Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Who judges the CSR judges?


Barely a day goes by without the announcement of a CSR or sustainability award, quickly followed by a glamorous ceremony and prizes. I’m not in principle against the giving of awards when they encourage excellence and help to exchange behavior – indeed that is the model behind the Arabia CSR Awards, based in Dubai, which I founded and are now entering their third year.

My problem is more to do with how the winners are selected. Are these methods truly unbiased and fair?  Do they promote best practice – or solely the bias of the judges?
There seem to be three distinct ways of finding the ‘winner’. First, there is a panel of judges selected for their expertise in the field. They deliberate and put the results in an envelope.  But who chooses the judges? Cynics may even ask ‘who looks after the envelopes’?

Second, voters are invited to express their opinion online, as in the Corporate Responsibility Reporting Awards for the best CSR report, or the US Chamber of Commerce’s Best Corporate Citizen award.  

A third system (and the one we used in Dubai) is to produce a questionnaire based upon the concept under offer (in our case for best CSR practices) and rank the answers according to responses. The questionnaire responses are checked against material offered and companies are short-listed and visited by an independent auditor.  If two companies receive the same score, a panel of judges then intervenes.

Expense, of course, often determines the system that is chosen. Those with the smallest budgets will invariably adopt the first method I have described, while the second is slightly more expensive and, in turn, the third is the most costly. In my view, the less one spends the more opportunity there is for bias to enter, although none of the systems is completely without risks. Nothing will stop judges being influenced in various ways or, in the case of online voting, can block-voting be completely avoided. In the third method, I would suggest that the scope for bias is minimized, although I confess that in the case of a tie in the Arabia CSR Awards we (the judges) decided to favour a company because it gave a larger reach to our competition.

Clearly, the organizers of most awards wish that the winner is actually the best.  Yet, any opportunity to influence voting does increase the greater the rewards that are eventually received by the winners. So next time you sit in on an awards ceremony, ask yourself ‘who judges the judges’?

Michael Hopkins is chair of MHC International and author of Corporate Social Responsibility and International Development, published by Earthscan


3BL Media News
Sign up for Free e-news
Report Alerts
Job Vacancies
Events Updates
Best Practice Newsletter