Thursday, November 15, 2012

Honesty then Responsibility

When businesses and the communities they are in work together there are innumerable benefits for both.  There is an opportunity for sales growth, a healthier population, safer children, and happier employees just to name a few.  Corporate social responsibility and its various models are formal institutionalized ways to accomplish these goals.  It is a great concept with poor legislative possibilities.  By that I mean that it would be difficult to create legislation forcing companies to engage in certain practices deemed socially responsible.  The only exception being environmental and health regulations, it would be a legislative nightmare – at least in the United States – for the government to have such an invasive role in private businesses.  

The most pressure and call for change is coming from the consumers.  The initial challenge was to do something and give back to the community by being socially responsible.  Corporations that are already engaging in corporate social responsibility are now being challenged to truly transform.  The changes must be long term commitments to which the corporations are sincerely dedicated.  Caroline McCarthy’s commentary about the way some companies front social responsibility by flimsy green initiatives but still hold to practices and processes that negatively impact the community and/environment is where the consumer conversation is headed.  People are noticing that in many cases the commitment to socially responsible behavior is not genuine.  In the age of rapid communication and transparency, the sheep’s clothing is being ripped off of the wolf so to speak.  Corporate contradictions are being noticed by the consumers.  

I am not sure exactly where or how BP’s corporate social responsibility strategy failed.  What is clear, however, is that there was a false sense of security.  They were under the guise that by making commitments and creating a green image, a change had been made when there was not much substance behind it.  From what I read there was not an in-depth strategic plan in place, or in the very least, not one that anyone in the corporation was fully committed to executing.  The reality that accidents happen should prepare us for the inevitable.  The BP case shows us that when something does happen, corporations will be put to the test and their true colors will show especially when taking responsibility comes down to them parting from resources and money.  There is nothing wrong with a company holding back from being socially responsible as long as they do not pretend to be so.  Eventually it will be put to the test and I would prefer to know that a company was honestly out for profit and not the people, than walk around thinking that they care about my community when they really do not.  Let's practice honesty, then we can tackle responsibility.         


  1. I agree that in today's age information travels too quickly and is too abundant for companies to be anything but open and honest. BP's CSR plan failed because when the moment of truth came, all the claims they've been making proved to be unsubstantiated. The disaster highlighted a major deficiency and exposed unethical behavior. It shows that companies must act on matters of substance, because when push comes to shove and the oil starts flowing, no one cares about your research initiatives. Great post.

  2. As consumers, as media professionals, as humans, we have so much information at our fingertips - more than ever before. We can make informed decisions, we can search for the exact information we are looking for. We can learn ethics together across the world! Companies need to be aware of this fact and understand that honesty and transparency is the best policy. I love this analogy you used: "the sheep’s clothing is being ripped off of the wolf so to speak. Corporate contradictions are being noticed by the consumers." Perhaps BP did not take this into account when engaging in crisis communications after the oil spill. Thanks for your insights.