What does politics have to do with corporate social responsibility?

 

Today, corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals need to navigate politics. They need to make decisions regarding “political CSR,” defined as CSR in a social cause that overlaps with a politicized issue. Examples of political CSR include:

 

  • Charity Mobile donating five percent of the monthly plan cost to a pro-life charity of the customer’s choice.
  • Several businesses, including Deutsche Bank and PayPal, canceling plans to expand their North Carolina operations in response to the passing of an anti-LGBT bill in March of 2016.
  • Hundreds of American companies — including Mars, Nike and Levi Strauss — signing a plea in November 2016 asking president-elect Donald to not abandon the Paris climate agreement.
  • Starbucks deciding to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide soon after President Trump’s January executive order banning people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
  • Comcast giving employees paid time off to protest Trump’s travel ban.

 

Has the world gone mad? Brands have traditionally been mute on political issues and active only in causes supported across the politcal spectrum—education, hunger and support for veterans, for example. This approach prevents companies from being controversial and offending, and possibly losing, customers and employees.

 

It turns out, however, that there are good reasons to conduct political CSR. First, a brand’s involvement in the political discusison can potentially make a significant impact on a cause by influencing public opinion and government policies. Second, failing to become involved in certain political issues might appear as a betrayal of the company’s values or of employees and, thus, undermine employee morale, engagement and retention. Gay employees, for example, might expect their employer to take a stand on same-sex marriage.  Third, consumer sentiment toward your brand or products might suffer. Research conducted by Daniel Korschun from Drexel University suggests that consumers prefer to purchase from companies that support their stated values, even if they don’t agree with such values, than from companies that don’t. Fourth, political CSR can help secure favorable conditions for the business. Your business, for example, might need immigrant workers to operate most effectively. Influencing the immigration discussion, then, might be a business imperative.

 

In summary, while political CSR has risks, it can also augment the social and business impact of a company’s CSR. Businesses are, therfore, advised to be open to the opportunities that politcal CSR offers.

 

Want to learn more about managing political CSR? Attend our July 20th training “CSR as a tool for expression in a political era,” presented by Bea Boccalandro; and/or download the Framework for Political CSR Decision Making (members only) here.

 

 

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