Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Rhetoric and Realities

Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t necessarily all it is cracked up to be. I’ve been back at the Humber Seafood Institute which is trying to run with this issue and sat in today on a mini-conference it was running for the Grimsby Institute’s MBA and MSc students.

Some isolated examples and some contributions to the conference suggested that CSR is the movement of private companies into an ethical paradigm, but most of the examples and input suggested this was wishful thinking. Most of what was said would still make sense if one assumes only that there is only one value-neutral business paradigm which is about the generation of profit within which ethical pressures are among the huge range of relevant factors only when they have the force of legal regulations or the financial penalty of consumer choice.

For example, our attention was drawn to the EU’s RARE (‘Rhetoric and Realities’) studies published last year. This appears to shows that a high percentage of those who label activities as CSR are really only doing so around issues of compliance or sustainability, both of which are sharply in the interests of the businesses concerned. Our attention was also drawn to local research which seems to place habit, convenience and price sensitivity much higher up consumer motivations than ethical considerations even among those who profess an ethical motivation.

As always such encounters challenges some casual assumptions. Where food packaging extends food life the balance of factors may be environmentally friendly. Where rigorous compliance is imposed on small businesses in the third world it excludes them from markets and it is difficult for any capacity building activity to dent this effect. Some narrow fair trade brands can compete with products which may have a greater developmental effect.

I took the picture in St George’s, Bradley before a Baptism on Sunday afternoon.

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