Good Intentions

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Photo by Limbo Poet

The Wall Street Journal seems to take great delight in the idea that the corporate social responsibility “fad” might be passing. Hmm. An 8% reduction in corporate donations in 2008? By what percentage did sales fall in that year? More importantly, it’s been quite awhile since anyone advanced the idea that a company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility should measured simply by its donations. Read the article here.

When the going gets tough, costly good intentions can go out the window. Company spending has been squeezed by the global recession and budgets for corporate social responsibility have suffered disproportionately.

A survey of U.K. businesses by KPMG and Business In The Community found a third of companies cut their corporate social responsibility budgets in 2009. Corporate philanthropy has also been hit, with a study by the Giving USA Foundation revealing that charitable donations by U.S. companies fell by 8% in inflation-adjusted terms in 2008.

Perhaps this is not so great a loss. There is a growing feeling among company executives that marginal initiatives, which can so easily be dispensed, are not enough to alter corporate behavior. In a speech last year, Stephen Green, chairman of U.K. bank HSBC, said: “There has been a tendency to compartmentalize so-called corporate social responsibility activities as an adjunct to the mainstream business activities.” Mr. Green believes in replacing corporate social responsibility with a new focus on “corporate sustainability,” which, rather than being an add-on to a business. “is about the raison d’être of the company itself.”

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