I'm starting this discussion to follow on from the recent Meetup on the topic. As I told Francis in the end I decided not to go to the meeting because I was a bit uptight on anyone from Shell being at the meeting - even from Shell Foundation - i.e. trying to project Shell (memory of Shell's activity in Nigeria and the Ogoni people) as somehow virtuous on the CSR front. So I didn't get to the Meetup and it would be great to hear from those who attended it. Yes, maybe I should have gone to it - but still.
My general take on CSR is that it too often is a PR exercise - indeed CSR window-dressing has become a real growth industry - just Google it to see the extent of it! The term is rarely properly defined and vies with other concepts like triple bottom line, and sustainability/environmental issues. Surely any company's primary responsibility is to its shareholders, to its owners? Obviously, if ( I emphasis 'if') it is in the company's interests to operate in a particular community/environment in an ethical manner then it obviously will - especially if it can be argued that in the long run it is good business sense to do so.
What I object to is large corporations setting up wonderful Foundations that exude motherhood and apple pie while some of the activities of the parent company may be questionable. I cannot believe that a global company operating in so many diverse socio-economic-political settings has some universal standard as regards CSR. It operates within the particular milieu of the individual country. It is not the company's primary business to act as a change agent in, say, a developing country with a one-party dictatorship and an abysmal human rights record and where workers rights may be nonexistent. The company may claim it is supporting some (minor?) social project in co-operation with a NGO but in the end what does that mean within the bigger picture?
In addition in these days where global warming and general environmental issues are to the fore the responsibility of companies to be environmentally sustainable extends hugely their viable ethical stance. It is indeed the case that international corporations are increasingly being scrutinised as to how they operate on many fronts and the integrated way they function needs careful consideration. It is not an easy task because in the final analysis we, as a society, as consumers will have to question very deeply what drives our whole economy. Oil companies, supermarkets, etc have to rise to the demand we impose on them (Not that they don't also impose consumption demands on us!)
If we demand cheap food, stuff - whether it is fairly traded or not, plentiful supply of fuel - without any real regard for the environmental consequences then it does not give the right signal to companies to change and to our political masters to legislate otherwise. The way companies/ corporations operate may well reflect something not totally unrelated to our life styles. If we as individuals cut corners and demand everything to support the 'good life' (as if we had the resources of 2 or 3 planets) can we really expect better of others? With that controversial note I will stop!
Edited by Francis Sealey on Feb 2, 2011 1:30 PM