GPLLM hosts fireside chat on "The business of corporate social responsibility"

Thursday, March 1, 2012

GPLLM fireside chat

By Archana Sridhar, assistant dean, graduate program

(Jan. 24, 2012) Cross-border pipeline projects, gold mines in Africa, software blocking access to information by citizens in China or the Middle East - all of these current events are animated by the theme of "corporate social responsibility."  The Hon. Michael Ignatieff, senior resident at the University of Toronto's Massey College and former leader of the Liberal party of Canada, sat down with Faculty of Law Prof. Michael Trebilcock for a fireside chat about these cases and more on January 23, 2012, at the Faculty of Law.  Students and faculty in the Global Professional Master of Laws (GPLLM) program and guests gathered to hear about the topic of "Doing Business Responsibly in the Global Economy."  The event was generously sponsored by the global law firm of Baker & McKenzie.

The duo began by talking about the moral argument for responsible business and globalization.  "If you are an in-house counsel, arguments about moral perfectionism probably won't go far in the boardroom," Ignatieff said.  "Your approach has to be more practical and instrumental."  They focused particularly on Canada's leadership in the extractive and mining industries.  "Toronto is one of the leading cities for mining finance in the world," Ignatieff said to the GPLLM students.  "Human rights and corporate social responsibility issues are deeply salient to the careers of young legal professionals in Toronto."

In their candid conversation, Ignatieff and Trebilcock ventured beyond law to the realms of business and politics in the global economy, touching on reputational risk to businesses with regard to issues like child labour, home-country regulation of foreign corruption, and doing business in unstable regimes. Asked about civil society players in this arena, Ignatieff said, "NGOs in this area are highly professional, serious outfits that know the political dynamics of corporate social responsibility in the 21st century. They have a shrewd understanding of the media, social media and consumer boycotts, and will hold corporations to account." 

Several lawyers from the Toronto office of sponsoring law firm Baker & McKenzie attended the talk. "The ethical challenges that multinational enterprises regularly face are certainly real and not easily reconciled against the profit motive and business opportunities," said Theo Ling, partner, Baker & McKenzie LLP.  "As was discussed during the event, setting a goal to merely comply with applicable local laws is often not the most effective or sustainable strategy. While political and cultural factors must also be considered, the foundation of any strategy must be informed by and aligned with local law." Added Ling: "As a global law firm that works closely with global companies, Baker & McKenzie can attest to the fact that corporate compliance issues are top of mind for all businesses that prioritize the protection of their brand and long-term reputation over opportunities for short-term financial gain."

The Global Professional Master of Laws program is a 12-month executive-style master of laws offered during evenings and weekends and taught by a winning combination of distinguished law and business faculty and leading legal experts.  Focused on Canadian business law from a global perspective, the GPLLM program focuses on the legal issues affected by globalization by exploring comparative examples, case studies and real business deals.  For more information about the GPLLM program, please visit:

Baker & McKenzie