Author profile: Deborah Leipziger

Deborah Leipziger

Esteemed CSR expert and Greenleaf author Elaine Cohen gives us a profile of fellow author Deborah Leipziger:

Age: 43
Born in: São Paulo, Brazil
Kids: Three daughters – “my triple bottom line”
Lives in: Brookline, MA
Currently reading: Manuscript for The Age of Responsibility, by Wayne Visser and Corporate Impact, by Adrian Henriques
Favourite non-CSR books: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gifts from the Sea, The House of the Spirits
Favourite movie: I actually liked Avatar
Favourite musician: James Taylor
Favourite poet: Pablo Neruda
Favourite CSR report: I like CSR reports that explore dilemmas, such as Chiquita’s exploration of its dilemma in Colombia
Favourite flavour ice cream: Mint chocolate chip
If I could, I would …: Start a think tank and foundation to share lessons learned in the field of CSR

Deborah Leipziger is one of the game changers in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Amongst her achievements I believe we can count two significant events in the history of CSR development: the publication of the Corporate Responsibility Code Book. Her book created order in the emerging chaos of CSR frameworks and remains an important reference work to this day, especially since its second revision. And, second, the birth of the SA8000 standard (that Deborah helped create whilst working with Social Accountability International), which has become a widely-used standard for the apparel industry and other sectors.

Deborah Leipziger is one of the game changers in the field of corporate social responsibility

In addition to researching and writing, Deborah advises companies, governments, CR organisations and UN agencies on CSR issues including the UN Global Compact (UNGC), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA), Oxfam Novib, Maplecroft and Social Accountability International (SAI). Deborah serves as a member of the International Board of Ethos, the leading CSR organisation in Brazil, and is a member of the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investment for Aviva Investors in the UK. Deborah has a Master’s in Public Policy from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts from Manhattanville College in Economics and International Studies. When she is not doing any of the above or spending time with her “triple bottom line” (her daughters), she writes poetry and gives poetry readings.

Deborah first devised the idea for the Corporate Responsibility Code Book in 2002, understanding that the growing multiplicity of different codes, frameworks and certifications was poised to confound those trying to advance CSR initiatives. She found she was “was constantly in need of such a book. Every day, I was looking up different codes and standards and comparing them.” Where most people would still be looking up codes, Deborah decided to take action and produced the Code Book, with the biggest challenge being to “keep the book to a manageable size.” This was done by “drawing the line at certain sector-based codes.” In working on the second edition, Deborah “realised how much progress has been made by CSR initiatives in reaching a critical mass.” She also noted “some of the initiatives and codes that are excellent are not necessarily well-known in the corporate community. The ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS is an excellent code, but not well known among companies.”

By 2009, the Code Book was in need of a refresher, and whilst working on this, Deborah was pleased to see “how far the field of CSR has evolved since 2003 when the first edition was published. Nearly all of the initiatives had grown.” She was also “struck by how many initiatives had become less relevant – they did not fail; they were successful in drawing attention to an issue.” Of all the codes and frameworks in the Code Book, Deborah says “the Principles have had a significant impact on corporate behaviour.”

It is inspiring to see how far SA8000 has come and how well-known it is in Brazil, India, China and elsewhere

Regarding SA8000, and Deborah’s book highlighting examples and practices of how the standard has been applied, Deborah says “it is inspiring to see how far SA8000 has come and how well-known it is in Brazil, India, China and elsewhere.”
Deborah is not afraid of SA8000 losing its relevance. “SA8000 will continue to provide a useful framework. It is quite a stringent standard and one of the key challenges is to build capacity to allow for broader adoption,” she says.
Finally, regarding the relevance of these codes – especially in light of the self-claimed all-in, comprehensive ISO 26000 project – Deborah continues to believe a structured framework for CSR will remain relevant. “However, the future of CSR will be about new products and new types of relationships with stakeholders. The challenge for most companies and their suppliers is capacity building and understanding their impact on communities”, she cautions.

In the future Deborah would like to write about a specific supply chain and trace a product through a chain of custody. That sounds like an exciting project and quite a complex one at that. Knowing the works of Deborah to date, however, I’m sure that won’t stop her.

I would like to thank Deborah Leipziger for sharing her insights and for her fabulous contribution to our body of CSR knowledge and practice.

This article is adapted from a post by Elaine Cohen on CSRWire. The original can be viewed here.


Deborah Leipziger is the author of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book and SA8000: The First Decade. Order your copy of SA8000: The First Decade direct from Greenleaf Publishing and you can take advantage of a 30% discount. Just use voucher code SACR80 at the checkout.

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