Corporate Social Responsibility
Has the Digital World Changed the Game?
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Over the past several years there’s been a shift in how companies have viewed social responsibility. In the past most businesses and corporate executives would have held fast to Milton Friedman’s famous quote from his book Capitalism and Freedom where he stated "there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…” In a 1970 New York Times Magazine article, Friedman said managers and businessmen have a responsibility to conduct business in accordance with the desires of the owners of the business. He then argued that the owners want the company to make a profit. Does this hold true today? Do today’s owners expect more? Do businesses in today’s world have an obligation towards corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
We don’t have to look far to find an example of a business that’s stuck in the middle of this debate right now. Recently the NFL has come under scrutiny for its handling of off-the-field instances involving Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and domestic violence. Fans and media personalities have criticized the NFL for not taking strong enough action, for changing its action, and for waffling on its newly formed policies. Yet the players involved haven’t yet been tried or found guilty. Does the NFL have a responsibility to act before a guilty verdict is announced? Do they have a responsibility to take action to prevent domestic violence before it occurs?
The age of digital has changed the game. Pictures and videos are more prevalent and more easily spread. In 2010 Jonathan Klein of Getty Images spoke about what happens when we see images so powerful that we can’t look away — or back. Powerful images spark instant emotion and unfiltered reaction. This emotion/reaction can lead to good and just action or irrational and unjust action. Today’s large corporations must have a strategy to deal with these situations as most can’t absorb the scrutiny the NFL has received and continue to do business as usual.
CSR may not prevent employees from ever doing wrong, and it certainly won’t prevent videos and photographs from sparking reaction. It does, however, help provide a character witness when the company is put on public trial. The most credible defense against allegations of wrong doing comes from your customers. JetBlue’s Valentine’s Day Crisis is a great example of how customers who believe in a brand will take to media to support that brand in a crisis, but that story is best left for another blog post. When done correctly, CSR builds loyal customers who won’t abandon the brand when the inevitable happens. When done exceptionally well, customers will take up your cause and defend the brand through word of mouth and social media.
In a recent fastcoexist.com article titled Is the MSW the New MBA?, Christine Bader argues that businesses need the type of skills social workers specialize in. She cites her personal experience at BP saying her job quickly “…became less about spreadsheets and more about engaging with local communities to understand their needs, bringing in human rights experts to advise us, finding NGOs to partner with, working with every level of government, and developing policies and training modules for BP staff and contractors.” This sounds a lot like CSR work.
What do you think? Do corporations have a social responsibility? What do you see as JBU’s role in developing leaders with a mindset focused not only on business issues, but on social issues as well?
JBU Graduate Business