Against corporate social responsibility – CSR

Several years ago I was surveyed by a Chamber of Commerce about the Corporate Social Responsibility policies at PMR, the company I then led. I found so annoying one of the questions “what steps do you take to ensure your staff take part in CSR activities?” that I wrote a CSR policy on the spot. I dislike the idea of compulsory CSR very much. Compulsory good behaviour is as idiotic as the compulsory happiness of Monty Python’s Happy Valley

Beyond this, there are more fundamental issues like the business being a “good” business. I had a few years earlier had a business fiasco where I was the major shareholder in a company that went bust, while supporting a development project in Indonesia. With advice from some staff members,

“PMR is supportive of individual and group efforts of staff to contribute more than their job and the law requires both to the societies in which we operate and the company as a whole. We believe that company resources can provide an effective channel with benefits to people and institutions outside the company and that through doing this both the company and the wider community can gain.

This CSR policy is not about looking good. We mean it. First and foremost.

PMR aims to be a profitable and successful company

In order to fund Corporate Social Responsibility, the company has to be successful, in terms of looking after our clients well, having attractive working conditions for staff, making profits and paying our taxes(1). To give money away we have to be making it and our primary responsibility is to be profitable. It would be irresponsible for management and staff to focus attention on the wider community if the fundamental raison d’etre of the business is not being successfully executed 2. If we don’t look after ourselves then we can’t look after other people, even if we want to.

CSR is not compulsory for our staff

We say “mozesz nie musisz” (Polish “you can but you don’t have to”) with respect to voluntary activities. We don’t want an atmosphere where people are involved in CSR because they feel they have to. Being a “good citizen” is an active choice that individuals can take according to their own consciences and the company will not require participation in CSR activities. PMR policy is to let staff choose whether to get involved. If a member of staff does an outstanding job, but keep his or her private time for their own activities, that is completely acceptable. If a member of staff wants to contribute their own time and resources to a CSR project, it is quite likely that the company will make a matching contribution, in cash or kind. People acting under their own initiative are far more likely to be committed to what they are doing, and the company does not waste time supporting things nobody cares about, just to “look good”.

PMR has four CSR pledges:

That we will act ethically in all areas of our business, aware of the effect we have on all our stakeholders in the work we undertake.
That, where appropriate, company resources will be made available to support programs initiated by members of staff aimed at benefiting the wider community and environment. This can take the form of corporate support for employee giving, corporate support for employee volunteering and corporate giving.
That we will work to ensure a safe, enjoyable and tolerant workplace with equal opportunities for all our employees.
We welcome any initiatives that reduce our energy consumption or cut waste.

To help deliver on these pledges, PMR runs a suggestions scheme on its intranet which is reviewed by the management through which suggestions (about CSR or anything else) can be made. Staff can initiate ideas on their own at any time they like.
In the past, PMR staff have been supportive of:

links between business and education, fostering entrepreneurship and business awareness in Schools and Universities
public speaking initiatives (helping found Toastmasters in Cracow)
sponsoring educational summer school events/parties
children’s and families’ charities.

Some things we support, like joining and supporting a local frisbee club are more a a fun community thing to do than a “worthy cause”. We are not bothered about definitions.

CSR at PMR is bound to evolve as the firm grows, particularly under the influence of the rapidly increasing number of staff from different parts of the world and the ideas that they bring. New ideas (from staff or anyone else reading this document) are always welcome.

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One comment on “Against corporate social responsibility – CSR

  1. Trish Halls Jan 25, 2016

    There are two points I wish to comment on
    ‘in order to fund CSR, the company has to be successful’
    The pledge given towards CSR vs the statement ‘CSR is not compulsory for our staff’

    I agree that some of the activities of CSR is costly and requires non organisational related expenditure which eats into profits. Not really the ‘Profit Maximisation’ that Milton Friedman (1970) promotes in his paper ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits’ that should be the goal of all mangers for the consideration of Shareholders. A private company cannot be successful unless it can turn a profit and the company exists to provide as much profit as it can for the shareholders and society i.e. should not society want a successful business? one that can expand/grow providing more jobs and spending?

    Corporate Social Responsibility is not just charitable donations (community). According to Prof. Dr. Thomas Beschorne in his online tutorial on ‘What is corporate social responsibility (CSR)’, we should not be treating CSR as a charity but as an ethical ethos requiring a company to go through a ‘systematic change’ in order to operate responsibly towards all stakeholders and the environment. The company need not to be doing this as a PR initiative but as a desire to operate as a business should ‘for society today and in the future’. The companies desire should be to operate responsibly not rely on the laws and regulations that are imposed on them to be responsible and considering its ‘stakeholder obligations’.

    Freemans (2004) ’stakeholder obligations’ introduces the idea that all stakeholders need to be considered and treated equally. When looking into the effects of CSR on stakeholders, we need to view all effects on business partners, customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and the community.

    The suggestion by Prof. Dr Beschorne that the company needs to operate in an socially acceptable manner includes waste management (reduction in production, environmentally friendly disposal), resource procurement (ethically sourced resources, ethical materials that are environmentally friendly, safe for the consumer and are of an acceptable quality), distributions (packaging to be environmentally friendly, ethical storage methods, what is the carbon foot print of the shipping method?), business partners (Do they have a CSR ethos?, are they reputable?), suppliers (same as business partners), employees (are they being paid what they are worth?, working conditions to be safe, contracts fair and equitable) and impact of operations on the environment (what are they doing to minimise the impact? how are they doing it?).

    The statement given in the blog, ‘in order to fund CSR, the company has to be successful’, in light of Prof. Dr Beschorne’s version of what a CSR company should be and how it runs, does not require the success to come first but is part of the journey to be successful. The company can start up with these ideals creating a culture that does not require to change in the future to be CSR focused which costs time, money and may require restructuring. The benefit or impact CSR can have on profit can have a positive affect just like running any part of the business if done right with the risks calculated. It can even reduce spending costs by waste reduction and material procurement!

    Under Kantian theory, you cannot treat a person as a means to an end rather than an end to the means unless its in accordance with their informed consent. By making the CSR pledge non compulsory to employees, allows them to make the choice (consent to) be used as a means for the company to be seen as charitable through donations and/or labour/voluntary work that the employee gets involved in.

    How can pledging to be a CSR company affect the staff? While a company can pledge to be more ethical towards the community, they will need to energise the staff to care and be willing to support the pledge, they need to be empowered. To say and mean a CSR pledge, you will require staff to be CSR focused in their duties and attitudes while at work or when representing the company. This will be compulsory for them when new policies and procedures on waste management and reduction is introduced. Any restructuring required in order for the company to realise its pledges will affect the employees duties. A staff member cannot choose to ignore as they are contractually obligated to follow in accordance with their duties. The company needs staff of integrity in order to implement and maintain the Corporate Social Responsibility ethos which will effect the Human Resource Management.

    Being a CSR company does not require the PMR to be successful first and only to do charitable donations through employee initiatives but as a company ethos, driven through all parts of the business with a focus on waste reduction, environmental and ethical procurement policies, who are their business partners, suppliers and customer and training/educating employees to be aware and act on these principles to create a culture of CSR.

    As part of a Business Ethics Assignment for The Open Polytechnic New Zealand