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30 November 2021

Corporate Social Responsibility and Communication

The anti-corporate movement (which includes people opposed to globalization) has acquired some momentum in recent years.

Many members of the movement now advocate for what is known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the concept that firms should be accountable to all members of society and the environment, in addition to shareholders.

It’s unfortunate they’ve gained traction. After all, without contemporary corporations, we would all be poorer, and few of us would have a comfortable retirement. Modern corporations exist primarily to offer pension income.

True, firms used to be owned by a small number of highly wealthy individuals. However, with the increasing adoption of pension funds and mutual funds, firms have shifted to majority-working-class ownership.

While it is true that the average working person has many, many times the wealth of the average billionaire, there are many, many times the number of working individuals. This means that firm and government pension plans can invest substantial sums in capital stock, thus making working-class people the major shareholders in a number of corporations.

From a communication standpoint, I’m curious as to why Corporate Social Responsibility receives such favourable media coverage and attention. Additionally, I’m curious about what we, as communicators, may learn from them.

First, the anti-corporate movement’s argument is straightforward: “Corporations have too much money and power; working people do not have enough,” or something along those lines. On the other hand, my defence of corporations above is far from straightforward, despite the fact that I am rather adept at putting concepts into words. Glazed your eyes as you read my description?

Second, the ‘anti’ movement enjoys the luxury of making a good versus evil (poor working people vs. wealthy companies) argument. That is a moral argument, one that may be used to give flavour to any news report. On the other hand, the ‘pro’ side relies heavily on rational discourse and economists’ concepts.

Third, protestors infuse the anti-corporate message with passion. After all, isn’t this a conflict between good and evil? Again, proponents of modern corporations and globalization must rely on economists’ prosaic science.

Fourth, the term ‘Corporate Social Responsibility benefits the anti-corporate movement as well. Not only does the name serve as a rallying cry for its proponents, but it also conveys that CSR is a desirable thing. After all, who could be opposed to the concepts of social and responsibility?

Now, despite their widespread media coverage and omnipresent presence, proponents of CSR face a dilemma. They may be able to attract the attention of reporters and editors, but they lack clout among the true decision-makers, those who control businesses, pension plans, and mutual funds.

And, as previously stated, decision-makers are unlikely to be convinced. They comprehend the role of corporations and are aware of their respective obligations. Even extensive public support for CSR is unlikely to have a significant impact, as companies report to shareholders, not to society at large.

Thus, perhaps the final lesson we can draw from today’s anti-corporate campaign is that sometimes even the best communication can only get you so far.

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