Is Product Safety a CSR Issue?

In my response to my recent CSR piece about auto recalls, ethics blogger and professor Chris MacDonald posted the following comment:

Recalls, it seems to me, have little to do with CSR but potentially plenty to do with ethics. I don't think it makes much sense to discuss basic product safety in terms of *social* responsibility. If so, then the term "CSR" really has lost all meaning…

Fair enough, and if I were to weigh in personally, I would to some extent agree with this comment.  But CSR is a field full of practitioners each with their own opinions, which is why I thought it would be helpful to find out whether major companies deemed successful in their CSR efforts had included safety as a category in their most recent CSR reports.

For this exercise, I decided to look back at one of my previous CSR rankings posts, which compared best-of lists published by five major ESG analyst groups and magazines (Ethisphere, RiskMetrics Group, Corporate Knights, Newsweek, and CRO), and update it to include the latest CRO ranking.  Of the six companies that made three of the five lists (no company was listed in all five CSR rankings), only one--- Procter & Gamble ---  included product safety in the table of contents for their most recent reports or websites.  The remaining group, which included HP, Johnson Controls, Nike, PG&E, and Starbucks, did not list product safety as a key priority, although many made some reference to the subject somewhere within the report itself.

Now, I concede several points about this analysis.  First, I recognize that my analysis of product safety within CSR reports does nothing to address the more specific question of whether recalls are commonly discussed in CSR reports (that would require a more time-consuming analysis).  Second, six is a very small number of companies, and not necessarily representative of the larger CSR field.  Third, it is worth noting that not all of the six companies I examined are manufacturers, which means that some may have excluded product safety simply because they have no product safety to measure.  And fourth, it is possible that the CSR rankings I used to assemble this list skewed my results by discriminating against (or favoring?) companies with an unrepresentative approach to product safety within their CSR reports.

One additional observation I made is that P&G refers to its most recent CSR publications as a sustainability report, as does Baxter, which is another company that treats product safety as a priority in its most recent report.  I wonder if there is a connection between the language companies use to describe their CSR programs and the topics they include in their reports, but this is a topic too broad for this CSR post!

Photo credit: underminingme