Why Consumers Must Demand Socially Responsible Organizations
I often find myself at the intersection of Philanthropy for Philanthropy's sake or business outcomes. Is it more important that businesses give for the right reason, or because they get a benefit out from their activities? My most vocal detractors are almost always business leaders who truly do the right thing for the right reason. Typically, I take a fairly pragmatic approach: I don't care what your reasons are, I just want you to do more (and better).
However, a recent article from the Guardian are me question the wisdom of taking that approach. The primary argument against CSR comes from Friedman's Doctrine which states that that the primary purpose of a business is to drive profit for it's stakeholders, and that expecting otherwise runs the risk of supporting totalitarianism. While I believe that after 50 years of corporate evolution CSR is more valid than ever due to the broadened concept of stakeholders vs. shareholders, it's not hard to see where Friedman's fears are valid.
We have seen firsthand the power of destruction unethical business practices can have on our communities, while the government continues to expand the rights for businesses as a collective group of people. Sriskandarajah alludes in his article is that Milton's fear of totalitarianism is valid, "we must recognise that many of these business-led educational efforts do not just promote skills; they promote an ideology, a naturalisation of neoliberal market fundamentalism, a perpetuation of the dominant capitalist system. "
As consumers, I agree that we have a duty to expect and understand that there's mutual value in Corporate Philanthropy and citizenship and to stay aware, and that our awareness of our buying power and collective influence will become more necessary than ever to police these situations as the lines between Nonprofit and Corporate duties blur.
It will be interesting to see how the debate plays out: will a skeptical consumer base expect that there's mutual value and become distrusting if the connection isn't clear? Will we revolt against anything that doesn't seem altruistic? My money's on the former, but regardless, I believe that if your initiatives are not transparently aligned with your values and strategic objectives, you may be at risk, and you're definitely missing an opportunity to do more.