Sunday, 28 September 2014

Two decades of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)...a success story?

CSR succeeds?  A TorontotheBetter update on the battle to civilize commerce. 

Setting aside for a moment fundamental questions about the essential independence of financial self-enrichment and social benefit, there is still a way to go to achieve real value  from the enterprise culture change that has become popular in recent years, at least in advertising copy. In some sense the CSR movement has succeeded. There are way more healthy food and green energy options available than there used to be, for those that can afford them. If the price in shopper confusion and greenwashing is one that has to be paid then maybe that’s a small one compared to the greater potential good. The many corporate responsibility campaigns have at least encouraged corporations to adopt a “better join them” policy rather than risk market-reductive odium in the media. Pop singers and entertainers sign on by the hundreds, young people support multiple ethical and ecological campaigns,  and public opinion solidly supports a clean environment and jobs for all, though how to get there is a seriously divisive political question. Government imposition of the values they claim to support remains a bridge too far for most corporations. And most developed economies still ration well-being through competition while economic “animal spirits” continue to devastate lives though economic busts, most recently in the still reverberating collapse of 2008.                                                                                                                                                                             
Over twenty years of ethical blaming has produced a corporate sector in which many, though by no means most, corporations have added some aspects of broader community commitment to their operational profiles, whether it be selective charities or staff benefits. Mega-capitalists Warren Buffett and Bill Gates debate, and support “creative capitalism”. But still, because of the over(?)-compensatory charities and tax write-offs that have often ensued, the line between self-interest and societal commitment is hard to define with precision and the voluntaristic nature of this whole transformation process makes mass change for all virtually impossible. The end result is, therefore, that the more sign-on virtually the same, or even less, impact, as governments continue to  withdraw under the cover of “social” corporations. Enterprises can continue their normal activities while maintaining feel- good marketing profiles, anaesthetizing the genuine interest of most in greater access to good quality goods and services that contribute to a better world.          
What we need is a social economy movement that supports the societal installation of key social determinants including democratic workplaces, ecological operational practices and management transparency. Whatever the final tools the starting point must be a movement. For all the popularity of feel-good consumerism as consumerism it inevitably inherits the brand name vacillation that characterize its origins.   

Most important, perhaps, enterprise and its users (that’s all of us, of course) must come together to support intervention to this end, rather than opposing it at all costs, in the name of lower taxes, the current norm.  If you agree, join our Alliance for Toronto’s Social Economy at  www.TorontotheBetter.net/atse_signup.html. There is a way forward for society and it will take more than piecemeal marketing make-overs to get there.       


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