Corporate Social Responsibility: A Well-Kept Secret

By May 10, 2007General

Yesterday we participated in a panel discussion at Georgetown University co-sponsored by Fleishman-Hillard and the National Consumers League, in conjunction with the issuance of their annual survey on public attitudes toward corporate social responsibility (CSR). The panel was Chaired by Georgetown’s Dean of the School of Continuing Studies Robert Manuel. On the panel with us was former Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), Bill Powers of the National Journal, Linda Golodner, head of the National Consumer’s League, and Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington — the Anna Nicole Smith of punditry (famous for being famous). Don’t get us wrong, Arianna is a perfectly nice person, but she is a bit of a caricature of herself, part Eva Gabor, part Lou Dobbs. She has moved from far right to far left on the political spectrum over the years.

The report on this year’s survey is entitled, “Rethinking Corporate Social Responsibility: A U.S. Perspective.” Most startling to us were the findings that the vast majority of Americans “disapprove of US companies’ CSR records” and want Congress to intervene to make sure companies met pressing social issues. Interestingly, those surveyed saw treatment of employees as a key part of CSR, in fact listing it first among priorities, besting the environment among their concerns.

As we said in our opening, the biggest wake-up to us was the fact that we need to do a better job in getting the word out. Starting with employees, manufacturers’ wages on average are 20% higher than the national average. All NAM members provide health care to their employees and a great benefit package. In almost every survey we find that our members are having a tough time finding and keeping the best employees. They do that through better-than-competitive pay and benefit packages. Manufacturers lead the way in that department, take a back seat to no one.

In terms of community, according to the Giving USA Foundation, corporate donations (including cash, products, in-kind services or employee voluntarism) overall totaled an estimated $12 billion in 2004. In 2005, corporate foundations alone gave an estimated record $3.6 billion. The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy in their most recent survey of 103 large companies (including many NAM members) found that 85% have at least one formal domestic volunteerism program. These companies gave a total of $10.5 billion, an average of $636 per employee. Juxtaposed with the survey results, it’s clear that this word just isn’t getting out.

We also know anecdotally from our small manufacturers that they are almost all involved in some form of corporate philanthropy, volunteerism or community service, from chairing local hospital boards to adopting local schools. Our manufacturers are pillars of their communities. They shore up the tax base and back it up with charitable giving.

Huffington, ex-wife of former Congressman and multi-millionaire Michael Huffington, sang Google’s praises and noted their 69% increase in profits. Powers jumped in to note that it’s easy to be philanthropic with those kinds of profits. Good point. Truth is, most all our companies are showing community largess in the same or greater proportion as Google, even going so far as to prop up reliably lefty groups like PBS and NPR, no strings attached. Try to find liberals who support conservative causes.

All in all it was an interesting panel discussion. Thanks to Fleishman-Hillard for the invitation and to Georgetown University for hosting. We should have some video of the event to post here soon.