Monday, April 24, 2006

Who you tryin' to fool?

While I missed it when it first came out, The Economist survey on corporate social responsibility from Jan. 2005 is useful for telling us that just because a company uses do gooding language doesn't mean they do good. And there is some useful distinctions between irresponsible corporate PR tricks and genuine philanthropy. Certainly, CSR gets used for lots of dubious reasons. But do they really expect me to believe this statement?

By and large, the world is not running out of resources; where it is, prices reflect that fact. As a result, the ordinary pursuit of profits is an excellent guide to companies on whether to recycle.

The survey would have us believe that pursuit of profit and adherence to existing legal and regulatory frameworks is enough. This totally ignores the problem of collective action and the influential power of corporate giants to manipulate those of us with limited time to understand what's really happening.

I have found past articles from the Stanford Social Innovation Review more enlightening about the debate. The Myth of CSR highlights the weaknesses without making us think responsible business is only for naive idealists and Changing the Game provides some convincing examples of how doing more can be smart for business. I like to think there is a growing market for responsible business, even if it makes me a naive idealist.

I think these issues are challenging and timely. New campaigns like Product RED are encouraging us to consume to help fight HIV. It seems to raise awareness and generate funds for a good cause, but I begin to worry when we think we can consume ourselves out of social problems.

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