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Monday, September 10, 2012

Strategic CSR - Chick-fil-A

The problem with a values-based approach to CSR becomes apparent when a firm proudly announces its support for values with which you disagree. The article in the url below presents a good example of this and, in the process, summarizes an important critique of the CSR movement:

Conservatives sceptical of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement have often charged that CSR is a stalking horse for liberal causes that have failed to get traction through ordinary political channels. This charge finds some support, I think, in the fact that few in the media seem to see Chick-fil-A's Christian-influenced culture and business practices as an example of CSR, though obviously it is. Doesn't the demand that corporations act responsibly in the interests of society, in ways other than profit-seeking, directly imply that corporate leaders who find same-sex marriage socially irresponsible should do something or other to discourage it?

If we support a firm pledging to move to zero-waste manufacturing plants because the executives are concerned about climate change (amazingly, still an issue for debate for a large percentage of the U.S. population), then we must also support a firm acting to prevent the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage. Both are issues with passionate advocates who believe the realization of their position will benefit society:

CSR, when married to norms of ethical consumption, will inevitably incite bouts of culture-war strife. CSR with honest moral content, as opposed to anodyne public-relations campaigns about "values", is a recipe for the politicisation of production and sales.

In Strategic CSR, we focus less on constructing a moral/ethical/values-based approach and more on constructing an economic argument, with a particular focus on operational relevance (applicable to the zero waste example above; less obvious in terms of same-sex marriage). But, even there, the idea that a firm should seek to meet the needs and demands of its key stakeholder groups allows for the advocacy of beliefs that are important to those stakeholders (whatever the nature of those beliefs). Assuming that the action being advocated is not illegal, my values differ from your values and, as long as there are sufficient numbers of people who are willing to demonstrate support for a particular position, then a firm can make an economic argument for advocating on behalf of that position:

People can run their businesses according to whatever principles they prefer. It's just stupid business for owners and managers who want to sell their firm's goods and services to people who don't happen to share their morals or politics, especially in cultures in which consumers are increasingly expected to vote with their wallets.

In other words, the only danger for Chick-fil-A is if they are on the wrong side of an issue that is moving strongly against them. Given the many people who showed up at the firm’s restaurants to support the CEO, Dan Cathy’s, statements, however, it is not clear that this is the case:

Matters of moral truth aside, what's the difference between buying a little social justice with your coffee and buying a little Christian traditionalism with your chicken?

Unless we are willing to allow firms to support all issues that are important to key stakeholder groups equally, we are being hypocritical. Cathy’s recent statements were wholly consistent with positions the firm has adopted in the past and are also clearly important to many of the firm’s customers.

Take care

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Feathers flying
By W.W.
August 7, 2012