What is ‘social responsibility?’

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By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

We ran a story in January about research conducted by a company called Clutch that indicated consumers are more likely to patronize a company and its brand if the firm’s political policy lines up with their own.

According to Clutch, “most people say a company’s commitment to environmentally-friendly business practices (71%), social responsibility (68%), and giving back to the local community (68%) are among the most important attributes of a company.”

The RV Industry Association published a story last week about corporate responsibility as well.

Excuse my baby boomer ignorance, but what is a company’s “corporate responsibility?”

According to the RVIA article, corporate social responsibility is “a company’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for its effect on environmental and social well-being, generally beyond legislative or regulatory requirements. One popular way of evaluating CSR efforts is the notion of the triple bottom line, which refers to people, planet and profit.”

I always thought a business’ primary responsibility was to simply produce a quality product at a reasonable price while providing genuine customer service.

Silly me. I have been out of the loop for a few years. When did saving the world become the responsibility of a company looking to sell RVs, host campers for a weekend or fix things that break?

I am sure Clutch did an enormous amount of research for their study, but I see some fundamental flaws in the interpretation.

The survey showed that only 44 percent of shoppers say price is the most important attribute of a company. Yet it noted that seven out of 10 people are more worried about whether a company supports the environment or has an acceptable “social responsibility” policy.

Really? That’s the last thing that enters my mind when I enter a store.

I’ll need the advice of business owners. Are seven out of 10 customers truly willing to spend more — substantially more — if a business supports whichever one of 10,000 causes that people seem passionate about today?

I believe business owners could go broke proving their commitment to “social responsibility” by donating to all those causes.

The study also showed that 78 percent of people believe that a corporation has a duty and obligation to give back to the local community. I’m pretty sure that is something almost every single business owner has done from the beginning of time.

But, that’s where “social responsibility” meets reality in today’s politically-charged environment.

For example, Anytown Christian Church is seeking donations to fund a weekend retreat to help couples in troubled marriages. That’s a noble cause because most people realize that intact families are stronger. Adults in happy marriages make better workers, kids do better in school, and everyone wins.

So you would think supporting that cause would be an easy decision for a local business to make. Wrong.

If the company offers $1,000 to support the marriage retreat, and that donation is listed on a “sponsored by” sign, then the company risks backlash for not donating an equal amount of money to help:

  • Single mothers
  • Same-sex marriages
  • Domestic abuse shelters
  • Similar programs planned by different religious groups

All of a sudden, what started out as a feel-good donation to help fix broken marriages turns into a public relations nightmare for the company because people start threatening to boycott the business due to its “insensitive, exclusive support” of that particular Christian church program.

Over the years, I worked for a number of non-profit organizations or served on their boards. When it came time to raise money, the first words uttered by the staff or board members was generally a question regarding the best way to hit up local businesses for donations.

Keep in mind that most people around the table had likely purchased a product from Amazon in the past 30 days. If they live in a small suburban town, they had likely driven past dozens of local shops on their way to the big box We Sell Everything For Cheap store 25 miles away.

That raises some important questions.

Before customers implore companies to embrace their “corporate responsibility,” don’t consumers have a duty to embrace their own role by patronizing companies in their local communities?

Let’s call it consumer responsibility.

Next, before a business steps forward to save the world, does it first need to make sure their own product quality and customer service issues are buttoned down?

It seems to me that regardless of how much money a company donates to whatever cause, the backlash from negative publicity is far greater when product quality or service does not meet customer expectations.

Prove me wrong.

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

Leave a Comment

  • Drew says:

    Why isn’t just selling a good product at a fair price socially responsible? Maybe good support after the sale too.

