Posted by: Sam Carson | 27 September, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility: just a PR stunt? You bet.

The Telegraph reports that Celeb Chef Jamie Oliver thinks the latest trends in Corporate Social Responsiblity (CSR) is a bunch of bollocks.  And he isn’t alone, 44% of the British public agree with him; it’s all spin.

The recent trend of forming entire corporate CSR departments in order to deal with ethical, social and governance (ESG) issues has been particularly European in nature.  But it has lead to the idea of “Green Wash” of a company throwing PR money at making themselves look “Greener”. This cynical outlook certainly has foundation.

It is, after all, corporations doing this and they are streamlined profit making entities.  So, if it doesn’t make profit the corporation isn’t really interested.  So CSR must be about the bottom line.  Therefore, it must be a PR stunt.

That said, it is a PR stunt with results.  It follows that a corporation with a dedicated CSR department is more likely to have policies that stem from that department.  A corporation with a CSR department will have something of an environmental policy with monitoring.  If you have a transparency issue with a corporation with a CSR department, there is someone to call.  That department is more likely to monitor these policies, and therefore hold the corporation accountable from within.  It shows a willingness, if nothing else.  And an understanding of the PR advantage of having a discussion on ESG issues.

Poppycock! You might say.  Well, CSR is becoming more and more a developed idea in Europe, and with results.  I posted recently on a study by the independent Ethical Investment Research Service.  The statistics were pretty clear, Europe remains a clear leader across the board on all fronts of responsible business.  It has a willingness.

I attended a seminar a few weeks ago where the Head of CSR for British American Tobacco spoke.  Of course it was a bunch of spin.  He was a great speaker, and it was interesting to watch him play with the concept: “but your cigarettes kill”.  His reply?  I’m speaking to you, I’m willing to listen.  I’m willing to stand here and discuss the harm my product has with you all.  Someone will sell cigarettes, don’t you prefer it to be me?

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Responses

  1. That’s a great post, Sam. Corporate responsibility will never be an absolute, it must be incremental. That can’t happen unless there is a ‘person’ who agrees to be held accountable. The CEOs, as we all know, are proud of their accountability ONLY to the shareholders, but a vice president is a step in the right direction, unless, of course, s/he’s a tin voice at the end of an 800 #.

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