09 November 2005

Rehabilitation or Change? Remaking the Corporation

Note to readers: It never rains, but it pours, as the cliché goes. So many bloggable items have hit me today, after a while of focusing on other matters. And then there are the items for which there is just too little time... On with the post!

What to do about corporations? There are few among the population who believe that our current corporate form is the best we can do, and many who believe that some of our modern corporations are evil incarnate. The question is, what should be done.

Over the next few years, I am embarking on a serious (as in PhD-serious) study of the emergence of a new corporate form that is consistent with the 21st century, as opposed to being grounded in the 19th century and the Industrial Age. More about that over the coming months. However, an article came to my attention this morning that raises the question of apparent corporate rehabilitation vs. real corporate change in the context of the Washington, D.C.-based Business for Social Responsibility group.

The group was originally founded in the late 1990s by Laury Hammel who
owns a string of health clubs in Boston. Hammel wanted BSR to help business become more socially responsible, but also to engage in the public policy debate. "We were sick and tired of having the Chamber of Commerce being the voice for business," Hammel said. So, he started the group, and brought in such luminaries as Arnold Hiatt, former CEO of Stride Rite.
The idea was to create a body through which the voices of small and medium-sized independent businesses could be heard, and potentially have an influence on policy.

However, the group has been recently taken over by large business interests. The new board has shut down local chapters, and forced out those who are interested in grassroots influence in the process of change for social responsiblity. In particular, any discussion of government regulation, national health care, war and peace, cracking down on criminal activities by corporate executives was to be stricken from the BSR agenda. The reason?
"[Former Levi Strauss vice-president, and now BSR President, Robert] Dunn didn't want anything to do with influencing government policy," Hammel said. "Dunn believed that we would never change the world if we didn't get big corporations behind us. And we would never get them on board if we kept our foot in the public policy arena."
So now, BSR has become yet another lobby group for large business under the imprimateur of social responsiblity. The list of corporate sponsors of BSR's recent conference can be read right from the Fortune 25 list of corporate giants: ExxonMobil, Chevron, AstraZeneca, Walt Disney, Pfizer, General Electric, Altria/Philip Morris, McDonald's, Edison International, Starbucks, Ford Motor Company, Coca-Cola, Abbott Labs, Microsoft, Monsanto, KPMG, Chiquita.

The nominal theme of BSR's new corporate image is "change from within." The actual effect is nominal rehabilitation in order to become more acceptable to a population who tune into the buzzwords of social responsibility, but are generally unable to dig beneath the surface. Here's the real bottom line: Change isn't coming from within, it is coming from without - people without jobs, people without health care, people without a living wage, people without justice and equity, people without privilege, people without local investment, people without blinkers and blinders who can see what is actually being done to both the social environment and the bio-environment, are the ones who will begin to effect the environmental changes that are now possible under UCaPP conditions.

And that certainly is a change.
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1 comment:

Matthieu Croce said...

Interesting post. I'm currently an MBA student very interested in creating an environment of socially responsible business. I'll definitely be checking out your blog.