Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Smaller firms ‘don’t listen to big hitters’

February 2008

Policymakers and business associations have been urged to avoid the use of politicians or executives from large companies to promote responsible business practice among smaller firms.

A new paper from the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at the Cranfield School of Management warns that owners and managers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) respond to exhortations from peers rather than big-hitting executives or public figures.

‘It matters who delivers the message,’ say the paper’s authors David Grayson and Tom Dodd. ‘Credibility in the eyes of the SME owner-manager is crucial [and] governments and politicians are generally not the most credible messengers. If CSR is seen as being primarily part of a political agenda imposed from above there is unlikely to be much progress and it may even provoke resentment and negative reaction.’

Grayson, the centre’s director, and Dodd, policy adviser at the EC’s directorate-general for enterprise and industry, add: ‘The situation may often not be much better if the message comes from representatives of large companies.’ They believe messages are best delivered by chambers of commerce and trade associations, and that banks, lawyers and accountants can also work as ‘credible channels for communication’, although there has been little work on this approach anywhere in Europe.

According to Edelman, ‘opinion elites’ in both Europe and the US think that chief executives of large businesses are not ‘getting out there and tackling important issues such as the environment’ and are not particularly good communicators. The public relations firm’s comments were based on research it released at Davos last month.

Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility | Global | Advocacy

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