So this is the week of the Global Voices Newsmaker Event on Corporate Responsibility. I was reminded of this via CFR , through which I was directed to a great piece on the topic by Jeremy Taylor, which, as brilliant as it is, is probably why we will never in our lifetime see companies heed its recommendations. Businesses think they exist for the sole purpose of making money in much the same way that politicians think “politics has its own morality”.
But you can’t say that you are a responsible corporate citizen unless you truly care about the community in which you operate. Well, you can say it, but chances are the public won’t buy it. I believe that corporate entities, especially those that are mind-blowingly profitable from our nation’s resources (and by resources, I am also referring to the human kind), should be made to give back to communities. It should be an unavoidable issue, like death and taxes. And by “give back”, I do not mean donating money to community centres, throwing Christmas parties for residents or helping out poor families and taking pictures for press releases. Those gestures of goodwill should be mere icing on the cake.
What communities need is substance. They do not need to be given fish broth when they are hungry; they need to be taught how to fish. The culture of handouts that is plaguing this country is not doing anybody any good. People want to know that they matter, that they can contribute something of value and I’ll bet that for that opportunity, community residents will be happy to prove their worth and pull their weight.
The Beetham Estate is a perfect example of how this system can work. The area is surrounded by a diversity of successful businesses – from alcohol manufacturers to waste disposal companies – and should theoretically be thriving; instead it is a slum. Youth from the area will lament that the minute prospective employers hear the words Morvant/Laventille, they want to hear nothing more. And so, the vicious cycle continues. People have little or no education and limited skills, so they seek menial jobs for which, nine times out of ten, they are not hired – but they still have to eat, which gives them one of two options: scavenge in the nearby La Basse or turn to a life of crime. And then the very same business executives will lament the fact that crime is out of control. Do they honestly not see their role in the thing?
If we do what we’ve always done, we cannot expect a different result. So here’s what I’m thinking:
1. The amount that a company puts back into a community should be in direct proportion to its annual profit
2. This investment should be in the form of education, skills training and employment so that residents can make a more meaningful contribution to their families, neighbourhoods and nation
Better people make better functioning societies. Businesses cannot succeed – really succeed in the long term – if they fail to acknowledge their responsibility towards the greater good. It’s sad that we may have to actually legislate magnanimity in order for businesses to understand the weight of their corporate responsibility, but in a climate where industry makes no apologies for having narrow interests and wide profit margins, perhaps it’s time to remind them that those margins are made possible primarily because of stakeholders rather than shareholders. Asserting that corporate values have nothing to do with the value systems of say, environmental issues, health care or education, is just plain wrong – and not to mention, bad for business.