’m so grateful for the leaders, sponsors, and judges of Seattle’s SIFP. I’ve gained so much through this experience!


Please support this initiative and BUY a TICKET for the finals on Oct. 3!

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Recruiters Accused of Enslaving Disadvantaged Slovoks

Often we think that human trafficking and forced labor is something that only happens in the developing world. We think that our businesses in the US don’t need to worry about forced labor within our own workforce. Yet as police are being trained to recognize forced labor, numerous cases have been discovered in the US and Europe.

Here’s a very recent example:

On June 10, 2010 five people were charged in a human trafficking case, for luring socially disadvantaged Slovoks to the UK and forcing them to work for far below minimum wage. The group is accused of promising high pay for picking, processing, and sorting vegetables in the U.K. However, when victims arrived in the U.K., the recruiters established bank accounts in the names of their victims, into which employers paid salaries. Only the accused had access to the money and drew it out themselves. Continue reading

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Responsibility Reporting: A Glance at Starbucks

Net Impact Professional Chapter hosted “Starbucks in Focus” at the Starbucks headquarters on Thursday, May 12. The discussion focused on the tenth annual Global Responsibility Report (FY2010) that was released in April. The Vice President of Global Responsibility, Ben Packard, provided a history of Starbucks’ CSR reporting and discussed key issues before we broke off into three sessions in which Net Impact members provided feedback to the Starbucks’ CSR staff.

If you read the report, you’ll see that Starbucks is pretty transparent about their successes and their shortcomings in the corporate responsibility space. While some consumers attack them for their shortcomings, I appreciate their candor and their willingness to state ambitious goals and attempt to reach them. According to Packard, such candor wasn’t always easy. One of the biggest initial challenges was in creating internal alignment on the Continue reading

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Slavery in our Backyard

Two farms in Eastern Washington are being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for discriminating against Thai workers. According to the EEOC, California-based company, Global Horizons, Inc., recruited Thai males to work at farms in the U.S.

Over a four year period (2003-2007), Global Horizons lured over 200 Thai workers to the U.S. with promised of high-paying agricultural jobs and temporary visas. Global Horizons charged exorbitant recruiting costs that often put the workers’ families in debt. The workers were willing to pay these costs because they were promised that they would make enough money to pay the debts and to support their families. Upon arrival to the U.S., however, the suit states that Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened to deport them if they complained about their conditions. The workers were sent to farms in Washington and Hawaii. According to the suit, Green Acre Farms (Harrah, WA) and Valley Fruit Orchards (Wapato, WA), not only ignored abusive treatment of these Thai workers but participated in mistreatment, intimidation, and harassment of the Thai men. In addition, they paid the workers lower wages than other agricultural workers. Continue reading

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Creative Space

Creation is pleasure and torture at the same time. It’s trying to make something out of nothing. It’s a birth of some sort. Sometimes it’s like pulling a piano out of a swamp. Sometimes it’s like walking on air. The torture of that nothing-space in front of you, and the pure elation of filling that space with something good—it’s one of life’s great juxtapositions. I’m grateful for that—the torture and the pleasure.” Zooey Deschanel

I used to think that I was determined. Many of us do. Some think that they’re determined by their jobs, by their family of origin, by the “way things are,” by fate. We hear this reasoning all of the time: “I had no choice.” “I can’t change things.” “It’s his fault.”


I was raised in a small town in South Carolina where I often heard that God had a plan for my life. I was determined. Free will was something dangerous, associated with a myth of a snake, some apple-eaters, and the subsequent fall of humankind. So my authorities—parents, teachers, society—demanded obedience. And I complied, naively believing that they knew what was best for me.


It took a while for me to realize that they didn’t, or couldn’t. I slowly saw that the forms and structures of my life didn’t fit me. The beds that others made for me to lie in were like beds fashioned by the Greek character, Procrustes. In his myth, Procrustes called to passers-by to come rest in his bed. Yet his iron bed never quite fit his visitors, so he would stretch them on a rack if they were too short. Or if they were too long, he would cut off their limbs until they fit. One day, I woke to realize that I’d been adjusting myself to fit the structures of others, chopping of parts of myself so that I might fit in and be satisfied with the structures around me. Continue reading

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Stop Slavery: How We Can Help

This week, I attended a screening of the new documentary, “The Dark Side of Chocolate.” The screening was held at Theo Chocolate here in Seattle and sponsored by Equal Exchange. So as we munched on Theo’s o-so-yummy-slave-free chocolate, we watched this documentary that exposed the use of child slavery in producing the chocolate of major brands like Nestle and Hershey’s.

