SOMO’s “Corporate Research Knowledge Centre” team conducts investigations into large, small, public, private, and letterbox companies to produce tailor-made research, giving SOMO’s clients that crucial insight, financial data and critical analyses to support their public interest work.
SOMO has more than forty years of experience screening companies on their operations, labour standards, and impacts on sustainable development. Recently, a new unit at SOMO, called the Corporate Research Knowledge Centre, or CRKC, has started digging deeper, to include more in depth corporate insight and market context in SOMO’s company research.
“When insightful and reliable information as well as critical analyses about a company is needed by our clients, SOMO’s CRKC can swiftly start investigating a company, its sector and markets. We produce research which is crucial for our clients when they need information to help make strategic decisions about the direction of their work, advocacy and campaigns,” says Roberta Cowan, SOMO researcher and CRKC services coordinator at SOMO.
Civil society organisations, semi-public and public bodies as well as international NGOs make use of SOMO’s services at the CRKC to support their partnerships, campaigns, multi-stakeholder initiatives, dialogues, negotiations, research, fundraising, investments and other terms of engagement with companies. There are various reasons SOMO’s clients request specialized company research, a media overview or background and investor information. If an organization is considering targeting a company in its campaign, lobby or advocacy work, or considering partnering with a company on a joint project, it can request a SOMO Quick Scan of the company, to help understand what the possible risks of association are to its reputation.
The CRKC team has five researchers including Roberta, who is a former financial journalist, reported for Canadian Press, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal and Reuters before moving to SOMO in December 2013. CRKC researchers have expertise across the entire SOMO research agenda, as well as specialized skills in financial analysis and in using corporate databases, similar to the databases used by bankers, investors, governments and companies. The CRKC researchers analyse how companies operate, CSR policies and how companies are managed, structured and financed. They also analyse what drives a company, where it looks for growth and how it operates and competes in its own or related markets.
“In our approach, we don’t only research the company, because understanding the sector and the market context including a company’s competitors, investors, shareholders, consumers and media reports, also gives us meaningful information to help understand how a company operates and of course, where it is vulnerable,” says Cowan.
Digging for the public good
“SOMO has also extensive expertise in translating this information into CSR and sustainability issues,” says Roberta. The insight gained from understanding the strategic and financial drivers of a company, can also be used for the public good, to influence the policy and behaviour of multinational corporations and in the end positively affect the lives of people who were negatively affected by multinational corporations. SOMO uses mostly public information and information from subscription-based financial databases. SOMO’s researchers troll through these databases, annual reports, press releases, analyst meeting transcripts as well as news agency copy, when analysing a company for a customer.
“It’s digging, digging and more digging”, says Cowan. “What a company says about its CSR is important, but it is only part of the puzzle. For me it’s important to know what drives a company, because in the end, the biggest decisions are made based on what investors want, which is why in our research we need to ‘follow the money’,” she says.
Different needs require different kinds of research
After this summer SOMO will publish a brochure about the various types of research services SOMO’s Corporate Research Knowledge Centre can offer. Four services are highlighted:
- Quick Scan
A Quick Scan is the result of an investigation into the policies and practices of a company, an overview of its strategy, which ultimately concludes with a risk analysis and set of recommendations. SOMO uses a standard methodology for this tailor-made research, which is adjusted for every client. Increasingly, companies or their associations or foundations look for partnerships with NGOs. When considering this proposition, the NGO can come to SOMO to help think through the thorny issues involved when partnering with a company. To help the NGO make its decision, SOMO can prepare a Quick Scan analysis, which outlines, among other things, what the company will gain from such a relationship and what the risks are to that NGO if indeed proceed with the partnership. “Valuable insight about the company can be learned from this sort of investigation, which is similar to a due diligence process,” says Roberta. “Our clients want to know what the risk is to their good name if they are associated with a certain company.” SOMO conducted several Quick Scans in the last year − on companies operating in the sugar, chemical, alternative energy, agriculture and advertising sectors − most of which are not made public, but are used exclusively by the client.
- Benchmark Scans and Controversy Scans
Benchmark Scans or Sector Scans are a comparative research project which looks at various companies within a specific sector, for example commodities, like coffee or sugar, or in a sector including garment or electronics manufacturing. SOMO also produces Controversy Scans, which include background information on current or past controversies the company has faced as well as a comprehensive media overview. “Key to all of the SOMO CRKC services is that our research often unearths, potential areas of concern, given that we look at the company within the context of its sector and market, and can identify red flags for our partners and clients,” adds Roberta.
- Corporate Research Training
SOMO’s CRKC team also offers training to individuals, partner organizations as well as customers on how to conduct company research. Last year SOMO gave several corporate research trainings around the world to groups and partner organizations which have subsequently been able to develop more focused strategies towards companies.
Read more about SOMO’s services.