Social Responsibility: Are Companies Faking It?

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In the past five years a wave of corporate scandals has flooded the American business landscape. From WorldCom to Enron, and from Merck to Martha, corporate ethical failures have been called out and condemned. A recent poll by the nonprofit American Society for Quality (ASQ) shows a strong corporate response to these scandals. Of the 100 business leaders surveyed--primarily from Fortune 500 companies--a large number (96 percent) stated that social responsibility policy is important to the future of the United States. However, the poll also showed that those opinions did not necessarily match the leaders' actions: 40 percent reported that they still have no plans to implement a formal social responsibility policy. Leslie Ament, director of customer intelligence research at the Aberdeen Group, explains this discrepancy: "I see increased resources applied toward communication of social responsibility issues, which is different from applying these resources to taking actions that are socially responsible." Of the 60 percent of respondents who indicated they had already implemented a social responsibility policy, 70 percent did so in 2001 or later, in the wake of the Enron scandal. This indicates a view of social responsibility as a public relations effort, rather than as true change. "The lesson most people have taken away from [Enron] is 'don't get caught,'" Ament says. The ASQ conducted the study in a step toward the development of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Social Responsibility. TAG's mission will be to develop a corporate responsibility standard, to be published in 2008. According to Paul Borawski, executive director of ASQ, "There could not be a more timely opportunity for organizations to join together and make their voices heard about the issue of social responsibility."
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