J’s first aid blog forum on CSR is officially closed now, but I felt compelled to post again on this subject. As Sam Gardner put it: “the negativity of the academia and practitioners oozes from my screen.” I think that’s unfortunate.*
The basic complaint, reiterated in many postings, is that corporate donors always want something out of the relationship too, that in the end it’s all just marketing, and that there isn’t an altruistic bone in the corporates’ bodies. Duh! All donors want something out of the relationship. USAid even go so far as to demand marketing plans from NGOs they fund. (Apologies to all regular readers for mentioning this twice inside a week!) Calls to draw the line apply, in my mind, equally to all donors. In my experience, at least the corporates are more honest about the nature of the relationship they want.
Marc Bellemare reduces everything to the bottom line, and it is hard to disagree with his analysis, but I don’t think it tells the whole tale. By analogy we might as well reduce all humans to biochemical gene propagation machines (à la Richard Dawkins) and contend that there is no such thing as true altruism. As with natural selection, one simple mechanism can lead to such incredibly complex and varied outcomes that simply taking the reductionist approach at all times obscures the wood for the trees.
I can also relate to the sense of hypocrisy that development and conservation folk may feel when some corporate spokesman stands up and says “We are donating this … bla, bla … consistent with our values … bla, bla.” Like what “values” exactly? It’s just the bottom line, innit? But I think this makes the opposite error of seeing only the wood and not the trees. For corporations are not monolithic, indivisible organisations solely and remorselessly dedicated to the bottom line. They are made up of people, many of whom are likely to be far from evil. These gene propagation machines feel better about themselves (maybe leading to better gene propagation?) if they think they are contributing to something good and worthwhile. In short CSR is good for HR.
Most (all?) of the bloggers bemoaning the evil corporation and its cynical CSR programmes are from the West, the same West which is responsible for invading other countries, all sorts of unfair trade rules, refusal to acknowledge responsibility for pushing the world to the brink of eco-catastrophe, and other assorted evilness. And yet when said bloggers engage with people from developing countries, I assume they hope that their would be beneficiaries do not react simply as if they represent everything that the West stands for, but kinder, more agreeable individuals. We should offer the same readiness to engage to corporations. Beating up on then as evil personified will get us nowhere.