What’s wrong with Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate Social Responsibility

Poet, activist and Dreamflesh Journal contributor Claire Fauset has prepared an excellent report for Corporate Watch titled What’s Wrong With Corporate Social Responsibility?. The stall I was doing at the recent London Anarchist Bookfair was next to Corporate Watch, and I overheard someone perusing their stuff, talking to Claire. He said he worked in CSR until recently. He read this report and it was the last straw; he quit.

George Monbiot has observed that those who actively deny the reality of human-caused climate change are now in a tiny, shrinking minority. However, the danger now comes in the form of those who acknowledge the problem, but are only prepared to make cosmetic changes to their lives in response to it. Similarly, the damaging effects of the modern corporation are now seldom brushed aside casually. But the danger remains in the form of CSR, a complex system of measures that corporations have evolved in recent decades as a response to increasing activist attacks.

CSR is (naturally) preferred to exterior regulation. This way, companies can police themselves—or, as is inevitably the case when you are legally obliged to maximize profit for shareholders, weave a disabling web of spin and half-measures that aims to sideline coherent attacks on corporate power and perpetuate the bottom line.

As climate change and resource depletion start making plain the fundamental flaws of business with profit as its prime motivation, and economies predicated on perpetual growth, there’s a rush to save our illusions. There’s much to learn from sites like WorldChanging.com, but the basic premise found there, that profit and growth on the one hand, and the environment and social justice on the other, don’t have to be in opposition… well, it’s one of the few “both/and” arguments that I just don’t buy.

I’m far too muddled and cerebral for committed activism, so I’m not on a soap box here. But activist or not, all of us act, and at least some of these actions are informed by the information we have at our disposal (zombies excluded). And this report is essential information for anyone who even pretends to be a citizen of a democracy today. It’s a radical critique, aiming for the heart of what’s wrong with corporations, but you won’t find any of the wild rhetoric or naive posturing that “neo-greens“—in tandem with corporations themselves—often like to see as characterizing environmental radicalism. It’s clear, succinct, and meticulously referenced.

If you’re suspicious about CSR, but haven’t managed to articulate it, check this out for ammo. If you’re not suspicious about CSR, you have to ask yourself: does a world like ours really need a new definition of “naive”?

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