Britain’s leading environmental campaigner Jonathan Porritt hopes the financial crisis will kill off corporate social responsibility. On his blog he says it is an increasingly empty and illusory notion anyway. But then shoots himself in the foot by saying “I’m in no way seeking to disparage the incredible work of CSR teams in the banking sector”.
He does, however, perceptively say: “After all, what has CSR got to do with investment strategies? With executive remuneration? With company policy on ‘collateralised debt obligations?’ Or hedge funds”. He reminds us that Enron was a beacon of CSR practice before it was shamed, just like Northern Rock, HBOS and Lloyds TSB were before they crashed.
Britain’s leading CSR advocate, Weber Shandwick’s Brendan May responded to Porritt on his own blog. He agrees that CSR may not be long for this world. He calls banking CSR “hollow”. However, he points out that Porritt’s campaigning did much to put CSR on the corporate agenda in the first place. May pleads with Porritt: “Please don’t lose all faith in CSR. What it’s called doesn’t really matter in my view.”
Brendan May should care more about labels, identities and meanings. CSR was intended to put the good into business, partly, as May says, to stave off its critics such as Porritt. But right now it looks to have been a costly diversion. Responsibility in business, in terms of good corporate governance, regulatory control and risk management, and CSR are not the same thing. It is the business of business that needs attention now. CSR provides no part of the solution to that challenge. It is time to get back to basics. It’s time to focus on the essentials for the benefit of the greater good and how the system is perceived.