It’s clear that business has a social responsibility to obey the law. Relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, creditors, etc. create contractual obligations. Legal obligations also exist to avoid negligence, fraud, and other liabilities under tort law. Economists point out that business has a social responsibility to produce the goods and services required for society to function. The philosopher and ethicist, Chris MacDonald, believes the primary question of corporate social responsibilities (CSR) is the extent to which business organizations and their managers have ethical responsibilities that go beyond producing needed goods and services within the law.
My view of CSR is it represents the ethical expectations that society has for business. Ethical responsibilities are those things that we ought, or should, do, even if we prefer not to. A business may not want to develop the systems to remove toxic waste because of cost concerns, but it chooses to do so to garner goodwill through environmentally friendly policies and act in society’s interests.
I also look at CSR in the more obligatory sense of ethical responsibility to prevent harm. A good example is developing (and enforcing) policies against sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment cases are often fueled by a toxic culture such as the one at the Fox News Channel where it was revealed that Roger Ailes, the former chairman and CEO, had repeatedly harassed one of its hosts, Gretchen Carlson, who turned down Ailes’s sexual advances during her eleven-year career at Fox. Her sexual harassment lawsuit was settled for a reported $20 million in 2016. Bill O’Reilly, Fox’s top draw, settled a $32 million lawsuit in 2017 just before he signed a new contract. The station new of the charges by Lis Wiehl, a former Fox News analyst, prior to extending his contract.
The fallout from these high-profile cases led Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. to issue a statement that it was committed to zero tolerance for sexual harassment, race discrimination, and all other forms of discrimination prohibited by law, and a corporate policy that creates a safe, productive and welcoming workplace for everyone. Fox claims to have taken steps to address concerns regarding workplace civility and governance. It established the Fox News Workplace Professionalism and Inclusion Council, a committee comprising experts in workplace and inclusion matters, with a majority serving from outside the company.
The final way to address CSR issues is whether business has a social responsibility to do good things and make society a better place. Michael Stroik, Manager, Research and Analytics, for the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), spoke about a report issued by CECP that indicates a changing global environment whereby markets are mandating social investments as a price of doing business. The top trends in CSR were found to be: 1) linking a corporation’s performance and corporate societal investments, 2) aligning philanthropic efforts with their goals for impact, 3) increasing employee engagement, and 4) increasing non-cash methods of giving.
Socially responsible workplace policies and socially-responsible investments can help with millennial engagement. Millennials are passionate about social causes. According to a 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study, more than 9-in-10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause, and millennials are “prepared to make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about, whether that’s paying more for a product, sharing products rather than buying, or taking a pay cut to work for a responsible company.” Socially responsible companies should leverage this commitment to engage in practices that, we might say, illustrate ‘Doing Good by Being Good.’
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 4, 2018. Dr. Mintz is a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His blog was designated as one of “30 Exceptional CSR Blogs” by Market Inspector. Visit his website to find out more about his services and sign up for his newsletter.