Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility?One of the buzz phrases in the Australasian finance industry at present is corporate social responsibility.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) suggests that companies should consider not just the economic impact of their actions but also the social, employment and environmental impacts.

And as Attracta Lagan writes the stakes are huge:

“Business will determine the quality of the air we breathe, the fuel we burn, the food we eat and the water we drink. So too, it is business that will shape the emergence of a global society by determining who is included, who is informed, who gets what and which human rights are enshrined in the global workplace.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines CSR as “the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

One key element of CSR is ensuring that your workforce is treated fairly including fair pay and conditions, employment equity, occupational health and safety and work-life balance.

In the 1990s business leaders could get away with, or even be lauded for their blinkered focus on profits at the expense of all else. But these days more and more businesses, banks and finance companies included, are expected to work towards and report on their corporate social responsibilities. For instance here are the latest reports from Westpac, NAB, ANZ and Vero. Information in the NAB report helped Finsec identify serious staffing issues at the BNZ earlier this year.

So, as the Bill McKibben noted last year, all but the most recalcitrant multinationals are clambering to be seen as socially responsible corporates:

“Which is nice. The question is, what does it amount to?

“Take BP. In 2004, its revenues from solar power were almost $400 million; its total revenues, almost entirely from hydrocarbons, were $285 billion. In other words, the company has gone beyond petroleum to the tune of about one-sixth of 1 percent of sales.”

McKibben argues that we can’t leave the job of social responsibility to corporations to manage on their own. We need to use our political power as citizens to monitor them, to set them our own goals for what is acceptable and push them along:

“In fact, corporations are the infants of our society—they know very little except how to grow (though they’re very good at that), and they howl when you set limits. Socializing them is the work of politics. It’s about time we took it up again.”

(thanks to davescunningplan for the photo)

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