CSR or revolution?

Posted: June 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

CSR, as you know, is the set of theories and practices increasingly produced in the last twenty years to enable companies to manage their role in the society. The public arena and the markets, nowadays networked in a whole tangled conversation, as the Cluetrain Manifesto warned us more than ten years ago are asking more to companies and what most of them have been answering is CSR policies.

These policies should allow the company to find its own decent place inside communities by running social and community programs, involving employees in voluntary activities, sponsoring educational initiatives, modifying their internal procedures and practices in compliance with most advanced legal or ethical requirements.

Now, everybody understands the the true issue for companies is how to keep attracting market shares that have become volatile, connected and much more aware of what is going on in the real world. Nothing is secret nowadays. A company bad performance or an unethical behavior is easily caught and brought up in the Internet public justice tribunal. None is anymore safe, at any level, even if managers are still earning fortunes. Of course, the hope is that a crisis event would be strongly mitigated by an irony reputation, just the one that CSR is called to provide.

However, an issue arises: if CSR is effectively working in providing scholarships for pupils, minimizing environmental impact, sponsoring sport competitions and cultural events, etc.; to me the question is not if CSR can be trustworthy for consumers and citizens’ wellbeing but, above all, if it is ethical or politically correct to accept money and services in exchange for the usual exploitation and disruption companies are bringing about, especially when they are more and more moving away from western countries to the south of the world.

The ecological and economical catastrophe provoked by BP in the Mexican Gulf is before everybody’s eyes, would be enough or, let’s say moral, being lavishly paid back without asking for real change in the oil affair management? Someone is suggesting we cannot: have a look at Supercapitalism, Robert Reich last book.

Moreover, in some evident cases CSR and charities are the means by which powerful organisations and their CEO clean up their bad conscience, so allowing themselves to keep on with their business (an example? the well known Soros Foundation, generously distributing grants to Eastern Europe students derives from its founder long time creative financial activities).

The suggestion might be that we should be not only mistrustful but openly hostile to whatever corporate means prevent us from clearly denouncing the ruin that the neoliberal economy and the big corporations are causing, no matter how friendly a new means as CSR is, and the concrete improvements it could actually provide or trigger within disadvantaged communities.

Yet, can we go on demonizing big companies while dreaming of a bloodless revolution or a natural catastrophe that should cleanse up our world from the misery of capitalism? If it was possible to get rid of all of them, could we get by without companies?

Personally, I’d like to keep a practical approach: if a new social sensitivity and the Internet non hierarchical culture are finally penetrating the company world making it more human and democratic, this is an historical achievement that could raise up new unpredictable scenarios and even if companies’ primary goal is still money, the good news is that it is no longer the only one. By acting the fiction may become reality.

Our global society can just be improved by a networked collective effort towards democratization and social justice at all levels, included corporate level: managers must be not only responsible in front of the public but reachable, as much as politicians should be. I personally don’t dream of a society made just of public institutions or NGOs: the true goal is to open and democratize companies and CSR could just work as a trojan horse.

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