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CSR rides out recession despite some casualties

November 2009

Corporate responsibility functions in many organizations appear to be coming through the recession relatively unscathed.

Various indicators, including a new survey of global CSR practitioners that emerged from last month’s annual Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference, suggest that while there have been some job losses, reorganizations and budget cuts, most CSR departments are continuing much as they were before the financial crisis, and expect little further damage.

The BSR survey showed nine out of ten of 274 senior-level respondents from 15 countries expected budgets to stay the same or increase over the next year. Two thirds also said they expect more communications on CSR, while half predicted more chief executive-level engagement.

Aron Cramer, head of BSR, claimed the figures reveal that corporate responsibility ‘is not just surviving amid the recession – it’s thriving’.

A recently published State of corporate citizenship report from the US-based Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship found that only 15 per cent of companies it surveyed had cut back on corporate citizenship marketing and communication during the recession, while 11 per cent had actually increased it.

And in the UK, a Business in the Community study has shown that 58 per cent of its members feel the downturn has had ‘no impact’ on their CSR priorities, while 63 per cent have seen no change in their budget. Almost three quarters said the recession had provided more of an opportunity to debate responsible business practices.

EP’s questioning of senior figures in the CSR world has also suggested that many have come through unscathed so far. ‘I haven’t seen any let up either here or at other companies I know,’ said one head of CSR at a major US pharmaceuticals business. ‘If anything the pressures are greater now to get all this right, precisely because of the economic problems.’

A CSR director of a large European consultancy also told EP: ‘I’ve not personally come across any of our clients cutting back, or seen people losing their jobs. If we’d have had the recession five years ago then it would have made a much bigger impact, but for many companies this has now got past the theoretical stage and is embedded in their culture.’

However, some cuts remain hidden and hard to identify because of corporate obfuscation. EP has been aware of a number of cutbacks at large companies but has rarely been able to report them as such because the businesses in question insist they are genuine ‘reorganizations’ .

Leo Martin, director of GoodCorporation, said: ‘There’s no question CSR departments have had budgets cut and head counts reduced. But at the same time big issues such as climate change and corruption have driven huge new activity.’




Business for Social Responsibility | Global | CSR

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