A Wall Street Journal article questioning the validity of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) is the subject of a webcast taking place tomorrow. Titled “CSR and the Role of Business Today —A Spirited Discussion”, the webcast will feature thought leaders in the CSR world. It will air online at 10:30 am EST here.
One of the speakers will be the man who inspired the webcast in the first place: Dr. Aneel Karnani, a corporate consultant and professor at the University of Michigan’s business school. In his article “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility,” Karnani says that it is misguided to suppose that corporations will always simply do the right thing. Only “regulatory mandates, taxes, punitive fines, public embarrassment” will ensure corporate social action.
Karnani says only when it leads to profitability do businesses act for the greater good: “the chief social responsibility of business is to make a buck—and the social responsibility of government is to be sure that perfectly proper corporate greed is channeled and constrained for the greater good of us all.”
The idea that corporations can—and should—be accountable to consumers, governments or both when they act against the social good is at the root of recent developments in the anti-slavery movement.
Back in August, the Congo Conflict Minerals Act passed into law (it was bundled in with the Wallstreet Reform Bill.) In an effort to eradicate the trade of blood minerals, the act mandates all publicly traded companies in the U.S. disclose their policies for certifying the origin of minerals obtained from the Congo area.
As I write, the California Supply Chain Transparency Act is awaiting Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature, before it can be turned into law. The bill would require all businesses that sell products in California and gross over $100,000 a year globally, to disclose what they are doing to erase slavery in their supply chains. Along with our partners in ATEST, Free the Slaves publicly endorsed this bill in a letter to the California Assembly Judiciary Committee. (Download our statement here.)
Friday’s webcast discussion will likely address the effectiveness of these kinds of measures. Speakers in support of CSR will include the President and Chairman of the General Electric Foundation, Bob Corcoran and Campbell Soup Company’s Vice President of CSR and Sustainability, Dave Stangis. Critics of CSR include the aforementioned Dr. Karnani, as well as Chrystia Freeland, editor-at-large of Reuters. Freeland recently wrote a critical analysis of BP and Goldman Sachs’ CSR programs. Also attending will be Aron Cramer, the CEO/President of BSR, the leading research and consultation firm in corporate responsibility practices.