Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Three Curses of CSR: Curse 2 - Peripheral Status

Curse 2: Peripheral CSR

Ask any CSR manager what their greatest frustration is and they will tell you: lack of top management commitment. This is ‘code-speak’ for saying that CSR is, at best, a peripheral function in most companies.

There may be a CSR manager, a CSR department even, a CSR report and a public commitment to any number of CSR codes and standards. But these do little to mask the underlying truth that shareholder-driven capitalism is rampant and its obsession with short-term financial measures of progress is contradictory in almost every way to the long-term, stakeholder approach needed for high-impact CSR.

The reason Enron collapsed, and indeed why our current financial crisis was allowed to spiral out of control, was not because of a few rogue executives or creative accounting practices, it was because of a culture of greed embedded in the DNA of the company and the financial markets.

Joel Baken (author of The Corporation) goes so far as to suggest that companies are legally bound to act like psychopaths. Whether you agree or not (and despite the emerging research on ‘responsible competitiveness’), it is hard to find any substantive examples in which the financial markets reward responsible behaviour.