EDITORIAL: BAT row obscures real social issue

The involvement of BAT in funding two communications courses has met with extreme reactions in the national press and the PR industry.

The involvement of BAT in funding two communications courses has met with extreme reactions in the national press and the PR industry.

Newspaper headlines screaming 'University accepts tobacco blood money' and calls by the PR Standards Council's Roger Haywood for BAT to change its business ethics have a certain inevitability about them. But such reactions have had little effect on the ethics of big business up to now.

If anything, the calls for both the Manchester and Nottingham University courses to refuse BAT investment show a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of corporate social responsibility that the courses will be teaching.

Comments that if BAT had any social responsibility it should stop producing and selling cigarettes, are impractical and symptomatic of a mode of protest that NGOs such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International are turning their back on.

Rather, corporate social responsibility offers a proactive way for companies to transparently monitor their impact on society. As such, NGOs and members of the general public who take issue with a company should have a more effective way of lobbying for change.

It will take a brave decision at both universities to go ahead with BAT funding in the current media storm. But they should stick to their guns.

For, if any message has come out of this row it is that teaching the true meaning of corporate social responsibility still has some way to go.



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