Friday, May 18, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept that corporations have an obligation to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations.

The UK now has a Minister for CSR, Margaret Hodge. She had this to say on her appointment,

'I look forward to working with UK business to ensure that environmental protection and community cohesion are seen as an integral part of delivering sustainable economic growth and business prosperity.’

Maggie - what in God's name has 'delivering business prosperity' got to do with the government?

My old employer, JPMorgan, takes its CSR seriously. It has the following networks for employees,

Access Ability: for employees with disabilities.
Adelante: to promote the development of Latino/Hispanic employees.
AsPIRE (Asians and Pacific Islanders Reaching for Excellence)
Women’s Network: for all women
Investment Bank Junior Women in Banking: for young women
Investment Bank Women’s Committee: not clear how it differs from above
Investment Bank Women Who Trade: for female traders.
Native American Tribes Instilling Opportunities and Network Support
Parents Networking Group
PRIDE: to support workplace fairness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender employees.
South Asian Society: to maximize the impact of South Asians in JPMorgan.
ujima: for employees of African descent (ujima is Swahili for 'collective work and responsibility')
Women of Color Connections: though they don't say what colors
Women's Network: another one!
Working Families Network

It seems that if you are a childless white male, you're on your own, pal.

But is it really any business of business to be socially responsible? Whatever happened to simply maximising profit for shareholders in a competitive market place, whilst breaking no laws? Is not the standard of living enjoyed by peoples in the West due to little else than the selfish pursuit of profit? Obviously not it would seem.

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

Adam Smith is clearly yesterday's man.

What proponents of CSR are in effect saying is that unadorned capitalism fails to serve the public interest. What these well-intentioned folk must remember is who is paying for this generosity. It is all well and good for a CEO to proclaim his support for the environment, but who pays? It won't be him but his shareholders.

There is a lot to be said for leaving CSR to governments. They, at least are responsible to voters. If a well-meaning CEO really wants to make the world a better place, he can do no better than concentrating his efforts on maximising the company's profits.

File under Corporate Welfare