Ethical Performance
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corporate responsibility brought down to earth

December 2001

The underlying principles of CSR are simple enough, so why is the language used to describe it so complex, asks Gerry Hagelberg

Spin and hype deservedly evoke negative reactions. Arguably, much of the scepticism that still greets corporate social responsibility is generated by the rhetoric of its advocates. Trying, the other day, to repel the teasing suggestion of an economist friend that CSR was a plot of superannuated Reds to undermine capitalism by other means, it struck me that simpler language and clearer concepts would help to convince people that CSR is a response to market forces.

You don’t sell ordinary household contents insurance by calling it anticipatory personal chattel loss provision. The following glossary of terms doesn’t seek to convey the entire sense of each concept. It is meant to reveal the streaks of familiar plain vanilla running through the novel tutti-frutti, not to make light of its complexities. So here is a sympathetic sceptic’s guide to CSR vernacular:

business ethics – resisting bribery and corruption

codes of conduct – rules of civilized behaviour

corporate governance – transparency, legitimateness, accountability

corporate social responsibility – citizenship, foreseeing risks, caring for your name

equal opportunities – making use of all available talent

health and safety – avoiding potential liabilities that could bankrupt the business; reducing employee absenteeism

human rights – whilst you mightn’t care what happens to other people, you don’t want to get caught in fights

non-financial audits and reports – 21st century corporate management and public relations tools

socially responsible investment – picking companies that do just a bit better than the rest because they know that you can no longer make money out of employing child chimney-sweeps

stakeholder involvement – staying in touch with interested parties; a mix of market research, personnel relations and keeping investors, locals and government regulators sweet

supply chain monitoring – making sure you aren’t fencing stolen goods

sustainability – taking a long view

I’m going to put this glossary on little plastic cards so that I can slip one to my economist friend the next time I see him at a party. As for the bottom line, I don’t need to try so hard. I’ll readily admit that it may never be possible to quantify exactly by how much a company is financially better off with CSR. Too much guesswork required. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that sooner rather than later it will be demonstrably worse off without CSR. Today’s market is sure to see to that.

Gerry Hagelberg is a business analyst email: G.B.Hagelberg@btinternet.com




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