What is work

Topics: Sociology, Corporate social responsibility, Corporation Pages: 32 (8687 words) Published: March 12, 2014
Is It Time to Rewrite
the Social Contract?

By Allen L. White
Senior Advisor, BSR

Prepared
April 2007

Table of Contents
I.

The Idea of a Social Contract .......................................................................................4

II.

Enter the Corporation ..................................................................................................6

III. Enter Civil Society........................................................................................................9 IV. Shifting Norms...........................................................................................................12 V.

Contours of a Future Social Contract.........................................................................14 1. Forging a Generally Accepted Statement of the Purpose of the Corporation 2. Embedding Long-Term Wealth Creation in the Heart of the Enterprise 3. Building New Institutional Structures

4. Reinvigorating the Role of Government

VI. Reflections..................................................................................................................19

Note:
BSR publishes occasional papers as a contribution to the understanding of the role of business in society and the trends related to corporate social responsibility and responsible business practices. The views expressed in this publication are those of its author and do not necessarily represent the views of BSR or its member companies. BSR maintains a policy of not acting as a representative of its membership, nor does it endorse specific policies or standards.

BSR is a not-for-profit membership organization that seeks to create a more just and sustainable global economy by working with the business community.

The author extends his thanks to Marjorie Kelly for invaluable comments on an earlier draft, and to Anna Fleder for editorial assistance.

Business for Social Responsibility | Is It Time to Rewrite the Social Contract?

1

Is It Time to Rewrite the Social Contract?
Allen L. White
Senior Advisor, BSR

Society is indeed a contract…between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
Edmund Burke (1792)
In the midst of BHP Billiton’s assessment of the consequences of its massive and dramatically successful effort to reverse malaria in the region surrounding its aluminum smelter in Mozambique, the general manager of the smelter commented, “you can imagine, it was huge disaster. We could not deal with that level of absenteeism, and we 1

would have had more fatalities. If we didn’t treat malaria we could not operate.” Not long ago, such an intervention on the part of a private firm in a traditionally governmental function like public health was a rarity. Today, interventions are increasingly commonplace, both in instances where a business case is evident (as in Mozambique) and in instances where the economics are less than compelling but the moral high ground is unambiguous.

Examples of corporate activities that impinge upon public goods abound: pharmaceutical companies providing affordable HIV/AIDS drugs to battle the pandemic worldwide; beverage companies controversially extracting potable water resources in India; multinationals assuming control over public water supplies in Bolivia; and privatization of mass transit in the UK and roadways in India.

Amid the broad spectrum of public goods — public health, public education, public lands — the emergence of the corporation as an investor, advisor and partner has moved from the exceptional to the expected. By all indications, this trend will accelerate in the coming decades as societal expectations of business stretch the traditional boundaries of companies from purely profit-driven entities to organizations with an obligation to operate with an enduring commitment to the public interest.

For some, the movement of the corporation into the domain of public goods is laudable. Government capability, integrity...
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