CSR and the Future of Corporate Accountability
As is the case with most anything of any interest, the deeper you look into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) the more difficult it is to define. And as long as it remains difficult to define, it will be difficult to communicate and enforce. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that one is faced with a series of questions related to corporate social responsibility, human rights and the law along a parallel path of considering the importance of profits, business innovation and market share.
Just what is the role of business as it pertains to social responsibility?
Corporations are not in business to save the world. They are in business to make money. But what if they can make a positive social impact by implementing compelling corporate social responsibility initiatives that are arguably not just good for society but good for business, as well. If there wasn’t at least a fuzzy line drawn between profits and social responsibility, the issue would simply not be a matter that is so much on the minds of major corporations. Yet when we look at CSR programs in relation to other areas of corporate business strategies, they are still relatively unsophisticated. So while CSR might be acknowledged as an important aspect of doing business, one could argue it’s not “THAT” important.
This needs to change.
Before we can accurately assess the future of CSR, we need to address the issue of defining it. We need to underscore its importance as a business tool, acknowledging the difficulties associated with implementing CSR programs and examining both successful and unsuccessful CSR models. In other words, we need to recognize what problems exist with current CSR programs before we can attempt to solve them.
It all needs to start with a clear understanding of what a successful CSR program should look like.
A Man Walks Into A Bar
Analyzing CSR brings to mind an old joke that was coined to describe the difference between advertising and public relations.
Imagine walking into a bar and seeing a man on the end stool telling a group of women that he is “great in bed.”
Now imagine a group of women on the other side of the bar, talking about that same man without his knowledge telling each other that he’s “great in bed.”
That’s public relations.
Successful CSR needs to reach a level of transparency where it is not just trumpeted by the corporation putting the policy in place, but is felt in a real way by the stakeholders it aims to affect. The power of doing something so well and communicating it so effectively that other people naturally become your advocates, and in the best cases, your evangelists, can only happen in any consistent way if you are actually doing something extraordinary and are actually telling the truth about it.
This can only happen if you pull back the curtain to see the proverbial “wizard” behind it all. In this case, the wizard is made up of the leaders, executives and other decision-makers charged with taking CSR policies from paper to the real world.
After all, it only takes one bad experience with “that guy in the bar” to ruin his reputation. Similarly, it only takes one hypocritical move outside the parameters of a CSR program to call the entire initiative and intent of a corporation into question. Believability is crucial and reputations can be ruined if a bad experience comes on the heels of self-proclaimed excellence.
CSR: A Business Case
CSR is a tool that corporations can use to allow them to build upon their reputation, position themselves as leaders within their industry, and derive real financial and social benefits.
According to Industry Canada in their analysis of Corporate Social Responsibility, the business benefits of such a strategy include the following:
• Stronger financial performance and profitability through operational efficiency gains • Improved...