24 October 2012

Corporate Social Rascality

Writing on the tsunami sometime in late December 2004 or early January 2005, I remember observing that just as monumental as the public’s charitable response was, as great or more was the overwhelming efforts by corporate to use it as a branding opportunity. 

It was all good spirited behavior of ‘good’ corporate citizens for the greater good of the larger community.  So we were told.  Why brand, then, I asked.  I remember imploring the corporate citizen to drop the fascination with brand and product positioning and promotion.  I don’t think they heard or if they did hear that they understood or cared. 
I remembered that time for two reasons.  First, there was an article in ‘The Nation’, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility and the underprivileged’ by ‘Development Watcher’ (October 21, 2012), where the author proposed that ‘social responsibility’ be re-injected into CSR projects.  That suggestion is derived from a similar disappointment in how corporates think ‘social responsibility’.  
The second was a passage from a book I started reading recently, Philip Pullman’s ‘The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ’.  In particular Jesus’ response to some talk of almsgiving (the Jesus of this book, as valid or erroneously portrayed as the Jesus of that book, of course):
‘What you should do when you give alms is to shut up about it.  Keep silent. You know the sort of people who make a great spectacle of their generosity: don’t do as they do. Let no one know when you give, or how much you give, or what cause you give it to. Don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Your Father in heaven will see, don’t worry about that.’
In the Bible, we get the ‘official’ account as follows:  But when thou doest alms, let not thy
left hand know what thy right hand doeth’ (Matthew 6:3). The same sentiments are found in Islam with an added caveat that the offering should be ‘clean’, for example money obtained in a permissible manner.  ‘Giving’ or dana is as central in Buddhism, where too there is reference to righteous occupation (samma kammantha).  The ‘merit’ acquired is which giving yields is not even kept, but re-gifted to relatives and friends who have passed on, all other beings and even those who are powerless to acquire merit, the gods. 
No brands.  No pay-off lines.  No positioning.  No advertising. 
Are corporates faithless entities then or is it that true Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or followers of any other faith for that matter, cannot be corporate decision-makers? Will they be denied at the Gates of Heaven?  Will there sansaric journey be long and lengthened? 
Let’s leave faith and religion aside.  Let’s talk ‘charity’.  Charity is not charity if it is about investment and trade, if it is about image building, brand positioning and a tool of creating product awareness.   
It’s got worse, actually.  Today there are competitions among corporates to reward the best CSR projects/portfolios.  It’s almost like the right hand tossing out coins and the left deftly counting big money.  A lot of humbuggery, one must conclude.
There was a nice word I encountered while working as a research assistant at the Marga Institute in 1986: NGO.  Hadn’t heard it before.  Hardly a decade had passed when that acronym was treated with suspicion.  Today it is a three-letter 4-letter word.  ‘CSR’ hasn’t got there yet, but it’s close. 
 
Reactions:

8 comments:

sajic said...

Does it really matter how the money is given. True, corporations get publicity and tax concessions etc, we all know that; but the money does go to a needy institution.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

end justifies the means (both ways)?

sajic said...

I would not suggest that. Corporations may not give purely out of altruistic motives of charity;but if the money is reaching those in need, perhaps we should not question motive. That is their problem, dont you think?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

means we cannot question at all. anything. 'doer' can say 'it's for his/her/their own good' (USA in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan etc).

sajic said...

It is not the same thing at all. The corporations certainly get benefits but not from the institutions which receive the money. The actions of the US in the middle east and Afghanistan are entirely self motivated. They stir unrest to get their hands on the natural resources, not to restore or set up democracies-which they have not done, anyway.
We can certainly question the motives of anyone, doing anything.
But I dont think you can compare the two entities.

Anonymous said...

I think when prominence and/or profit is an element in the equation; gradually the 'good deed' does becomes one of self-interest. When there are competing options the decision is is made not on 'who needs it more' but on 'which brings the better return.'

sajic said...

This discussion is apparently based on the assumption that corporations
'give' for religious reasons or to acquire some sort of merit.
They do publicise but I dont think they say that their saving their own souls, or anyone else's.

Anonymous said...

CSR is definitely a marketing tool, the use of which is taught in most recognized marketing degree - and professional - programs.

It's not about saving souls - it's about appealing to a particular subset of a market thus expanding market share. Sometimes it is also used to take the 'heat' off adverse publicity.