Sunday, 11 April 2010

I'm wondering if corporate social responsibility is just a load of garbage. Do some companies treat their employees better than others? Do some companies really give something back to society? Are some companies really trying to help to improve our environmental performance?

I wonder. So far, I've found very few stories about CSR in the mainstream press. Lots of stories about mergers, profits, and targets met or missed. But little notice is really given to the "triple bottom line" despite the fact that, as Christine Arena writes in The Christian Science Monitor:

Nearly one out of every nine dollars of professionally managed assets in the United States – valued at an estimated $2.71 trillion – has been invested in companies that perform well in CSR rankings.

Looking at the financial news, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is not true. Perhaps these rankings - in Sydney the St James Ethics Centre runs one annually, and it comes out soon - are something that are only seen by institutional equity buyers. Perhaps it's one of those 'niche' things.

Companies don't really care if anyone else sees what they're doing to improve the world, or not.

According to Arena, CSR ranking lists should be taken with a grain of salt. The article is interesting, and warrants a quick read. In short, there are problems with the lists. For one, we don't get told who is making the claims. Secondly, there appears to be an element of favouritism, or conflict of interest.

There is, in any case, a worrying lack of confidence in the value of ranking lists that judge corporations on their CSR efforts. This should be of concern. But it never hits the newsstands. It's like a bag of garbage: wrapped up and invisible to the eye.

Journalists whould be the ones getting their hands dirty, but they're not. There seems to be a consensus among the financial journos that CSR is a nice thing to have, but it's nowhere near as important as profit postings or sales coups, things which are routinely reported in their papers.

It's disappointing. For someone who is just interested in CSR, and wants to know more, the internet is disappointingly scanty on details. It looks like I'll have to go further, and buy a book on CSR. There are some out there, but which one to purchase? Looks like I'm in for some expense and some homework.

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