Topic: Ethical consumption: comparing products, comparing ratings.
For this assignment, you will explore “civil regulation” of CSR in practice. Your task is to choose two branded products and see how “ethical” they are according to the ratings provided by following sites:
Good Shopping Guide [GS] https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/, [methodology]
Good on You [GY] Ethical ratings on fashion and apparel https://goodonyou.eco/, [rating system guide]
Shop Ethical [SE] https://www.ethical.org.au/theguide/ [criteria]
Please choose two items that are each rated by at least 2 of the 3 of the sites. To allow for a systematic comparison, the 2 brands should belong to the same category of product, and should both be rated by all or both of the sites you are using. If a product you are considering is not rated by any of the sites or only by one site, choose another product. The assignment will be more relevant and fun if you choose products that you own or have considered buying, but this is not necessary. You should also choose a pair of products one of which is rated as more ethical/responsible than the other by at least one of the websites. It is even better if the websites disagree with one another about the relative ratings, because that will enable you to compare the websites’ methodologies as well as the brands/products themselves.
Copy the 8-question worksheet below into a Word file and write your answer immediately below each question (except for question 1, where you should fill in the table provided). The worksheet indicates the weight out of 15 for each question. The length of the answers should be roughly proportionate to the weight (this is a general guideline, not a mechanical requirement.) Do not include an overall introduction or conclusion.
As with the midterm exam, your identifying information should appear only in a separate page at the end of the paper (not at the beginning, nor in a running head, nor in the document (file) name).
The assignment should be uploaded to Turnitin (via Moodle) by 11:59 pm on February 14. The file uploaded to Turnitin should be saved as a Word document or as a PDF, because Turnitin can’t open some other formats.
Note: It is your responsibility to ensure that the version of the paper you submit and upload is your intended final version. Please double check before submitting. Turnitin will allow you to re-submit up to, but not after, the deadline. You are therefore advised to upload before the deadline and look at the originality report to check that all quoted material is properly cited and that no more than about a quarter of the paper at most consists of quotations. After the deadline, the system will only allow you to upload only if you have not already done so, and only once, and that submission will be flagged as late. A late penalty of 0.2/20 per day will be deducted.
Assignment evaluation criteria:
Clarity of organization and writing (so that the reader can easily understand and assess your analysis).
Research (including examination of the assigned websites themselves, as well as relevant outside research). This is especially relevant to question 4.
Analysis (answering the questions in a coherent and cogent way, rather than just assembling loosely relevant information and opinions).
Critical thinking (thoughtfully assessing what you find in light of available information and reasoning; not merely reporting what the websites or other sources say).
Application of relevant ideas from course lectures and readings (in a way that furthers the analysis).
1) Fill in the following matrix, replacing “brand X/Y” with the name of the brand and supplying the overall (“bottom line”) rating of the brand by the relevant website indicated in the row. [Do not attempt to cram a lot of detail into this table—the point is to allow you and the reader to see an overall pattern.] [ /2]
Brand X Brand Y
2) Summarize the pattern you observe in the matrix. I.e., do the websites give both brand a similar score, do they agree that one gets a much higher score than the other, or do the websites disagree on the relative score they assign the 2 brands? (If the two brands have roughly the same score as one another according to both websites, replace one of the brands that gets a different score from at least one of the websites.) Don’t just repeat what is in the cells of the question 1 table.
3) (a) If the sites disagree about the ratings of one or both of the brands, why? I.e., why do the methods or criteria of the different sites give rise to different ratings in the case of these two brands? What source(s) of divergence explain this—e.g.: scope, measurement, or weighting?
(b) If the sites agree that one brand is more ethical than the other, why? I.e., why, according to the methods and criteria of both sites, is one brand better than the other?
[To answer questions 3(a) and 3(b), you need only information from the rating websites themselves, but you may need to hunt around the sites to find it. The links to criteria/methodology links above for the sites might help. See the note on “comparing rating methods” at the end of these instructions for more explanation.] [ /4]
4) Choose one issue or concern relevant to question 3 to research in more detail with respect to the two brands. Start by digging into the source of the relevant information used by the rating site (you might have to hunt around for this), and see if you can find out more by following up that source. You should also see what information is available from other sources on the issue, especially as it relates to the brands in question. Clearly summarize your findings in a way that helps the reader to understand why the different sites rated the different brands as they did. Fully reference your research using APA style. [ /3]
5) Based on your analysis of the websites and what you have learned answering questions 1-4, which of the sites provides the most valid rating for the brands you are looking at, and why?
