Having more choices for vendors or employers than ever before, people are more willing to “cancel” organizations and stop supporting brands that don’t hold up to their standards of corporate social responsibility. Examples include posting insensitive or derogatory tweets, aligning with other organizations that have controversial policies, or supporting individuals known for hate speech.
Corporate social responsibility (or CSR) is when businesses have initiatives or policies in place that aim to “contribute to societal goals of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices”.
It’s not only customers that want to support organizations that align with their personal values. Employees also maintain high expectations for businesses and their executives. Whether it’s immigration reform, gender inequality, racial injustice, religious freedom, or gun regulation, people want companies to engage with these critical issues in genuine ways and make a positive impact.
According to monster.ca, “a new, large scale Canadian study indicates that corporate social responsibility can improve your bottom line, in part by giving your most engaged employees a reason to stay and work harder for you”.
It is becoming far less common for indifference and silence to remain acceptable in organizations. Nowadays, the option of writing a cheque or completely ignoring social issues is all but eradicated for most companies.
There are many reasons why corporations may adopt public stances into their business practices, particularly on matters of moral or social policy.
Explanations for corporate political activity regarding social issues typically fall into one of three categories:
- Economic interest
- Political context
- Social context
Ordinarily, corporate social activities are viewed through a public relations lens: “How can I profit from this financially?” “How will my shareholders view this statement/stance?” “What is the popular public opinion?” and “How will this impact my brand’s reputation?”
However, corporations now need to refocus that lens.
A boost in vulnerability resulting from corporate social responsibility may partly be a result of an increase in socially conscious consumerism.
Millennials and Gen Z, who are much more prone than older generations to align their purchases with social causes, actively search for products that meet their needs while also expressing their values.
According to Mary-Hunter McDonnell, Assistant Professor of Management at The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, there has been “a 75 percent increase since 2000 in the number of social movements targeting firms”.
“Because firms are increasingly multinational, individual states and countries don’t define many of the issues people care about, such as women’s rights. Targeting companies gives activists a wider reach.”
Occasionally, socially responsible companies attempt to partner or work with activists. This is utilized as a method to learn from them, as well as a beneficial business strategy. For example, many businesses shared content around and supported #BlackLivesMatter, using the social movement as a way to share their political stance—generally to their benefit. Some companies pledged to use their platform to feature more black voices, cementing their commitment to corporate activism in a more tangible way.
Today, employees are among the most passionate activists for CSR initiatives.
Creating clear CSR initiatives that permeate company culture is a key part of modern recruitment. In fact, studies have found that “64% of Millennials won’t take a job if their employer doesn’t have a strong CSR policy, and 83% would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues”, while their Gen Z counterparts are the first generation to prioritize purpose over salary.
Many companies are primarily motivated to become involved in social activism by current employees who are dissatisfied with the fact that their employer—or even worse, their own work—may support initiatives and policies they deem morally unacceptable. Corporate social responsibility, therefore, also plays a role in retention, ensuring that employees stay engaged with their work and become less likely to quit.
While it’s not a new notion for companies to take on a higher purpose, in the present social and political climate the stakes and expectations are higher than ever, particularly with growing internal pressure from employees. It’s now an expectation that corporate leadership share their values and ambition to execute change and make a difference.