CSR – PR Campaign or Responsible Behaviour?

Let’s start with the definitions. CSR, which stands for Corporate Social Responsibility. I did a simple search on the internet and I typed “CSR definitions” to find public sources on the subject, and I clicked on the first result: this here. I don’t think it’s by chance that this well-documented article appears on a portal dedicated to PR.

I want to mention some definitions that I found in the material published on the respective website:
• Kotler and Lee (2005) defined CSR as “a commitment that contributes to the well-being of the community through its own business practices and by contributing with the company’s own resources” (p. 3).
• Basu and Palazzo (2008) argued that CSR is “the process used by managers in an organisation in order to think and discuss their relationships with stakeholders and their roles in relation to the common good”. CSR is thus “the business’s continuous commitment to behave ethically and to contribute to the economic development, improving the quality of life of the workforce and that of the community” (Watts and Holmes, 1999, quoted in Sims, 2003, p. 43).
• Mahon and McGowan (1991) adopted the principles of the common good in CSR: “it is clear that most authors want to say that corporate social responsibility includes behaviours and actions beyond the mere realisation of profits that serve to improve social conditions and individuals within that society” (p. 80).
• According to Ihlen (2005), Bourdieu’s (1986) concept of social capital offers a constructive approach to the elements of power in an organisation’s relationship with the stakeholder groups which determines the success or the failure of the organisation. Whether instrumental, symbolic or purely rational, the quality of each relationship is based on one entity’s desire to continue to operate with the other entity in the same way.

Everyone is entitled to remember whatever they want from here, but the following definition resonates with me: „the business’s continuous commitment to behave ethically and to contribute to the economic development, improving the quality of life of the workforce and that of the community”. In principle, each of these definitions could be understood along the same lines as the one I mentioned above, which I prefer. Why do I prefer it!? Because it clearly speaks of “continuous commitment” to the economic development and quality of life. And the definition that follows from Mahon and McGowan is the icing on the cake, talking about actions and behaviours that are beyond the mere realisation of profits.

If we were to listen to these renowned authors, then it can be summarised that in the case of CSR companies take tangible and continuous action in support of the development and improvement of the communities in which they operate, beyond the simple accounting of profit. I mean, beyond being disinterested. If their effort is disinterested, it is voluntary, and if it is voluntary then the notion of “campaign” next to or subscribed to the concept of CSR should disappear, as should the strategic media coverage of such actions. Campaigns are determined over a time period; they are transient and they involve spending a certain average amount. We can draw a parallel between this and the voluntary actions of a person in support of a cause they believe in. That person usually makes that voluntary effort without making it into a personal, programmatic and self-praising campaign.

Let’s look at a recent example. A large Romanian dairy company drops a number of milk collection contracts in several counties in Transylvania because the collection price per litter of milk is 80-90 Romanian bani, and prefers to import milk from Hungary at a price of 70 Romanian bani per litter. Producers from those counties estimated 100,000 litters per month collected so far. To my knowledge, the company has so far not invested any of its money in CSR campaigns in Romania. Or in CSR operations. The multinational company has been present in Romanian business for at least 15 years. With a little mathematical exercise on that difference of 10-20 Romanian bani per litter of milk, it would have been a good idea if the dairy company in Transylvania could have supported the local communities by still paying that price difference per litter. Would it have fit in with the CSR definitions given by the authors? I think so.

Who knows, maybe in the future we will witness a campaign launched by that company in support of the endangered cherry beetle. Would that be a just cause? It would be, but their involvement in the community would be equal to zero. Or maybe they could support children with disabilities. That would be perfect, we all feel sorry for them and we want to help them, but where is the direct and disinterested involvement in the community in which they produce, according to the authors’ definitions!? I repeat, in this specific case, the milk producers from several counties in Transylvania are widowed for 10-20 Romanian bani per litter. Transylvania being the place of origin of the respective brand, a place about which the brand is proudly talking of as the location of its production capacities. Mathematics says that by importing from Hungary the company earns (or saves) 10,000-20,000 Romanian lei each month, 120,000-240,000 Romanian lei per year, adding up to approximately 27,000-54,000 euros a year. A trifle for a multinational company with turnovers of many millions of euros in Romania alone.

A quote from the company’s website: “In several countries we collaborate with local farmers who are not co-owners in the business but are nevertheless in a long-term partnership with us. They benefit from our expertise throughout the dairy chain”.

So, back to the question in the title: CSR – PR campaign or real responsible behaviour!?

If it is a PR campaign, those 27,000-54,000 euros will be spent on media coverage and press conferences. If the CSR was done as a genuine operation, the farmers would be the ones who would get to keep this money, money which would be invested in the community in which the company operates. However, we look at the situation, we are talking about ridiculous amounts saved to the detriment of the sustainable development of a community.

You can also read about it in Forbes here.