Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Recessionary winds will blow hard, but they’ll also help us concentrate

January 2009

There’s little doubt that 2009 will be a tough year on many fronts. But how will it be for socially responsible business?

Although there’s been a mood of relative optimism in the field over the past few months, already job losses and cutbacks are beginning to emerge, as our page one story reveals.

The hope – and widespread belief – is that redundancies in the CSR and SRI sector will not be on the same savage scale as elsewhere. But no-one is naive enough to think that those working in the field will be free from the effects of the recession – and it is chastening to see people in important corporate responsibility/SRI roles losing their jobs. Despite great strides over the past ten years, much remains to be done to integrate corporate responsibility throughout companies, and to extend SRI research into mainstream investment activity. So we would be kidding ourselves if we thought– as some companies making redundancies have already suggested – that the work will carry on seamlessly without specific CSR or SRI directors and departments.

What can be said, however, is that those companies that have so far cut back in this area at least appear to have made arrangements for the continuance of a focus on socially responsible business behaviour, rather than ditching it altogether. And while their claims for a new period of integration may be overstating the situation, the re-housing of CSR or SRI functions within more mainstream areas may, in truth, push responsible business practices further across an organization than may otherwise have been the case. Certainly if companies are going to have to make cuts in this sector, then it is better that they plan to keep CSR alive in other parts of the organization by planting seeds and appointing temporary gardeners elsewhere. As a side effect of the recession, such limited succession planning could even hasten the generally hoped-for move to integration.

Most CSR/SRI departments are small, and big organizations looking for huge savings will not find them by dismissing the odd corporate responsibility manager, nor by slashing their relatively small budgets. Nevertheless, chief executives will now be pressing harder than ever for a business justification for their existence. For the many who survive – as some of those who have laid out their 2009 resolutions for EP on page nine suggest – this will mean re-presenting everything through the prism of the business case. This in turn may necessitate a re-focusing on environmental matters, where it is easier to provide concrete figures. To some this may seem a step backwards, but it should be regarded as a welcome opportunity to restate the case for CSR. If the recession forces woolly minds to concentrate, then that can only be a good thing.

Peter Mason | Global | People

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