Does Alaska Air Group Go the Extra Mile? A Short Flight Across the Company’s CSR Policy

By Sanne Quarles van Ufford

As a Global Law Professor at KU Leuven Yvonne Erkens has taught the class Business and human rights from a labour law perspective. As part of their final assignment, the students participating in that course have written a blog about how companies in the Database of Business Ethics - chosen randomly - aim to comply with fundamental labour rights according to their (supplier) codes of conduct. In the upcoming weeks, the three best blogs will be published on our site. The second blog can be found below.

During your short trip from Alaska to Canada, thousands of managers, employees and researchers are working their butts off to give you the most agreeable of flights, because Alaska Air Group (AAG) wants to be an airline ‘that people love’. But what does AAG do to make their employees love them?

The company subscribes a lot of labour and human rights principles, such as the right to work in a healthy and safe environment and the prohibition to discriminate. Pertaining to safety, the company holds itself to an even higher standard than the law requires. An example of the company’s efforts to eliminate discrimination and unequal representation is the project of Business Resource Groups, providing spaces for employees to connect and champion the diverse workforce and cultures represented at Alaska and Horizon. Pertaining to its due diligence endeavours, we can’t look past the company’s ambition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and be the most sustainable and fuel efficient U.S. airline. Besides that, the company makes serious efforts to reduce its onboard waste. Ever took a plane and received a carton box of water? I haven’t, but AAG offers it to you.

As important as these ambitions may seem, do their principles carried out in the Code of Ethics and the Supplier Code have ‘teeth’? Is there any infrastructure that helps managers, employees and suppliers comply with the company’s standards? The Code of Conduct and Ethics provides the possibility to report problems in person, to the HR-department, or anonymously via the company’s hotline. Afterwards, these complaints are reviewed by the Ethics and Compliance Office, taking all the steps needed to settle the problem. AAG expects from its suppliers the same respect for labour and human right principles, as carried out in the Supplier Code. Yet, no sanction is stipulated there in case that these standards aren’t being met. A black hole here, all the more when suppliers are located in countries that haven’t ratified any ILO-standards or haven’t signed the OECD-Guidelines. Luckily, there is the Vendor Code of Labour Standards, which provisions the company strives to incorporate in all supplier contracts (which is already the case in 96% of all contracts). This Vendor Code provides a radical sanction: termination of contract. Moreover, it obliges suppliers to train and inform their employees about their labour rights and obligations.

For sure, AAG has already flown quite some miles into its CSR policy, but it can go the extra mile by optimising its compliance procedure for suppliers, by means of a regular reporting system or a threat with sanctions.


den haag