  • Andy Zipser says:

    I think you missed the point of being socially responsible, Greg. As I see it, being socially responsible means doing business in a way that either does no harm–or if harm is inevitable, takes responsibility for the damage and attempts to mitigate it. That means paying a living wage, not using child labor, avoiding environmentally wasteful practices, paying for “externalities” (such as air or water pollution), etc. Your formula–of producing a quality product at a reasonable price while providing genuine customer service–does not address any of those other impacts a business may have on people who are not customers or on the planet itself. All the other stuff you wrote about, having to do with advocacy for one thing or another, has nothing to do with “social responsibility” and is a red herring in this context.

    • Sam Shryock says:

      Ditto. Well said. Social Responsibility emphasizes that a business should maintain a balance between pursuing economic performance while adhering to societal and environmental issues. It is not forcing them to advocate for a particular cause.

    • Onwego says:

      If any of this really mattered, the porn industry and WalMary would have ceased to exist decades ago.

      What business owners really need to be aware of is the power of enabling their customers to feel good about themselves while purchasing whatever products and services they want and need at the lowest possible price. Everything else is noise.

      • Greg Gerber says:

        I agree. It appears way too much attention is placed on making corporations appear that they have a conscience without enough attention being placed on product quality or customer service, which proves the firms have a conscience.

        Editor, RV Daily Report

    • Greg Gerber says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Andy. You raise several good points.

      Editor, RV Daily Report

  • Kern says:

    Can’t prove you wrong because you are correct: It all comes down to cheap virtue signalling on the part of consumers as well as many businesses. In the end most consumers go for the cheapest price and most businesses operate as they always have – providing a decent product at what they hope is a competitive price. When the sun goes down we all feel better for having participated in this kabuki dance.

  • Ken Carpenter says:

    Great article. I love the way you challenge the naive, shallow, uninformed and undereducated masses who respond to surveys so all of the rest of us can say “did you really think that through?”

  • Brian “Doc” Burry says:

    Golden Rule, it is best for ALL SIDES to abide by. Unfortunately too many self-righteous people want to dictate only THEIR Agenda. I fought in two wars for the right to choose and live with the freedom our country provides. I will not be bullied and any agenda!

    • Greg Gerber says:

      I agree. I don’t like how we have devolved into a position that just because a company supports a particular cause, they still aren’t a good company. I certainly don’t agree with a many of the political positions taken by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. But Ben & Jerry’s make darn good ice cream. I’ll still buy a cone when I see one of their locations.

      Greg Gerber
      Editor, RV Daily Report

      • Alex Wilson says:

        They do, but that nasty aftertaste of politics in my ice cream always seems to ruin it for me. I’ll stick to other brands that make a good product and don’t seem to have a desire to ram their political agenda in my face. That goes for either side too.

  • Alex Wilson says:

    I can not disagree. If it truly mattered they would look to see where the product they were buying is manufactured. If it said Made in China they would avoid it and pay more for the product that is made in the US, but they don’t.

    I run my business in a responsible way, I don’t depend on Government, but sadly the Government seems to think they know how I should run my business. I pay wages that keep my business going and provide a profit and can allow an employee to earn a good salary if they work hard, but I will not play into the whole “Living Wage” BS. It is not my responsibility to pay you more because you made life choices; like having kids young, drinking, smoking, getting inked up, the latest cell phone or a car you really couldn’t afford.

    To address donations, I set aside a part of our profits for a group of employees to disperse twice a year. I gave some simple rules, must be an established 501c3, 5 years of financials, I retain veto power over any gift of $1000. So far I’ve never vetoed once, they take great ownership in how they pick who gets funds from us.

    Yes I try to be socially responsible, but it is not my guiding mission or goal.

    • Greg Gerber says:

      I really like the idea that you allow your employees to determine which causes to support. That makes them even more of a partnership in the business. They see the company has having a role to play in supporting the local community, and they can tell their friends and neighbors about the good things the firm is doing in that community. Excellent!44

      Editor, RV Daily Report

    • Tom Young says:

      Wow – 100% dead on Alex. All you need to do is look where the PC people shop, cars they drive, and hypocrisy they scream.

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