Skip the lip service- Demand authentic social responsibility from business

When it comes to rebuilding a reputation, remember the “Action, not words” mantra of Cornelia Connelly. It’s another way to say be authentic, put your money where your mouth is, walk the talk… You get the drift.

So we’ll see how the new CEO of Barclay’s Bank fares in its rebuilding public trust in the institution by compensating employees on whether they are good citizens. He just announced he’ll tie executive pay to the good works they perform to better the environment and local charities as a way to burnish the brand. You may recall the former CEO Bob Diamond resigned in shame this summer after admitting to rigging interest rates to boost the bank’s bottom line by billions.

Isn’t that nice? Yet the new CEO’s move seems to be totally missing the point of corporate citizenship.  The idea of giving back while not cleaning house of a corporate culture that allowed for profiting by illegally gouging others just perpetuates concepts like whitewashing, greenwashing, pinkwashing and the rest of the rainbow. When Corporate Social Responsibility programs become rosy yet empty public relations ploys to distract from bad business practices, it undermines the entire practice and seeds more us vs them corporate distrust.

Maine happens to be home to global leaders in Corporate Governance. Perhaps the most highly regarded activist in the space is Robert A.G.  Monks. Consider what Directorship Magazine said about his work in presenting him a Hall of Fame Award: “Scholars tracing the origins of the American shareholder movement would do well to start with Robert A. G. Monks. The cofounder of Institutional Shareholder Services (now part of the powerful RiskMetrics Group), GMIRatings, the LENS Fund, and Governance for Owners is the ultimate shareholder activist, inventing new methods to measure, rate, and monetize corporate accountability for the good of investors. Some board members may see him as a polarizing figure—his latest book is titled Corpocracy—but his influence on the role of directors is undeniable.”

Visiting London now, Mr. Monks issued a public call for better public enforcement of sanctions when business misbehaves and for institutional investors to speak up for their interests more often.

Unfortunately “businesses gone wild” grab the headlines more often than sustainable, wholesome organizations that treat their employees, shareholders, customers and environment well every day. So-called companies with a conscience like Timberland, Patagonia and even our own LL Bean maybe aren’t perfect, but are setting the standard for authentic corporate social responsibility.


About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.