Friday, December 07, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility - an oxymoron...

I think that it is very important to make a distinction between State power over the individual and state power over institutions – especially private sector businesses. In an ideal world, I agree, that it would be good if individuals were free to pursue their lives peacefully and lawfully with the minimum of intervention from authorities. This does, of course, require that there is a code of behaviour which people follow that goes beyond what the law says they should do. But it doesn’t always happen. For example, the hope that pub or restaurant customers who smoked would be sensitive to the feelings and comfort of other customers who did not smoke was shown to be a forlorn one! The banning of smoking in public places came about, at least in part, because too many smokers could not be relied upon to care about others. Some might argue that the legislation was anti-libertarian – I would argue the opposite. My freedom, and the freedom of the majority population who don’t smoke, was hugely enhanced by this legislation of which I approve wholeheartedly.

Essentially the test should be to ensure that the worth of legislation is determined by its contribution to overall utility - there has to be judgment about the point at which you curtail freedoms. You cannot, of course, conceive of an “anything goes” world without laws. Commercial organisations – especially big businesses tend to argue for self-regulation. They want to be free to police themselves – but there is no evidence that this ever works. The imperative of a company is overwhelmingly a shareholder driven imperative – indeed the law states that it must be. So for a corporation to suggest that it follows self-imposed “Corporate Social Responsibility” rules is so much poppycock. When faced with the choice between profits and principles they will choose profits 99% of the time! So government HAS to legislate to curb the powers of business and ensure that they serve more than the narrow self-interest of their shareholders. Nobody else will do it!

(c) Paddy Briggs December 2007