How do you measure corporate social responsibility?
No one really knows yet how to measure corporate social responsibility.
Every month, a new report is issued which lists the most socially responsible companies. McDonalds is listed as one of the top companies, due to their work in the environment. (What about the fact that their very existence causes obesity?) Wal*Mart is listed in another as well, due to their focus on zero waste. (What about their low wages?)
The dichotomy is inescapable. Every company is good in some ways, bad in others. So in my CSR report, I highlight the areas we've improved, and where we might be doing better than our competitors. This year I talk about labor relations in Nigeria, next year I talk about labor improvements in Ghana. Does that mean conditions in Nigeria are the same, or is Nigeria's absence from the report indicative of the fact that there's something to hide?
How can an independent party ever hope to evaluate whether a company is "good" or "bad?" And is there even such a concept? You know how in the US legal system, if a person commits a crime, he can be let off the hook because he is criminally insane, or incapable of determining right from wrong. Corporations are criminally insane. You can't think of a corporation as good or bad, right or wrong, because the corporation isn't a human, with the ability to discern the difference. So okay, the corporations aren't good or bad, but the leaders are. Well, that doesn't make sense either.
If a government wants to change the way a company does business, to make all companies "good" companies, it would change the current rules. Without laws in place that determine what every company has to follow, the least socially responsible will have the greatest competitive advantage. In 1993, Levi Strauss phased out production in China because of concerns about its human rights record. In 1998, they reversed their policy, as they were losing out in the competitive game.
Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled when I see a company out in front of an issue, as they can guide legislation. I just don't think that CSR alone is the whole answer. Yes, it's easier to lobby a company for change than to drive change through our political system. But we don't accept workarounds in our professional life -- isn't this more important?