After the film, we had a discussion about what can be done to prevent these atrocities. We were really given only one option: Buy Fair Trade. At one level I agree. Consumer demand is probably the most effective way to get companies to prevent child slavery. If consumers refuse to buy their products, or begin choosing ethically sourced products, these companies will change their ways. Think for example of the impact that the success of Whole Foods has had–they’ve helped change the behavior of big chain grocery stores. In order to remain competitive, Safeway has started providing healthier and organic products that customers want.

We must change our behavior as consumers! Or so the argument goes. Certainly this is true. Yet this isn’t our only option and it may not be the one that will bring the quickest change. Here are a few other options for creating change:

Continue reading

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Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship

Dan Bross, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, spoke at a Net Impact meeting in Seattle on Thursday, February 17. The following is a review of his presentation.

Dan Bross

Seven years ago, Microsoft started a corporate social responsibility program called Corporate Citizenship. Citizenship is a set of corporate activities that add business value and address a range of social issues. If these activities are merely add-ons, the value that they add will be very limited. For this reason, under the leadership of Dan Bross, the Corporate Citizenship program seeks to build these activities into the very structure of Microsoft. How is this integration achieved?

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Re-Framing Compliance to Motivate Employees

A few years back, I was required to complete sexual harassment training. Even as a female, I didn’t want to do the training because I was just so busy with other things. But it was required, so I did it. The video was informative and used scenarios to teach the laws that I should obey. But what was missing was the “why” — and by simply answering the “why” question, this training could have been very motivating to me as an employee.

As trained ethicist, I have no doubt that companies would benefit greatly by providing a values-based framework for their compliance training. Compliance shouldn’t just be about telling people “do this” and “don’t do that.” It needs to be set within a larger framework of ethics and corporate values.

One approach that could be very helpful would be that of Narrative Ethics. Narrative Continue reading

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How is Ethical Behavior Fostered in an Organization?

In my previous post, I argued that compliance programs in corporations are most effective if they employ a broader ethical/values-based framework. I want to further that argument from a different angle, using findings in cognitive-developmental psychology.

In the 1950s, Lawrence Kohlberg began a research project to determine how humans acquire the moral beliefs that shape their ethical behaviors. Based on his research he argued that there are three basic levels of moral reasoning: Preconventional, Conventional, and Postconventional.

Individuals who operate at the Pre-conventional Level, interpret the rules of social institutions egotistically: right behavior is whatever benefits me. One thinks of Bernard Madoff as an example of a Pre-conventional thinker who earned his wealth by disregarding Continue reading

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How to Teach Compliance

Biking the California desert

When I lived in Montana a few years back, I discovered a passion for mountain biking. After numerous spills and flips over the handle bars, a seasoned mountain biker gave me a most valuable piece of advice: look in the direction you want to go. If you focus on the single-track in front of you, he said, you’ll stay on the track. If you are constantly looking at the ruts, he warned, you’ll unconsciously swerve that direction and probably find yourself landing on your back, again.

Over time, I discovered that this advice doesn’t just apply to mountain biking. Research shows that it is perhaps THE key to mitigating risk in a corporate environment.

Companies can approach compliance in one of two ways. First, they can focus on preventing illegal activities, i.e. describing and avoiding the ruts. While I’ve not worked at Boeing, a simple glance at their code of conduct indicates that this approach may dominate their compliance programs. The first two points of their code warns against major ethical ruts that Boeing has fallen into in the past decade: don’t engage in activity that is a conflict of interest and don’t take advantage of your Boeing position for personal gain. Certainly, it is important to know where the ruts are located. And in such a highly regulated industry, Boeing has a major challenge in simply mitigating risk.

Yet risk mitigation is far more effective when the programs are informed by an ethical framework that is broader than legal compliance. Thus, we turn to our second approach: Continue reading

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