Corporate social responsibility (CSR) … is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. Ideally, CSR policy would function as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby business would monitor and ensure its support to law, ethical standards, and international norms.
Consequently, business would embrace responsibility for the impact of its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere. Furthermore, CSR-focused businesses would proactively promote the public interest by encouraging community growth and development, and voluntarily eliminating practices that harm the public sphere, regardless of legality. Essentially, CSR is the deliberate inclusion of public interest into corporate decision-making, and the honoring of a triple bottom line: people, planet, profit.
This is in line with my previous costs on extraordinary possibilities via my own personal interest: code4pizza. Indeed, some companies may choose to see involvement in code4pizza to be an effective demonstration of CSR (though I would hazard it should not be the only one).
But does CSR really mean that the public sector can get “off the hook” when it comes to the provision of public services. Our own work with OpenTranslink would indicate to me that CSR labour is complementary to and not a replacement for public sector investment.
The best example shown to me today from the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) blog. This is the Chicago Lincoln subway station owned by the cash-strapped Chicago Transit Authority.
Apple took it upon themselves to invest in the subway station because it made the approach to their new retail store that little bit more pleasant, not only for customers but also their staff. Apple also built the plaza in between the North/Clybourn transit station and its new store, which opened in late October.
“A plaza, with seats. Like these guys weren’t so terrified of homeless people sitting down that they weren’t going to let anyone else sit down, either. And a fountain, that instant supplier of peace. It made me want to sit down on a nice day with a cup of tea and a book. OK, in gratitude to Apple, it should be an iPad, but whatever. I say thank you to Apple.”
I do not exclude the public sector from CSR, of course, because they have some of the largest budgets and the largest numbers of people in employ. I know that Belfast City Council has several installations of public art (which they desperately need to publicise better) and has a remit to make the city more attractive. The same for Derry City Council.
The main driver for this sort of investment is the improvement of a city for staff and customers of large corporate companies. In order to better retain staff, it’s good to be seen to have a wider remit than simply profit. If people are your most important asset (as is the refrain of every company I’ve been employed by), then investing in the infrastructure that surrounds your staff is worthwhile. This is not the same as privatising services – this is about sustaining your working environment.