Ads highlight CSR concerns

Jeremy Sammut

21 June 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The concerns my new book outlines about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) leading to the politicisation of the role of companies have been underlined by recent events.

In the past two weeks, we have witnessed full page newspaper ads proclaiming that a slew of big companies “support the Uluru Statement from the Heart”. This followed the announcement of support for Recognition by 21 investment banks, super funds and accounting firms.

This renewed bout of corporate politicking was clearly planned in anticipation of an election victory by the Labor party, which had pledged to fast-track a constitutional referendum on a Voice to Parliament.

In the wake of the Morrison government’s re-election, big business — like many commentators and pundits — have found themselves on the wrong side of history … and found out just how tin their political ear is.

The election result offers a timely opportunity for those operating within the corporate bubble to reconsider what is being done by companies in the name of CSR.

I hope my book encourages such a reconsideration through the critique it offers of the current — highly political — approach to ‘social responsibility’ that is being enthusiastically embraced at the highest levels of business.

What the election result has demonstrated is the validity of the insider vs outsider thesis about modern politics.

The Quiet Australians’ rejection of Labor’s embrace of identity politics and progressive ideology has exposed the cultural divide between so-called inner city elites and ordinary Australians in the outer suburbs and regions holding mainstream views.

What the election result also ought to burst is the insider bubble —the propensity for corporate elites to live, work, and socialise with like-minded elites and not question self-reinforcing progressive agendas.

Bursting the bubble surrounding CSR exposes the contradiction that lies at heart of the CSR philosophy.

The standard argument for CSR is that that in order to earn a ‘social license’ to operate, companies must fulfil a range of social obligations beyond their traditional profit-making role, by considering the social impacts of their activities on the interests of broader groups of stakeholders in the community.

The book turns around the reputational and branding arguments for CSR to make the case against CSR by pointing out what the election result has now made even more obvious.

This is that corporate involvement in divisive social questions on which there is no community consensus among shareholders, stakeholders, employees and customers, can have negative brand and reputational consequences for companies that risk acquiring reputations for being ‘being political’.

The book, therefore, argues that because CSR politicking can be bad for business, corporate leaders should be encouraged to take a more hardheaded approach.

This is an edited extract of a speech given at the launch of Dr Jeremy Sammut’s book CORPORATE VIRTUE SIGNALLING: HOW TO STOP BIG BUSINESS FROM MEDDLING IN POLITICS (Connor Court) at the CIS this week. See the video here…

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