Social Responsibility Comes Clean

Article excerpt

Corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability, social responsibility-call it what you will, we need it now more than ever before. The real thing, that is, not a soft, touchy-feely substitute.

The economic downturn has taken the gloss off the shiny green ads and PR-driven reports of corporate good deeds. Angry and in pain, people have lost their trust and are demanding honesty and fair play from businesses and public authorities alike. The focus of social responsibility has arrived at its serious core: good governance, accountability and transparency.

It is likely to be there for some time. Real social responsibility is essential for rebuilding the trust needed in order to reboot our financial and economic systems.

Broadly speaking, the trend in social responsibility has gone through three phases, from doing good to going green to the latest, coming clean. Many corporate social responsibility programs in the U.S. and the U.K.--and here in the Netherlands- started out with a purely social focus. Companies gave to charity and encouraged their employees to volunteer in local communities.

In the past two years, the focus has moved decisively to the environment. The green agenda has gained ground worldwide, helped by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the spike in oil prices. President Obama has staked his economic recovery agenda on creating millions of green jobs.

Meanwhile, the downturn, brought on by fiscal irresponsibility on a massive scale, has put the spotlight back on the basic building blocks that create trustworthy organizations. Accountability and transparency: the words appear repeatedly on Recovery.gov, the U.S. government's web site that explains the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and updates the public on its initiatives. Ethics are in demand, and shareholders, voters and journalists are making sure our businesses and public authorities know about it. …