“The secrets to success in business are honesty & transparency. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made” -Groucho Marx.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has a long history of perverting business in humorous & fraudulent ways. Below are a few examples: Enron, BP, Phillip Morris, Starbucks, Magna, Christie’s, Ford.
Christie’s: the fine art auctioneer
Christie’s CSR has the usual faults. It manipulates words and numbers to make a bigger splash. Yet its CSR material didn’t pass a basic grammar check.
To see the page with specific examples and criticism of Christie’s “Art + Soul”, click here.
Enron was a good CSR example, giving millions to charity and stating:
- “we will work to foster mutual respect with communities and stakeholders who are affected by our operations”.
- “We will examine the impacts, positive and negative, of our business on the environment, and on society, and will integrate human, health, social and environmental considerations into our internal management and value system”.
- Enron won many awards for its CSR work, including a Climate Protection Award from the EPA, and a ‘Corporate Conscience Award’ from the Council on Economic Priorities.
BP’s website states: “Our sustainability reporting looks at the impact of our business on the environment”
- In 2005 BP announced an $8 billion investment in ‘alternative energy’.
- The firm spent hundreds of millions of dollars in various ‘green’ campaigns.
- BP ran many ads talking about your carbon footprint & alternative energy.
- in 2007 the firm won an award from the American Marketing Association for its advertising effectiveness.
- in 2009 Greenpeace awarded BP the Emerald Paintbrush award for Greenwashing.
Tobacco Giant Phillip Morris’ “Charitable Giving Program”.
- “supports charitable giving programs that improve living conditions in places our employees work and reside”.
- currently provides over $30 million annually to support charitable causes around the world.
- meals and medical assistance to nearly 1.1 million people.
- 22 million trees planted!
- The World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out: “the tobacco industry and corporate responsibility… an inherent contradiction”.
Starbucks’ comprehensive CSR comittment wins ‘most unethical’ prize.
- Its website states: “We’ve always believe that businesses can and should have a positive impact on the communities they serve.”
- “By being responsible and doing things that are good for the planet and each other”.
- Even with its multi-million dollar CSR campaign, Starbucks was ranked ‘Most Unethical’ by Ethical Consumer magazine.
- Ethical Consumer accused Starbucks of : union-busting, Guantanamo Bay supplying, being ‘trademark colonialists’, & serving genetically engineered growth hormone in US milk.
Apparently, Starbucks also trademarked the term “Shared Planet”. Ironic? Maybe not for a ‘trademark colonialist’.
As this BBC article shows, another recent attempt by Starbucks at social campaigning has met ridicule. Starbucks’ “RaceTogether” was supposed to engage customers in discussions of race relations in the US. Thanks to the internet, it quickly became another failed CSR example.
The Louisiana Commune – Magna’s International Failure
What does a car parts maker like Magna do with its cash? Try to build an organic farming community. Seriously. Magna spent millions on its CSR example, called Magnaville. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Magna tried to relocate urban residents into rural Louisiana.
Magnaville was supposed to be a self-sufficient local organic farming community. It succeeded in using nice politically correct words, but not much else. Surrounding communities opposed it. The town of Simmesport would have to pay some operating costs. New Orleans’ urban evacuees didn’t take to organic farming or rural life. The idea that they would do ‘community service’ in exchange for living in a CSR social experiment was also wishful thinking. Most of the mobile homes were soon empty. Most of the organic farms are organic empty.
After a few years, Magnaville or ‘Canadaville’ is considered another CSR failure. Most of the evacuees have left. If you don’t understand why an auto parts manufacturer would try to create an organic commune, you’re not familiar with the absurdities of CSR.
Here is a link to a CBC news article on Magna’s CSR Example.
In an early CSR example, Henry Ford chose to ‘build lives’ instead of paying his shareholders dividends.
- Henry Ford skipped a dividend payment, because he wanted to “employ still more men; to spread the benefits of this individual system to the greatest possible number; to help them build up their lives and their homes”.
- A court ruled against him, since “Directors cannot shape and conduct the affairs of a corporation for the mere incidental benefit of shareholders and for the primary purpose of benefiting others”.
The best CSR Example will never appease the critics of capitalism.
If corporate executives want cute sound bites in their annual reports and websites, here are a few on sustainability:
- “If every company on the planet were to adopt the best environmental practice of ‘leading’ companies, the world would still be moving toward degradation and collapse.”
-Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce.
- “I think if we don’t overthrow capitalism, we don’t have a chance of saving the world ecologically”
– Judi Bari, labor leader/Earth First!
- “Free Enterprise really means rich people get richer. They have the freedom to exploit and psychologically rape their fellow human beings in the process… Capitalism is destroying the earth”
-Helen Caldicott, Union of Concerned Scientists.
- “The answer to global warming is in the abolition of private property and production for human need”
-Louis Proyect, Columbia University.
- “Global sustainability requires the deliberate quest of poverty”
-Professor Maurice King
- “It’s not viable for poverty stricken developing world to emulate prosperity of the U.S.”
-Jerry Brown, former California Governor