Saturday, 15 February 2014

"Has Corporate Social Responsibility Failed"

A few notes from a talk by Wayne Visser at the University of Winchester as part of the a series of talks on "Responsible Management: Issues, Problems, Solutions"

Wayne suggested that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has evolved through a number of stages.

  1. Age of Greed - Characterised by a defensive approach, doing enough but not changing any culture of greed in the organisation 
  2. Age of Philanthropy  - Characterised by a view that it doesn't matter how you make your money so long as you give it away.
  3. Age of Marketing  - Characterised by a promotional approach where we see the use of media and CSR becoming all about PR.  
  4. Age of management - a more strategic focus where we see alignment of issues with the business. Also likely to see use of some CSR standard as a framework but often this can reduce it to a tick box exercise.
These 4 stages he collectively categorised as CSR 1.0 and then suggested that we need to move to CSR 2.0 the Age of Responsibility where we see transformative power of CSR.

CSR 1.0 tends to fail for a variety of reasons 
  • Likely to be incremental, continuous improvement which improves things but is slow and gradual.    Targets are set by the company themselves and progress tracked against that standard.  If we accept that we live in a world where the challenges are large and urgent then slow and steady isn't going to cut it.
  • Tends to be peripheral sitting in marketing or HR not integrated into the core of what the business does and hence reduced impact on the company than it might have
  • Economic arguments won't necessarily lead to embracing CSR fully, market does not consistently value responsible companies
Much like the Web 2.0 world versus web 1.0, he suggested that CSR efforts need to focus on getting to scale as well as growing collaboration.

So how about some examples of what we are talking about ?

Some very creative approaches - such as "Cabbages and Condoms"restaurant in Thailand whose website interestingly leads with the social programs that they run rather than any images of the restaurant itself.

Scalability can be an issue if the issue of ethical concern doesn't capture most people's interest.  A major retailer taking a position on an issue can however shift things such as Walmart's support for the Marine Stewardship Council standards.  Also noted that sometimes government intervention is needed to prompt a shift in behaviour e.g. ban of incandescent light bulbs.

Glocality- thinking globally and acting locally.  Variety of systems have emerged where buying one product means another is given away to someone who needs it.  The One Laptop per Child's "Give 1 Get 1" program and Toms Shoes are good examples.

Circularity - focussing on closing the loop.  Phone recycling from foneback cited as one example of a business built on this approach.

So lots of examples and in closing we were offered 2 tests for whether an organisation was embracing CSR 2.0

  1. Admission - do they recognise that they are part of the problem
  2. Audacity - are they setting audacious goals to transform versus incremental goals
An interesting evening and some inspiring examples of what some forward thinking companies and organisations are doing.   I've added his book "The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business" to the list of titles it would be good to get around to reading.

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