There's more to corporate responsibility than community

Tom Oxley, Ethicomm Corporate Responsibility


By ignoring ethical responsibilities, companies can easily fall foul of swift media and social retribution. But while 'philanthropy is no defence,' our expert argues there are rewards for those who get it right as part of a balanced programme.

Community is important – but not the only CSR fruit.

There’s some confusion out there as to what makes a corporate responsibility programme.  And it’s worth clearing up.

Many people believe that community partnerships and corporate giving programmes satisfy the responsibilities of business.  This is fine, if you live in the 18th century and your community is your workforce and customer base. 

During the industrial revolution, ensuring your employees aren’t full of gin, wracked with cholera and going to church on Sundays so they’re fit for work on Monday was in your corporate interests. Your community strategy was critical to the functioning of your factory.  But these days there is a lot more to it than that.

Because the nature of business has changed – how we trade, how we work and who’s watching – our corporate interests have widened. 

Business has obvious legal responsibilities – health and safety, anti-bribery and corruption, environmental waste commitments for a start.  And it also has basic social duties too: ethical treatment of employees, customer service and fair treatment of suppliers. 

And after that?  Ethical investments, corporation tax, planetary sustainability as the population approaches 9 billion…  All this is corporate responsibility, when it’s done well.
Failure to get the basics right will damage you: via the media, employment tribunals, via facebook and twitter… via your reputation. 

“But I do a lot of great work for charity…” So did Bernard Matthews when the Turkey Twizzlers story erupted – still remembered nearly a decade ago.  It is no good stating that you give a great deal to various charities if you mess up on basic business ethics. Philanthropy is no defence. 

However, an approach which understands community and charity is one element of a balanced approach to responsibility is more balanced and more effective. Indeed the right sort of charitable work, community partnerships and employee participation earns its seat at the table. 

Norwich City Football Club is a fantastic example of how its community strategy was designed to deliver against marketing goals.  Its community reach – to families, to children, to Norfolk – helped put bums on seats. On top of the direct income, having more than 20,000 season ticket holders at a time when it was dropping out of the top divisions in financial meltdown was an asset against which it could borrow money and get back on its feet.  And even if they were to drop out of the top, Premier League, (indicating an inferior product on sale) they’ll still sell out on Saturdays, come rain or shine. 

When it’s strategic, it can work.  Consider this:

It’s certainly worth your business looking at its community or charity programme in a holistic way: how can we build the right relationships with the right partners? How do we enable employee participation? What causes matter to our business?  What do our employees or shareholders think?

And also ask: what other elements do I need in place to make this more robust?   Environmental?  Equality and well-being?  Anti-bribery measures?  How does it all fit together?  What actions will help my business do better?

Community partnerships and corporate giving programmes need more before you can call them a CSR programme.  But, when it comes to going beyond your legal requirements, the so-called ‘third sector’ of not-for-profits, charities and community groups is a good place to start. 

Getting CSR right can result in redeuced costs, increased customer loyalty and more engaged employees. These, in turn, create increased brand resilience during tougher times, i.e. now. 

And it is because times are tough that the more businesses consider how they can engage charities and community groups the better. But do remember your other responsibilities.

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