Corporate social responsibility, i don’t think its working. I think its, its been taken over by the big management houses, marketing houses, been taken over by the big groups like KPMG, like Arthur Anderson. Its a huge money-building operation now. I think maybe its the word “corporate.”
When I was part of the architects of this responsibility business movement, that was so different; that was an alternative to the international chamber of commerce, it was a traders alliance, it had progressive thinkers, progressive academics, it had, you know, people who were philanthropists. It worked alongside start-up businesses that were really creative like the Body Shop, like Ben and Jerry’s. It had a social purpose. Now a lot of the thinking came out of the 60s, came out of the anti-war movement, came out from the grassroots movement. So much of our thinking was influenced by the Scandinavian business practices. And so much of my thinking came out because I was learning about the Quakers, who were extraordinarily good at running a business, of never lying, never cheating. You know, put more money back into their enterprises than what they took out and had a social purpose so that the beginning, the architect for that thinking was really simple: “how do you make business kinder?”, “how do you embed it in the community?”, “how do you make community a social purpose for business?”
Things happened. I don’t think we in that movement—we took our eyes off the ball, we were getting to be so in love with each others voice and each others networking, that we didn’t see what was going on; we didn’t see the whole growth of corporate globalization; we didn’t see the immense power of businesses playing, especially in the political arena. We didn’t look at the language, the economic language which was about control, which was about everything had to be for the market economy. We were just flowering around on our own thinking and so we took our eyes off the ball and when we put it on the ball again we thought, “you know, its been hijacked, this social responsibility in business” and it became corporate social responsibility. And it was a huge money-earner, for these big management companies, like KPMG, like Arther Anderson, like PriceWaterHouseCooper, all of those. They were making shed loads of money by actually doing a system of analysis about how you measure you behavior. But it was no good; it was like this obsession for measurement. It wasn’t showing you how you can put these ideas into practice and they never told you it meant a truth—truth that nobody wants to discuss, that if it gets in the way of profit, business aren’t going to do anything about it. So we still have rapacious businesses, you still have businesses in bed with government, you still have governments inability to measure their greatness by how they look after the weak and the frail. You still have government only true measurement of success as economic measurement. And you still have businesses that can legitimately kill, can legitimately have boardroom murder, can legitimately have a slave labor economy, so that all of us in the West—primarily in the West, or all of us who are wealthy—are guaranteed a standard of living to which we are used to.
And then you have the complicity of the media who dumb us down consistently, by saying “nothing is more important than entertainment and celebrity and by the way, you know, you’ve got to keep purchasing.”
So I think the corporate social responsibility movement has got to have a bit more courage. And I don’t think anything will happen until we get the financial institutions to change. And so that were not measured by this one standard, this unimaginative financial bottom line. When we are measured by a financial bottom line that does include human rights, social justice and workers justice, and if we start listening to the real forerunners of the planet—the environmental movement, the social justice movement—to help shape our thinking, then something will change. But for me, corporate social responsibility in my life, I don’t think it has worked. And that’s a shame. Because its controlled the language and its hijacked the language.