Corporate Social Responsibility

breast cancer

“Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is based on the premise that corporations have an economic, social, environmental and ethical responsibility to the society in which it operates”  ~ Dr. Marianne D. Sison

 Funny how ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ instantly creates a mixed sense of disappointed optimism. It is encouraging, I suppose, that the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) exists. Yet, I feel that the vast majority of us cannot help but hear this phrase and experience pangs of disillusionment.

Sison argues that companies should engage in CSR as it builds the reputation of the brand, creates a tax shelter and as a consequence of globalization, companies are required to become more accountable. Her suggestions for how a company can engage in CSR are charitable donations, community grants and volunteer programs for employees and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. They can also do something as simple as sourcing products from labor friendly countries.

This all seems very sensible, but an interesting fact that comes out of a related study on CSR is that India, which has the lowest GNP per capita of the 7 countries researched, has the highest level of CSR (Chapple & Moon 2005). While Sison explicitly makes no conclusions about this statistic, I have a thought as to the implied meaning.

In an Australian study it was found that 68% of companies in the top 500 companies engaged in CSR were involved in mining and resource industries. To me this implies that western companies have less of a sense of social responsibility, coming from capitalist thinking where a business’ contribution to the national economy is thanks enough.  I feel I can make this claim, as those companies that are contributing most to CSR are those that are politically unpopular and have image issues, namely environmental, associated with their industry.

As a communicator that is contemplating the management of a company’s image I cannot help but be worried that by participating in CSR the stigma of ‘doing something right, to counter something wrong’ will stick to my company’s CSR efforts. Mount Franklin, a sub-brand of Coca-Cola, has received much positive media attention for its support of breast cancer with their pink lid appeal.  In essence the company donates 0.6 cents per 400ml bottle that retails for $3.50 AU. This is a tiny percentage of an essentially free and cheaply produced product for a cause that generates large advertising revenue for the company. Oh and let’s not forget, its for a good cause namely stopping the deaths of millions of women.

Due to this stigma I feel those that engage in CSR need to be very careful about transparency and sincere offerings.  Personally, I feel the strength of CSR in building the value of a western company’s image will only be realized if western companies as a collegiate change their mentality and become more sincerely generous in their contributions to CSR.

Chapple, W, & Moon, J 2005, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Asia: A Seven-Country Study of CSR Web Site Reporting’, Business & Society, vol. 44, pp. 415-441.