Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

CSI (Corporate Social Irresponsibility): There are a lot of problems in the world, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to direct one’s energies to do the most good: feeding starving children in Africa, educating people about AIDS, slowing the pace of global warming. But none of these issues, I guess, is quite as important is making sure that companies don’t behave too responsibly.

That’s the mission taken up by Steven Milloy, who takes a lot of money from irresponsible companies presumably concerned that their more responsible competitors are gaining market advantage. A logical response might be to adopt more responsible business practices themselves, but since that would require thought and effort, their pouring their money into trying to persuade responsible companies to change their ways.

Milloy operates CSRWatch, an organization/website that sets up a straw-man caricature of the CSR movement (apparently it’s all a left-wing conspiracy designed to render companies impotent and profitless) and then attempts rather feebly to burn it down.

Public relations people should be concerned if only because social responsibility is critical to what we all do. Public relations is about aligning the behavior of institutions with the needs and desires of the societies in which they operate for mutual benefit. CSR is about understanding the expectations of stakeholders—shareholders, customers, employees, communities—when it comes to corporate behavior, and then working to ensure that businesses meet or exceed those expectations. They share many of the same goals.

Interestingly, Milloy is also behind what Slate’s Daniel Gross recently described as “a very curious right-wing mutual fund” which provides investors with an opportunity to invest exclusively in companies that eschew responsibility. So far, the fund has attracted $5.2 million in investment capital. The fund’s lack of success in that regard can be explained by its returns, which so far are less than half the gains of the S&P 500.

It would be kind of ironic if a social irresponsibility fund proved unequivocally—in a way that social responsibility funds have not—that some degree of social responsibility is a pre-requisite of financial success.

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