Reality of corp. social responsibility

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Sorry for the recent silence – now at the annual Strategic Mgmt Society [SMS] conference in Cologne, Germany. Like every conference it’s a mixed bag, but some real gems. Here’s one from Prof Tim Devinney of AGSM Australia. He’s done loads of real-life research on the realities of corporate social rsponsibility [CSR], from, in his own words, an entirely sceptical viewpoint. [I’m giving you his academic page cos it’s got a lot of references to a variety of studies .. although many of them are for academic journals, there’s real value in them]. He’s found some disappointing, but ultimately not shocking things – e.g.

  1. some reasonable fraction of consumers will choose ‘ethical’ alternatives [fair-trade coffee, low-energy lighting] provided it’s not functionally inferior.
  2. consumers’ ‘ethical’ behaviour can be strongly influenced by the context, e.g. poster in Starbucks promoting fair-trade coffee => very low uptake .. poster plus staff enquiry => middling uptake .. poster + staff enquiry + another person standing within ear-shot => high uptake.

Corporates the same – they will choose to do ethical things, provided it’s not costing them money, time or mgmt attention. E.g. a recent call from a big corporate saying “Sorry, we’ve got a crisis, so CSR is off the table right now. Ultimately, it seems, most firms ‘do CSR things’ if it makes business sense in any case.

Tim is an outstanding example of an academic’s academic who nevertheless manages to come up with a large stream of very valuable findings for the real world.

Perhaps if we want to encourage CSR activity, we need to help make a bigger business case wherever possible. Reminds me of work I did a year or so back on carbon-reduction efforts by UK PLCs – the big firms invested if the financial case made sense. Shockingly, SMEs would only act if spending [even capital] paid for itself in the same financial year … so much for project-NPV !!

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