Cultural Abstraction

Friday, April 9, 2010

Too Little, Too Late? Responding Through Corporate Social Responsibility

As I sat in class, another student walked in and my eyes were drawn to his bare feet. Immediately I thought of how peculiar it was and how dirty campus is with all of the foot traffic. But then I realized, he was supporting a cause “One Day Without Shoes” for the company Tom’s. Their point is that many citizens in emerging countries are without shoes and end up with illnesses which could easily be prevented. Now while this may seem to be a promotion with contradictions since Tom’s sells shoes, it works. Tom’s donates a pair of shoes to developing countries for each one they sell… very noble, but could be detrimental to their bottom line. So, why does it work? Well, for the same reasons it works for any other company—because, if you are like me, you care.

If I have an option, I will opt for the substitute product that is promoting charitable deeds. Recently I chose my Earthbound Organic lettuce based on the fact they were giving money back for a cause. We like causes…it makes us feel like we are good citizens. But is it too little, too late? Only one person I noticed was wearing no shoes today, so perhaps there is not enough awareness. Participation was low; I would like to think it was because we live in MI, with the temperatures fluctuating constantly. One can say that it is never too late, but maybe from a consumer perspective it is too little.

There is only so much one individual can do, so organizations have decided to step in with their resources offering more power. Companies in developed countries are beginning to change, stand for a cause, and make a difference. Many corporations are jumping on the social responsibility band wagon, seizing the opportunities offered by the market (Stoneyfield Farms, Trader Joe’s, Ben & Jerry’s, and Starbucks to name a few). They turn these opportunities into strategies.
Are their intentions good or is their main focus based on profitability? For companies that are conscious about their surroundings, holding ethical standards and morals has been an important way of securing not only customer satisfaction, but employee acquisition and retention, all translating into an increased revenues. It is obvious that companies are being ambitious in their attempt to get publicity, but I suppose it does not matter. Companies are recognizing consumer’s desires to support a cause and if there is an opportunity within the market, there has been change for the better. Society has been demanding these changes and companies have been forced to react or act proactively.

While change may be for the wrong reasons from a consumer perspective, and while it may not be enough to reverse damage already done, there is still an effort to change and any amount counts. Companies further altering consumer behavior and shifting the general thinking will only increase effectiveness. Right now, the easiest way is the small actions and if the only way consumers can act is through company’s socially responsible policies, then consumers are advocating a revolution. I do not care why companies are socially responsible, their actions are the only thing that matters.

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