What does it mean to be socially responsible as a business?
This blog post will explore where the two intersect.
Although Western cultures are rule-based, they are limited when addressing the global problems of today. And yet, businesses must take on social responsibility in today’s world and be held accountable for their practices, because these practices, in the end, can impact all of us.
Social responsibility is taking hold.
What is social responsibility?
In short, it’s when an individual or organization takes it upon themselves to act in a way that benefits society rather than only their reputation or bottom line.
With social responsibility, economic ecosystems – such as environmental efforts, societal welfare, or material development – balance out.
One example of this is when the environment is negatively impacted by an organization’s productivity or processes.
For instance, when Ohio’s Cuyahoga River repeatedly caught fire from an oil slick, which prompted governmental change, including the 1970 formation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Or the case made famous on the silver screen, in which Erin Brockovich drove a 600+ resident suit against PG&E, after discovering illnesses in the town of Hinkley, CA were linked to high levels of hexavalent chromium found in the drinking water. When she traced the pollution’s source to PG&E, she found that the utility giant was well aware of the pollution and attempted to cover it up.
The lawsuit was settled for $333 million in 1996.
In these cases, an organization’s social responsibility must be put under the microscope.
A community’s health, as well as the biological ecosystems of an area, could potentially be (and have been in the past / continue to be in the present) destroyed.
When a business is indifferent to these impacts on the society it’s meant to serve, not only does the company’s negligence reflect poorly upon their culture, it can literally mean life or death for some.
Active/Passive Social Responsibility
You can also be active or passive in your socially responsible principles and behavior.
One example: shoplifting in a retail environment.
It sometimes happens that retail workers shoplift from the companies they work for. As a retail worker yourself, you might know that your colleagues do it, but keep your mouth shut, though you don’t participate.
This is passive social responsibility.
Active social responsibility is more direct. It might mean advocating for better antitheft procedures, like spot-checking bags before employees head out for the day.
As long as you don’t follow suit when you witness your colleagues crossing that ethical line, you are being socially responsible.
Whether active or passive, that responsibility reflects your values.
Next week, we’ll talk more about a relatively new type of management strategy called corporate social responsibility.