Opinion: No tension between morals and profits

CSR can be a woolly concept, verging on a cliché. Some corporations pay lip-service to it, without ever really connecting with the sentiment.

But those attending the Clarion Awards last Friday, of which PRWeek was again an enthusiastic partner, heard some heart-rending stories that brought true meaning to CSR.

There was the story of Sue Williamson, a Barclays employee who returned to work after a brain tumour - and how her employer helped her adjust after surgery. Later, former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson and wife Meg came on stage to talk about losing their daughter, which prompted them to set up The Willow Foundation charity. Willow aims to improve life for seriously ill young adults through corporate and public support. The tremble in Mr Wilson's voice said it all.

Above all it reminded us that commercial success feels rather flat without some sense of responsibility for the world and people around us. But real CSR means a tangible cultural shift in many organisations. Glossy annual reports and cause-related marketing schemes are all very well, but can feel rather brittle without ethical thinking in the company's DNA. And, as Diageo CEO Paul Walsh argues (See News Analysis) this sentiment should come from the top.

This is not necessarily the antithesis of commercial nous. Journalists are too smart; NGOs too rigorous; staff too vigilant (just look at the rise of employee blogs) for unethical business practice to pay off in the long term.

Indeed, those businesses that have tried to put ethics and values at the core of their brand - The Guardian, John Lewis, Innocent Drinks - seem to be doing very well, thank you.

Sometimes the ‘CSR debate' seems to move along rather slowly. But those organisations that simply get on with it - changing their behaviour to help employees, contribute to wider society and respect the environment - are already reaping genuine rewards.

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