So, I had some interesting thoughts about corporate social responsibility on my jog near our hotel tonight, but as one of the key things I’m working on relates to one of the companies we’ll be visiting on the trip, I guess this is the point I have to start to clam up on the topic, even though I was just starting to get my brain in gear.
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To clarify my earlier comments on CSR, though, I do think there is value to the study of it, I just think the meat of what is new, interesting and important lives within a narrow spectrum of the topic, which I would limit to companies being 1) transparent, 2) aware of all stakeholders, even competitors, and treating them with diligence and respect, and 3) using organizational competencies or challenges as a means towards social good.
I think the last point is the most important, although it’s difficult to be effective at it without the second point. For many industries, transparency strikes me as the least important of the three, and in many cases can start to blend in with “just good business” items I consider to be kind of a distraction from the central topic.
Those distractions are a clear part of what I consider to be a problem with discussions around CSR right now. There is something new here, but it is getting lost in the marketing, greenwashing and general BS that can surround companies that are new to the topic and are going “me too!” You’re good to your employees? You try to be efficient with your resources? Whatever, that’s expected. Show me what you’re doing beyond that.
One of the initiatives of the foundation attached to my employer (DISCLAIMER: I am speaking on my own behalf, not on that of my company) that I think is a good example of “doing something beyond” is the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Emergency Information Service (EIS), which springs into action when a natural disaster or other major event challenges a community and disrupts traditional means disseminating critical information. (The Haiti earthquake provided one example.) The goal of the service is to “provide fast, practical and verified information” to affected populations, including “everything from public health advice to trustworthy information on relief efforts – and always in local languages.” It’s a good example of a company—the Foundation has access to Thomson Reuters resources—using its unique competencies—in this case information gathering and dissemination—and using it to do good even though there is arguably no direct benefit to the organization. It’s this kind of corporate behavior that I find interesting, and think in many ways it’s more important than the old-school corporate charity that we’re familiar with. (It also, incidentally, makes me proud to be a Thomson Reuters employee.)
Unfortunately, it’s these very kinds of efforts that often get drowned out when companies report on everything they’re doing for CSR, much of which they really should be, you know, doing anyway.