Last month, The Future Melting Pot attended a Corporate Social Responsibility summit held at Aston University (for a full report of what happened at the event please click here). The summit was focused on the future of Corporate Social Responsibility, and this is a question which is incredibly important to the whole of the third sector, particularly at a time when funding sources are under increasing strain.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has a mixed history. As was discussed at the summit, there has been a tendency in the past for big corporations to see CSR as merely a box to tick, something they felt they had to do but not something that was approach with real imagination. Lorna Gavin of Law Firm Gowling complained about the tendency to use highly-trained lawyers to paint fences for corporate fundraisers, not an efficient use of their skill-set. Worse, it could be argued that many big companies use CSR to cover up their wider unethical business practices. This is particularly prominent in the environmental sector, and has led to the coining of the term ‘Greenwashing’, meaning a form of corporate spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.
Clearly, there is potential for CSR to be more than paying lip-service to the idea that company’s have a wider, social responsibility beyond providing large dividends for their shareholders, and more than a clever PR strategy to increase businesses’ marketability to a consuming public that is increasingly concerned to purchase more ethically. Some call for businesses to do much much more: Peter Holbrook, the CEO of Social Enterprise UK, believes that every business should be a social enterprise. This means an organisation that is constituted to operate not just for profit, and not just in a socially responsible way limiting their negative impact, but in such a way that they make an actively positive impact on their local community and the wider environment. Social enterprises have been found to have productivity benefits, alongside recruitment and other positives.
Not everyone would argue that it is possible for all businesses to be social enterprises, however, it is clear that more and more companies are choosing this way of operating, while private businesses are coming under increasing pressure to ensure that their CSR is genuine, effective and not just another box to tick. Summits such as that held at Aston University last month, which bring together people from all sides of the debate across all three sectors, can only be a good thing.