We learned a long time ago to stay away from lying.
To be a liar, you must have an impeccable memory. Or don't lie. Today, you cannot hide or spin your way out of a problem. The Internet and social media have irrevocably changed the rules: it is no longer a case of whether you'll be exposed – it's a case of how long it will take.
The fundamental rule in corporate social responsibility is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Brand value can be destroyed when an enterprise suggests that it is “providing jobs, education, and skills to rural communities” when in fact it is forcing men, women, and children to extract precious metals from mines in South Africa or forcing children to pick coffee beans in the hot sun on a plantation somewhere in the tropics.
There are always two routes to take. One is to keep quiet – the age-old dictum of what doesn't need to be disclosed should not be disclosed. The second option: encourage your clients to change their ways.
Another rule to follow is a little less obvious but equally important: keep a close contact with your investor relations department. If you don't know them, get to know them.
Here's why: there is nothing worse than a CSR report making a claim about your environmental, social, or governance performance or setting a specific goal to reduce your carbon footprint while the investor relations team is reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission that any new regulations on the very same environmental issue could have an adverse effect on business.
CSR can heighten hypocrisy in ways unforeseen ever before.
Do yourself a favor. Hire a third-party auditor to find out what stage of CSR development your client operates at. There are few more damaging actions than conducting an internal audit of an enterprise, only to find out that the auditors were managing their career paths, not business risk.
Finally, examine your clients' supply chain. This might take some time, but you'll save a lot of aggravation if you have an idea from where they're sourcing their materials. The best approach to supply chain management is to hire a social enterprise that is providing a solution to a social or environmental challenge. You'll earn major PR kudos for the effort and gain yourself a sound supplier, vetted for its sustainability performance and social responsibility practices. And you'll attract attention.
Joe Sibilia is CEO of CSRwire, a digital media platform specializing in social media and multimedia communication strategies.