The problem with CSR: why companies need to listen to their activist employees
The current pandemic has exposed blatant social injustices and inequalities around the world, prompting businesses to face their societal impact.
Before the crisis, however, a rising wave of employee activism had already started to call into question the extent to which companies had managed to meet their moral obligations. Employees at Wayfair, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Amazon have protested against their employers’ stance on issues ranging from climate change to migration, pushing them to deliver on public commitments or refusing to contribute to morally dubious projects, such as Amazon’s facial recognition software that had potential to contribute to racial discrimination.
As the crisis has provided ample opportunities to reflect on and reconsider the role of business in society, we believe that this is the time to learn from employee activism – and to learn to embrace it as a force for change.
The problem with CSR
Virtually all companies today pursue a CSR agenda, strengthened by the global agreement around Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the growing power of corporate sustainability rankings, standardization of sustainability reporting and the proliferation of consultancies who offer support to companies pursuing a shared value approach to social responsibility. Aligning business and societal value creation, such approaches promise win-win solutions in addressing social ills. Yet it is the very promise of win-win solutions that undermines critical engagement with companies’ roles in creating or reproducing social ills.
First, CSR has become the corporate worlds’ dominant paradigm for change that is positive and comfortable. If CSR managers want to avoid eyerolls, especially from top managers and shareholders, they need to speak the language of profit and present a measurable business case for addressing social ills. By enabling companies to do well by doing and looking good, however, CSR may also cultivate complacency. This does not mean that CSR has failed to encourage companies to embrace more responsible business conduct. But it is a potent substitute for engaging with the many uncomfortable social problems as to which companies have hitherto failed to do the right thing.
Second, the triumph of CSR is symptomatic of and reproduces social inequalities. CSR is driven by privileged employees and managers often...
Dr Luda Svystunova, Lecturer within the Institute for International Management, provides a critique of CSR encouraging companies need to listen to their activist employees in a piece with Asst. Professor Verena Girschik for Copenhagen Business School.
Read the full article here.
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