Posted by: genevievetaylor | August 27, 2010

The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility – WSJ.com

My good friend Robert Girling, Professor of business at Sonoma State University, sent me this article – and it certainly is provocative!

The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility – WSJ.com.

Here was my response to the article:

1. Companies were originally intended to serve the public interest. Vis “The Corporation.” That intention has been lost and distorted as profits have become the number one focus.

2.  The author is right, that when profits and interests align, the company can do well by doing good. But it is not only in that circumstance, as he leads us to believe.  His logic is uncomplicated – he abstracts the human decision making factor right out of the process. Companies are led by human beings, who have values, who make choices that cost as well as benefit the company all the time based on those values.

Sustainability is one of those values. In essence, by abstracting, he creates the same kind of illusion that he is accusing CSR fans of.

3. Moving forward from the idea of shared values, companies have an imperative to include the public interest as part of their shared values. When they don’t, they become outright harmful to society – everything from the Industrial moguls of the 18th century, which include the sweatshops and toxins pouring into rivers that families eat from, to more recently Enron, which lost its focus and created tremendous damage. We lie to ourselves if we think that the values of the individuals within the organization do not have an impact on the decisions made by the organization. Thus, by including those values one of respect and restoration for our community and planet, we are ensuring not only our customer base but also our place in the world as respected organizations.

4. Governments and civil society are a key part of how we clarify what the public interest is, as the author points to in his conclusion. However, that is a dynamic process in conjunction with our public and privately held corporations. If we lose them from the conversation, citing reasons of “my only duty is to my shareholders”  then we have lost a critical piece of their contribution.

Finally, as Paul Hawken pointed out, business is an incredibly tremendous vehicle for change. I always think about how much of our creativity is funneled into advertising, a commercial endeavor, and how much behavior change that has wrought in the world. To abstract commercial entities out of the picture is a larger illusion than the one the author fearfully points to.

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