OPINION: Thinkpiece - CSR is no more than a fig leaf for corporates

David Gold, chief executive of recruitment agency Prospectus

Corporate social responsibility appears to be a growing part of business life. Many top companies now have a team charged with producing reports or social audits. But do these firms care about their place in society, or is it just a cover?

Many companies have an environmental policy, but do little to examine or change their supply chain. Some have school projects to help young people, while not treating their own employees with respect. There are even companies that claim to embrace diversity, yet do little to embed it in the organisation.

What are the real motivations behind CSR and why do companies do it?

The past 20 years have seen companies focusing more on higher financial returns for management and shareholders at the expense of society and the environment. We are told that consumers benefit from lower prices, but as food costs go down, the cost of subsidy via tax goes up. We improve service by moving things further and faster, but then the environmental costs escalate.

However, there is a new trend. Increasingly, consumers are demanding higher standards in corporate behaviour. But many companies only change after exposure in the media, such as those companies producing branded goods made in sweatshops on the sub-continent.

Meanwhile, the marketing budgets of many corporates now leverage any good deeds via PR campaigns in the hope that consumers look beyond the executive compensation measured in millions of pounds, and focus on the good deeds measured in thousands.

CSR only truly exists in a company when you do not need to talk about it - when it is part of everything you do as an organisation, and when a company has recognised its place as part of the community and truly believes in the term 'stakeholder'.

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