Section A – This ONE question is compulsory and MUST be attemptedCheapkit is a large cloth

Section A – This ONE question is compulsory and MUST be attempted

Cheapkit is a large clothes retailer in a major developed country. Its business strategy is based around vigorous cost leadership and it prides itself on selling fashionable garments for men, women and children at very low prices compared to its main rivals. For many years, it has achieved this cost leadership through carefully sourcing its garments from developing countries where labour is cheaper and where workplace regulation is less than in its home country.

As a company with a complex international supply chain, the board of Cheapkit regularly reviews its risks. It has long understood that three risks are of particular concern to the Cheapkit shareholders: exchange rate risk, supply risk and international political risk. Each one is carefully monitored and the board receives regular briefings on each, with the board believing that any of them could be a potential source of substantial loss to the shareholders.

For the past decade or so, Cheapkit has bought in a substantial proportion of its supplies from Athland, a relatively poor developing country known for its low labour costs and weak regulatory controls. Last year, 65% of Cheapkit’s supplies came from this one country alone. Athland has a reputation for corruption, including government officials, although its workforce is known to be hard-working and reliable. Most employees in Athland’s garment industry are employed on ‘zero hours’ contracts, meaning that they are employed by the hour as they are needed and released with no pay when demand from customers like Cheapkit is lower.

Half of Cheapkit’s purchases from Athland are from Cornflower Company, a longstanding supplier to Cheapkit. Owned by the Fusilli brothers, Cornflower outgrew its previous factory and wished to build a new manufacturing facility in Athland for which permission from the local government authority was required. In order to gain the best location for the new factory and to hasten the planning process, the Fusilli brothers paid a substantial bribe to local government officials.

The Fusilli brothers at Cornflower felt under great pressure from Cheapkit to keep their prices low and so they sought to reduce overall expenditure including capital investments. Because the enforcement of building regulations was weak in Athland, the officials responsible for building quality enforcement were bribed to provide a weak level of inspection when construction began, thereby allowing the brothers to avoid the normal Athland building regulations. In order to save costs, inferior building materials were used which would result in a lower total capital outlay as well as a faster completion time. In order to maximise usable floor space, the brothers were also able to have the new building completed without the necessary number of escape doors or staff facilities. In each case, bribes were paid to officials to achieve the outcomes the Fusilli brothers wanted.

Once manufacturing began in the new building, high demand from Cheapkit meant that Cornflower was able to increase employment in the facility. Although, according to Athland building regulations, the floor area could legally accommodate a maximum of 500 employees, over 1,500 were often working in the building in order to fulfil orders from overseas customers including Cheapkit.

After only two years of normal operation, the new Cornflower building collapsed with the loss of over 1,000 lives. Collapsing slowly at first, the number of people killed or injured was made much worse by the shortage of escape exits and the large number of people in the building. As news of the tragedy was broadcast around the world, commentators reported that the weakness in the building was due to the West’s ‘obsession with cheap clothes’. Cheapkit was criticised as being part of the cause, with many saying that if retailers in the developed world pushed too hard for low prices, this (the collapse of the building) was one consequence of that. In response, Cheapkit’s public relations department said that it entered into legal contracts with Cornflower in order to provide its customers with exceptional value for money. Cheapkit said that it was appalled and disgusted that Cornflower had acted corruptly and that the Cheapkit board was completely unaware of the weaknesses and safety breaches in the collapsed building.

One of those able to escape the building was Jess Lui, who was also the leader of a national pressure group ‘Protect workers’ rights’ (PWR) lobbying the Athland government for better working conditions and health and safety practices for workers in the country. Having seen hundreds of people killed and injured in the collapsed building, she believed that although the government could do more, much of the blame lay with Cheapkit and the pressure it continually placed on Cornflower to keep its prices low. Jess questioned whether multinational companies such as Cheapkit should be allowed to exert so much economic pressure on companies based in developing countries. As concern over the state of other workplaces in the developing world became an increasing concern in the media, Miss Lui wrote a letter to the board of Cheapkit, which she also sent to newspapers and other media. Many of the newspapers and television channels reproduced the letter and it became a talking point in many countries because of the issues it raised.

In the letter, she said that Cheapkit was an unethical company because it supplied a market in its home country which was obsessed with cheap clothes. As long as its customers bought clothes for a cheap price, she believed that no-one at Cheapkit cared about how they were produced. She said that the constant pressure on prices had created a culture of ‘exploitative wages’, including at Cornflower.

Miss Lui received a lot of support after her comments on Cheapkit’s accountability. She said that large international companies such as Cheapkit needed to recognise they had accountabilities to many beyond their shareholders and they also had a wider fiduciary duty in the public interest. The defective Cornflower factory in Athland, she argued, would not have existed without demand from Cheapkit, and so Cheapkit had to recognise that it should account for its actions and recognise its fiduciary duties to its supply chain as well as its shareholders.

At the same time as events in Athland unfolded, the business journalists reporting on the events and Cheapkit’s alleged complicity in the tragedy also became aware of a new innovation in business reporting called integrated reporting, an initiative of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC). Jess Lui read one article which said that integrated reporting might increase an organisation’s accountability and require it to account for a wider set of concerns than was traditionally the case. This new understanding led to her including the following comment in her letter to Cheapkit:

‘… as the leader of the PWR, it is always in my interests to gain as much information as possible from Cornflower and the other businesses with which it transacts, including, in this case, Cheapkit. Perhaps the integrated reporting initiative offers the advantage of a wider reporting model for businesses, to include accountability for a much more diverse set of concerns than has been the case in the past. The integrated reporting model appears to substantially enhance the existing business model and it would be in the interests of broader accountability if Cheapkit, and other businesses in the garment supply chain, were to adopt this new reporting approach. Anything that requires businesses to report on their wider impacts on society and the environment is a good thing as far as social pressure groups like PWR are concerned.’

The board of Cheapkit discussed the issues raised by the well-publicised discussion of Miss Lui’s open letter and the comments from business journalists about integrated reporting. The board was, in principle, a supporter of the integrated reporting initiative and thought it would be useful to explain its position on a range of issues in a press release.

Required:

(a) Discuss the stakeholder claims of Cornflower’s employees and customers, and how these claims may be in conflict. (7 marks)

(b) Explain ‘corruption’ in the context of the case and discuss how corruption at Cornflower contributed to the collapse of the building and the loss of life. (10 marks)

(c) Cheapkit’s board believed that its major risks were exchange rate risk, supply risk and international political risk.

Required:

Explain each of these risks and how each may be of importance to Cheapkit’s shareholders. (9 marks)

(d) The board of Cheapkit felt that the reputation of the company had been damaged following publication of Jess Lui’s letter. It was decided that it should make a public response to her comments and also respond to points about integrated reporting raised by the business journalists, both of which had received a lot of supportive comment in the media.

Required:

Draft a press statement from the board of Cheapkit to include the following content:

(i) An explanation of Cheapkit’s role as a ‘corporate citizen’ given its international supply chain. (6 marks)

(ii) An explanation of ‘accountability’ and ‘fiduciary duty’ as used in the case, and a discussion of how these are relevant to Cheapkit using a shareholder or ‘pristine capitalist’ perspective. (6 marks)

(iii) A description of the basic framework of integrated reporting, and the potential benefits to Cheapkit’s different stakeholders, of reporting on different capital types. (8 marks)

Professional marks will be awarded in part (d) for clarity, tone, logical flow and persuasiveness of your statement. (4 marks)

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  • 提问人:00****61
  • 发布时间:2018-12-28
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