Why I believe that Michael Porter’s position on corporate social responsibility smacks of colonialism

Posted on May 27, 2013


Back in April of 2008 I wrote a post titled What is the Value in your Supply Chain? (A PI Q and A), in which I questioned the merits of famed Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter’s model.

Click to hear Porter sound bite . . .

Click to hear Porter sound bite . . .

Specifically, I had indicated that while Porter’s theory at the conceptual level has merit, its “value” in terms of applicability in a real-world supply practice is now proving to be inconclusive.  Especially since supply practice models such as SCOR – in which the framework was based on Porter’s theory – are undergoing close scrutiny in terms of sustainable effectiveness.

In this week’s Buyers Meeting Point Update, Kelly Barner shared a sound bite in which Porter addresses what he called shared value, which is another approach to corporate social responsibility.

Even though it has been 5 years since I last wrote about Porter, I still find that his views are off the mark as his position on the issue of social responsibility smacks of colonialism.

While I would direct you to listen to the 15 minute segment itself and draw your own conclusions, what immediately came to mind upon hearing Porter’s perspective was Walmart and Tesco.  Particularly when he talked about how corporations can focus on profitability while making their suppliers better.

I doubt if Porter considered Walmart’s dealings with Vlassic Pickles and Tesco’s treatment of snow pea farmers in his “we will make you better” benevolence musings.

The fact is that governance models are at the heart of a socially responsible supply chain.  Humphrey and Schmitz talked about governance at length in terms of their value chain research, which focused on the nature of relationships between various actors involved in the supply chain, including their implications on development.

For Porter to make statements outside of the above governance context reflects the kind of one-sided relational omnipotence that actually undermines as opposed to builds a strong and sustainable supply chain.

What are your thoughts?


Posted in: Commentary