Is CSR Unethical?

Is CSR Unethical? The Fraud of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

There is a mistaken belief that being ‘ethical’ means being ‘good’ or ‘nice’. So if a corporation spends money on good causes, is it ethical?

The unfortunate reality is that most companies see CSR as public relations and marketing. As a result, social issues are used as advertising campaigns. A few years ago, it became public that some companies were doing CSR out of their marketing budget. Some were spending more advertising their CSR, than on the actual good causes.

Firstly, this shouldn’t surprise anyone, since CSR is fundamentally about aesthetics and imagery. You mean it’s not about saving the planet? or Africa or the dolphins? No it’s not. You mean Nike and Exxon Mobil aren’t trying to empower female workers while saving the planet from boiling over? For the last time, CSR is corporate brand management, the new form of advertising.

When committed individuals and foundations try to solve the problems of the world, it is noble and commendable. When corporations use these problems as advertising campaigns, it proves CSR unethical. Maybe a few companies actually care about the issues in their advertisements. But with so many businesses partaking in Corporate Social Responsibility, the majority do not.

In most cases, management and advertising executives sit around a table and pick a social or environmental issue with a good Return on Investment. We can spend $5 million on feeding African children or planting trees, then another $10 million advertising it. But which would result in better brand reputation and sales? Let’s go with the tree planting, it’s better imagery and in style now.

Not only is using serious world problems to sell products unethical, it desensitizes people to these problems. Many will assume that since someone else is seemingly tackling these problems, nothing more needs to be done. Some will believe that purchasing products packaged with CSR imagery actually helps to solve the problems. Since almost every product now has a green leaf on the packaging, saving the environment requires nothing more than going shopping.

Another reason that shows CSR unethical is that it rarely is what it seems. Companies make vague claims about ’empowering workers’, ‘a better world together’ and ‘helping local communities’ without evidence or meaning. Many green-leaf-logo ‘sustainability foundations’ and ‘stewardship councils’ are actually set up by companies to whitewash and greenwash their industries.

Some CSR apologists will argue that even if a corporation uncaringly throws money at a problem, it will still help. However these dilettantes saving the world can do more harm than good. They simplify problems into pretty pictures and portray false solutions. Corporate money doesn’t solve problems, commitment does.

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CSR unethical

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Read about Creating Shared Value (CSV), the flaky replacement for CSR.