The Pretenders: Revealing the Intentions Behind Corporate Social Responsibility

The director of a corporate foundation said, it would be “naïve” to expect “profit-oriented entities” such as businesses to do charitable work in secrecy. “Only saints do their work anonymously and only saints do not have cost-benefit ratios.” Companies spend huge sums of money on grandiose, often tearjerkers of advertisements, principally aimed at publicizing its efforts in society so that with improved company image, it would make more money in the long run.

Philippine Collegian
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 27, August 12-18, 2007

At the onset of the 1996 World Cup, a scandal rocked the corporate world when it was discovered that the Nike balls that would be used in the sporting event were hand-stitched by children in appalling conditions in impoverished villages in Pakistan for less than a dollar a day. The expose which came out in Life Magazine came with a striking photograph of a 12-year-old boy surrounded by pieces of a Nike soccer ball which he would sew for the rest of the day for 60 cents.

Activists across the world warned, if you go to a shop to buy your child a new soccer ball, there is a very good possibility that the ball has been made by someone his age, or even younger.

In an effort to appease the global uproar that followed the revelation, Nike built schools in the villages where these sweatshops were found, sent the child workers to school, and taught the women in the villages, mostly the children’s mothers, to stitch the balls instead.

In a talk in a recently held expo, John Winkett, Deputy Executive Director of Charities Aid Foundation Australia, a group that manages charities, lauded this move and called it a “win-win situation for Nike.” Scandals such as these, he asserted, are but triggers for companies.

In addition, they present good opportunities to reexamine their values and “stimulate internal discussion about threats and opportunities.”

For others, however, these events exposed the real character behind the highly glorified phenomenon that is corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The Malampaya case

According to Winkett, CSR refers to a range of practices that a business might adopt to ensure that it operates in a manner that meets and exceeds the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that society has for business. This, he said, is grounded on the belief that businesses do not exist in isolation from the rest of society.

Meanwhile, a similar “trigger” occurred in the Philippines three years later. In 1999, Shell Philippines began the construction of its Malampaya Gas-to-Power plant in Palawan. Bound to supply the country with 2,700 megawatts of electric power for over 20 years, the project entailed the construction of a 500-kilometer pipeline from Malampaya to an onshore plant in Tabangao, Batangas. From the shores of Palawan, the pipeline traverses South China Sea to Southern Luzon cutting across the Mindoro Island.

When the construction reached Calapan City, in the province of Mindoro Oriental, the project threatened the livelihood of families living in 70 to 80 barangays (villages) whose only source of living was fishing.

Akin to the strategies initiated by Nike, the incident gave birth to projects geared to remedy the harm it caused in the first place. The affected fishing communities were taught “coastal resource management,” locals were trained to become “entrepreneurs,” and fishing households were trained to “generate alternative sources of income.” Specifically, the women and youth of Calapan City were trained in garment livelihood projects and the fisherfolk were taught hog-raising.

While seemingly laudable, the steps which Shell undertook to rectify the injurious outcome of its actions—providing the fisherfolk other forms of livelihood —have brought unnecessary disruption to their lives and ultimately forced them to do something else apart from what they were accustomed to.

The real score

Experts on the field, for their part, do not deny that CSR is essentially a business move and an investment. In fact, Dr. Victoria Jardiolin, College Secretary of the UP College of Business Administration and coordinator of its Civic Welfare Training Service program called “Paying It Forward,” enumerated three reasons why companies do CSR. Chief of these is creating a favorable image for the corporation, the brand, and the owner, which will hopefully translate to goodwill, sales, and, therefore, profit. In addition to this, CSR projects also reduce the tax burden of companies.

Finally, they are borne out of a genuine desire of companies to partake in national development.

In the words of Natalie Jorge, director of a corporate foundation, “why settle for something that does little more than make money when you can create something that makes a lasting contribution? In the end, those who make a lasting contribution make more money in the long run.”

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