The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Strategic CSR - Nationalism

I have been thinking about the primary cause said to have driven the two major controversial political decisions of 2016 – Brexit and Trump. In almost every account I have seen seeking to explain those decisions, it all seems to boil down to globalization. What this generally means at the local level is the failure of capitalism to spread wealth (the benefits of globalization) more evenly. The resulting inequality then drives the economic protectionism and anti-immigration that allow political movements, such as UKIP and Trump, to take advantage and secure previously unimaginable victories.
 
While I get this explanation, it only works if you care primarily about your country. That is, there is a belief that American workers 'lose' jobs to Chinese workers, for example. But, as an immigrant here in the US, I find that this nationalistic argument fails to resonate. To me, an American does not have any more 'right' to a job than a Chinese, Indian, South African, or anyone else anywhere in the world. The reason why a multi-national firm might close a US factory and open one in China is that the Chinese factory is more efficient. In other words, it produces a product of the same or better quality for less money. As a result, the Chinese employee gets better training, higher income, etc., etc., and the Chinese economy progresses. Similarly, the US gets to export all the jobs that do not add much value (i.e., they do not pay well) and (and this is where the story appears to break down, I guess) they re-train their citizens to do higher-skilled jobs that pay more (because they add more value) and the US economy also progresses.
 
I appreciate that a key element of the nationalistic argument is that politics is largely local and most democratic systems are based on geographic representation (rather than, for example, doing what is 'best' for the country or, heaven forbid, the world). I also appreciate that the rise of the robots seems to be accelerating this trend, although I can't help but think this is overblown. We have faced many technological shifts in our time and, always, the new technology has ended-up producing more work than it replaced.
 
To me, though, it just seems like a level-of-analysis issue. If we all thought of ourselves as citizens of the world (whatever Theresa May thinks), it would enable us to tackle problems that we do not see at present. For example, if a factory closes in California and relocates to Texas, while the workers are annoyed, it is not perceived in the same light as when a factory closes in North Carolina and opens in India. Yet, it is exactly the same economic process. It is just that our perspective is clouded by arbitrary national borders that were determined decades or centuries ago, either as a result of military might (e.g., pick your war), geographic protection (e.g., an island), or bureaucratic incompetence (e.g., the role of the UK and other colonial powers in over-riding centuries of history by drawing straight lines in the Middle East). If we could see through these clouds, we would understand that we are one world (geographic fact) before we are one nation (historical anomaly).
 
What is essential for CSR to move the needle, therefore, is an ability to think in terms of the group, the much larger group, and begin to suppress our extremely unhealthy current preoccupation with the narrower nation/racial/ethnic-based group. CSR is, by definition, of concern to society at large and, at a fundamental level, it prioritizes the interests of the majority over those of the minority. The issues it deals with (including economic inequality) are, at a minimum, societal-wide and, more likely, global. In other words, while it may be true that "all politics is local," CSR is global. And, until we start thinking that way, it will be hard to progress together.
 
Take care
David
 
 
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