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Christine Bader’s Tales of a Corporate Idealist

“If the work of the corporate idealist is properly embedded, leadership transitions shouldn’t matter.”

S+B: How do you go about embedding social and human rights and environmental considerations in a business?
I think they need to be baked into the processes of the company: how people get hired and paid and promoted, how resources get allocated, how new projects get approved. So, for instance, before a project is approved or product development begins, are we requiring a social impact assessment? That’s the real work of corporate idealists—getting things like that into processes.

S+B: How does a corporate idealist respond to disastrous events at his or her company, like the Deepwater Horizon spill?
I was gone from BP by then, but it shocked me and I know it shocked former colleagues of mine. You ask yourself, “If such a bad thing can happen in my company, or even in my industry, what does that mean for the work that I have done? How do I live with that?”

Some people can’t live with it and they just leave. But for a number of people I talked to, Deepwater actually strengthened their resolve. And who knows how many of these things they have prevented? You don’t hear about disasters that didn’t happen.

S+B: It seems clear that corporations don’t have all the answers when it comes to responsibility and sustainability. Are they asking the right questions?
I think that more companies are asking the right questions. Some of them are being forced to by legislation, like the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. Others are being prompted by external forces and standards, like the Equator Principles and the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. And there are industries where the right questions are becoming more and more routine—mining and manufacturing and tech, for example. But there will always be plenty of work for corporate idealists.

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