A Corporate Conundrum

With the various corporate scandals of recent years, Corporate Social Responsibility remains a laughable farce to many.  Though many companies are more active than they’ve ever been both in charitable giving and their attempts to make operations more human and earth friendly, they face an increasingly skeptical audience of spurned stockholders and unemployment-collecting job seekers.  Now, a good many of the most irresponsible corporate offenders have had their companies bailed out by the feds, a process that is supposed to protect the economy from further harm and hopefully save what were once some of industry's greatest players.

So what happens to corporate social responsibility when it loses its corporate?  Granted, the government only steps in as a financial backer of sorts – but the whole bailout process is each of these company's biggest opportunity yet to start acting responsibly.  While the feds maintain they aren't interested in running companies, they are pressing them on the issue of executive pay (since many haven't taken it upon themselves) and the sheer magnitude of the loans and shares now held in the name of the government provide plenty of clout to do more, should it be needed.

Maybe it’s a moot point – any company in as dire straights as AIG, GM or Fannie and Freddie isn’t going to have much leeway to devote funds or make choices that may cost more up front simply because they’re better for the community.  But this strikes at the heart of what CSR is really about – it’s not about having funds to give away, but about using what you have in the most responsible way possible.  Those companies in the throws of government bailouts have done just the opposite, but in hitting the bottom they have a chance to turn their ship around.  It will be interesting to see whether the government’s new role in these companies’ attempts to keep their heads above water can help infuse a new era of responsibility, or if the hands-off approach will allow for more of the same.