University professor breaks down corporate social responsibility
On Monday, Daniel Kinderman, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the university, gave a lecture titled, “What Contribution can Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Make Towards a Sustainable Future?”
Kinderman said that he decided to devote part of his research to CSR because he wanted to find the answers to two main questions: “How can you achieve progressive, positive change in capitalism?” and “What are the possibilities and limitations of CSR?” In his lecture, he looked to break down what CSR is and discuss its place in society.
Kinderman, who specifically specializes in CSR and European politics, started by defining the term “corporate social responsibility.”
He defined CSR as “[a] business’s [sic] voluntary engagement for social and environmental ends,” continuing that it is, “going above and beyond the law.”
Kinderman argued that instances of CSR are sometimes fake, cynical and are public relations ploys. Oftentimes, CSR efforts can be made with good intentions, but they may not always be effective. They must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
To start, Kinderman illustrated the antithesis of good CSR. He discussed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010.
Deepwater Horizon was operated by BP, who took the public blame for the incident, eventually paying out $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement ever in the history of the United States. This incident was contradictory to good CSR, as it greatly damaged the environment around where it happened.
Kinderman also brought up Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) as an organization that promotes good CSR in the United States and around the world. Kinderman said that when founded in 1992, BSR’s founders thought that American companies should become, “more European.”
At that time, Kinderman said that big American companies were not fans of the “progressive lobbying” being done by BSR and other organizations like it.
The major question that Kinderman looked to answer through his research was, “Is CSR just fluff or not?”
In order to do that, Kinderman and a colleague looked to create a match sample where they matched a member company of BSR and a non-member company of BSR that are as similar as possible to determine whether or not membership is related to increased social responsibility.
According to their research, membership of BSR does indeed lead to increased social responsibility. Kinderman explained that social responsibility is, “CSR is a very complex phenomenon.”
“[CSR is] not just based on the performance of the company itself, but how it affects public policy,” he continued.
Kinderman brought up the example of large sporting goods retailers, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, changing their gun policy recently, following the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He said that such retailers changing their gun policies might actually produce actual legislative change, which would be an example of positive CSR.
To any students, faculty or anyone interested, Kinderman suggested “The Market for Virtue,” a book by David Vogel. Kinderman said that the book breaks down the potential and limitations of CSR, the things businesses can and can’t do and the importance of public policy in the world of business. Kinderman also said that he would be more than happy to work with anyone who is interested in learning more about CSR related topics.