What are the trends in ethics and corporate social responsibility?
Three important trends related to ethics and corporate social responsibility are strategic changes in corporate philanthropy, a new social contract between employers and employees, and the growth of global ethics and corporate social responsibility.
Changes in Corporate Philanthropy
Historically, corporate philanthropy has typically involved companies seeking out charitable groups and giving them money or donating company products or services. Today, the focus has shifted to strategic giving, which ties philanthropy and corporate social responsibility efforts closely to a company’s mission or goals and targets donations to the communities where a company does business. Some of the top businesses recognized for their efforts in giving back to the communities in which they operate include technology giant Salesforce, San Antonio’s NuStar Energy, insurance and financial services firm Veterans United, and software leader Intuit.
A Social Contract between Employer and Employee
Another trend in social responsibility is the effort by organizations to redefine their relationship with their employees. Many people have viewed social responsibility as a one-way street that focuses on the obligations of business to society, employees, and others. Now, companies recognize that the social contract between employer and employee is an important aspect of the workplace and that both groups have to be committed to working together in order for the organization to prosper. The social contract can be defined in terms of four important aspects: compensation, management, culture, and learning and development.
When it comes to compensation, companies today must recognize that most employees do not stay with one organization for decades. Thus, companies need to change their compensation structure to acknowledge the importance of short-term performance and to update their methods for determining compensation, including benefits and other nontraditional perks such as increased paid leave and telecommuting options.
In the current workplace environment, where employees are likely to jump to new jobs every couple years, managers need to take a more active and engaged approach to supervising employees and perhaps change the way they think about loyalty, which may be difficult for managers used to supervising the same group of employees for a long period of time. Engaging employees on a regular basis, setting realistic expectations, and identifying specific development paths may help retain key employees.
Thanks to today’s tight labor market, some employees feel empowered to demand more from their employer and its overall culture via strategies such as increased flexibility, transparency, and fairness. This increased importance of the employee’s role in the company’s culture helps workers stay engaged in the mission of the organization and perhaps makes them less likely to look elsewhere for employment.
Finally, rapidly changing technology used in today’s workplace continues to shift the learning and development component of the employer-employee contract, causing immense challenges to both companies and workers. It may be more difficult to identify the employee skills that will be critical over the next several years, causing employers either to increase training of current workers or to look outside the organization for other individuals who already possess the technical skills needed to get the job done.
Global Ethics and Social Responsibility
When U.S. businesses expand into global markets, they must take their codes of ethics and policies on corporate social responsibility with them. As a citizen of several countries, a multinational corporation has several responsibilities. These include respecting local practices and customs, ensuring that there is harmony between the organization’s staff and the host population, providing management leadership, and developing a solid group of local managers who will be a credit to their community. When a multinational firm makes an investment in a foreign country, it should commit to a long-term relationship. That means involving all stakeholders in the host country in decision-making. Finally, a responsible multinational will implement ethical guidelines within the organization in the host country. By fulfilling these responsibilities, the company will foster respect for both local and international laws.
Multinational corporations often must balance conflicting interests of stakeholders when making decisions regarding social responsibilities, especially in the area of human rights. Questions involving child labor, forced labor, minimum wages, and workplace safety can be particularly difficult. Recently Gap, Inc. decided to publish the list of its global factories in an effort to provide transparency about its suppliers and the efforts the company continues to make to improve working conditions around the world. The company has partnered with Verité, a nongovernmental organization focused on ensuring that people work under safe, fair, and legal conditions. By soliciting feedback from factory workers making its products, Gap is hoping to improve working conditions and help these factories become leaders in their local communities.