Opinion: CSR - even more hated than public relations

With the bloodletting currently carrying on at the BBC, the fact that print journalists should side with their broadcast brethren against those 'bureaucrats' that have escaped the axe should probably come as no surprise. The ire against the apparent preservation of 'non-jobs' (to quote The Sunday Times) such as Michael Hastings' CSR department is also depressingly predictable. If there was ever a group of people who were even more despised by the media than PROs, it is the new breed of corporate social responsibility staff and consultants that have sprung up over the past few years.

CSR or, as it is now more commonly known, corporate responsibility (CR), has an image problem, which is sadly ironic. Five of the world's largest economies are now corporations, which goes to show that a discipline dealing with the impact that businesses have on society and the environment isn't wasting its time on trivialities. The emergence of the concept of CR, and increasing pressure from governments, consumers and shareholders, have bolstered awareness of the need to act responsibility.

The aspect of the work undertaken by Hastings' department that seems to have created most outrage seems to be the production of its CSR report.

These have become ubiquitous of late - glossy tomes featuring smiling workers in developing countries - and there are more to come with the introduction of the Operating and Financial Review. There are fears that the OFR's requirement for companies to assess and report their CR risks will simply lead to a tick-box approach - and in some cases their concerns are justified. But in others the urge to report has led to real advances.

Nike, for example, has recently published its first CR report since the Californian Supreme Court ruling in favour of its nemesis, labour rights activist Mark Kasky - and the result is disarmingly candid, including the frank admission that its factories are still not meeting minimum standards.

CR's problem is largely one of perception, and the situation isn't helped by a government that has tacked CSR onto the job description of the Minister for Energy - including the new one, Malcolm Wickes - like a mere footnote.

CR must be central to, rather than an adjunct to, any organisation's policy making. That an organisation as powerful as the BBC should operate without a senior voice reminding the governors to consider their corporate responsibility - from supply chain to programme making - is frankly ridiculous.

This is one set of bureaucrats worth saving from the axe.

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