[In answering this question well, it is necessary to address more than the level of factual detail provided by the site, or the superficial format in which it is presented. You need to consider the criteria used, the appropriateness of the criteria to the nature of the product, and to the method of aggregation and weighting. To help you think about the practical and conceptual challenges of coming up with a single number that reflects the social responsibility of a firm (or in the case of our assignment, a product or brand), see the note mentioned above.]
6) Weighing the answers to the previous questions, which of the brands do you conclude is the most ethical/socially responsible, and why? [ /2]
7) Which of the two brands is the more commercially successful? On what grounds do you say so? [You need to do a bit of research to answer this question. This question is not asking why one brand is more successful, but about what evidence you have that it is—e.g., earnings etc.] [ /2]
8) Based on your answers to questions 6 and 7, does the comparison of these brands tend to constitute evidence for or against the instrumental business case for CSR? See the note on the “business case” below.[ /1]
1) Comparing Rating Methods [most relevant to questions 3a and 5].
The issue here is how a rater takes a pile of facts about the actions and policies of a bunch of companies and derives from these facts a score, rating or grade for each company, which in turn allows them to rank companies in terms of how ethical or socially responsible the companies are. These ratings and rankings may be applied to brands or products for the sake of informing ethical consumers (as with the websites you are looking at for this assignment), or they may applied to corporations for the sake of informing ethical (socially responsible, or ESG) investors. The latter functions we will examine further in unit 11 of the course.
As a student, you are very familiar with being on the receiving end of grading. You are aware that the grade a given paper receives is a function both of the qualities of the paper itself and of the way it is graded. Two instructors might give the same paper very different grades. In this assignment, we are interested both in what these websites can tell us about the differing social performance of different companies or brands, but we are also interested in the differences between the grading approaches of the different websites. Note here that what is most important is not superficial matter such as whether the grade is reported as a letter or a percent, etc., but the method by which one brand is assessed as better (more ethical, more socially responsible) than another.
To continue the grading analogy, I am asking you to try to figure out, compare, and evaluate the rubrics that the different sites use. Scholars such as Berg et al (2019) identify three sources of divergence: scope, measurement, and weighting.
Scope refers to what issues are counted. Just as one essay rubric might include a score for “thesis statement” or font size and another might not, so one rater might score companies for, say, lobbying or organic sourcing and another might not. People will disagree about what items or issues should count for or against the quality of a paper or the social responsibility of a brand, so the scope of their assessment would differ accordingly.
Measurement refers to how performance on a given issue is quantified or scored. Two instructors might both include “thesis statement” in their rubric, but one instructor might give a particular thesis statement 6/10 and another instructor might give the same statement 8/10, depending on what they are looking for. Similarly, one ethical shopping website might give a particular brand the equivalent of 6/10 on “treatement of supply chain workers”, while another site might give the same brand 8/10 on the same issue, depending on how they go about scoring or quantifying performance on that issue.
Weighting is easy to understand. In one rubric, “thesis statement” might count for 5% of the paper’s grade, and in another it might count for 10%. Similarly, more weight might be assigned to treatment of workers or environmental sustainability by one site than by another.
Finally, it is worth pondering what it even means to add up points assigned in a more or less arbitrary way to qualitative facts in order to come up with an over all ranking. As Norman and MacDonald (2004) argue, the idea of a social or environmental “bottom line” (which is what these ethical ratings amount to) is a misleading concept. A company’s financial bottom line is calculated by adding all the revenues and subtracting all the expenses, each measured (often by market prices) in the same unit—i.e., dollars. An ethical score is likewise calculated by adding all the “good” a company does and subtracting all the “bad”, but the various good and bad things included are like proverbial “apples and oranges”. Does it make sense to try to come up with a number or letter grade, or an overall ranking, of companies on the basis of how socially responsible they are, all things considered?
2) The business case [most relevant to question 8]. The “business case for CSR” is associated with strategic approaches to CSR and instrumental versions of stakeholder theory. It is the claim that corporate financial performance is positively associated with corporate social performance, such that CSR is a profitable strategy. Note: this is a claim or argument, not necessarily a fact. It may or may not be true either in general or in a specific instance.
Berg, Florian and Kölbel, Julian and Rigobon, Roberto (2019) “Aggregate Confusion: The Divergence of ESG Ratings”. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3438533
W. Norman and C. MacDonald. (2004). “Getting to the Bottom of ‘Triple Bottom Line,'” Business Ethics Quarterly 14(2): 243-62.