Is it possible that corporate social responsibility, one of the most popular trends in modern business, is an irresponsible goal for any profit-driven organization to pursue? Is the pursuit of the triple-bottom-line (people, planet, profit) contrary to the value that corporations provide for society? Ann Bernstein, the leader of the Centre for Development and Enterprise in South Africa argued in her new book that it is more valuable for companies to focus solely on profit while leaving people and planet to fend for themselves, especially in developing nations.
Bernstein argues that it is so expensive to meet government regulations on environmental and ethical standards that it is limiting the number of employers doing business in developing regions. Rather than pressuring existing employers to treat workers better, she would urge governments to loosen restrictions on them so that more businesses are able to come in and provide jobs for struggling citizens. She believes that corporations are at their best when they focus directly on earning money and let other side benefits take care of themselves.
Opponents of her philosophy would argue that established standards for human rights, the environment, community involvement, and other societal issues should be a requirement for businesses anywhere. Mandating minimum levels of social responsibility would allow businesses to maintain competitiveness in their industry while still acting as good stewards of their community and the world. If every business was expected to abide by the same rules, it would not put socially responsible organizations at a competitive disadvantage.
If corporations ignore the needs of humans and Earth, who will be left to clean up after them? It seems that increasing jobs for the poor while letting their habitat be destroyed is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. If we do not restrain corporations from destroying our planet, we are giving them no other choice but to do so. Corporations may exist for the purpose of earning a profit, but governments and shareholders are here to balance those pursuits with the best interests of society.
A society where the same amount of effort is placed on improving the lives of people and securing the well-being of the planet as making money for shareholders would not be such a bad place to live. There is no question that developing countries need businesses to hire workers and pay them reasonable wages, but while they have an opportunity to create a framework for responsible business practices they should not rush to suppress it.