“There once was a time when government and non-profits were thought of as the primary institutions to bring positive change to society. But in today’s climate, consumers expect businesses to wade into political issues of the day that do not have a direct impact on the bottom-line. This is a tricky area to navigate for companies who are balancing doing/saying the right thing and ensuring favorable opinion among customers, employees, and policymakers.” – Cheril Clarke, How Public Policy Affects Corporate Communications (plus tips to help you navigate the intersection)
Name the biggest social issue facing businesses today. Perhaps you said protecting the environment, safe workplace practices, preventing child labor, or the Black Lives Matter movement. The fact is, there are numerous social responsibility issues in today’s business world. Each company must identify the concerns that are relevant to its operations, based on the priorities of managers and staff, as well as issues that your customer base is concerned with and the communities in which your business operates. Awareness of these priorities is the first step in addressing social issues in business management.
It’s very challenging for corporations to have a voice on civic and social issues and not be considered “marketing.” However, companies should ensure that they are good corporate citizens by providing for a diverse workforce, by treating its workers with respect and with a pay that would allow them to live a respectable life. It’s not what corporations say — it’s what they do and how they treat their own.
Businesses face the challenge of having to make profits and being socially responsible at the same time. While the two concepts don’t cancel each other out, business owners too often must choose between being responsible community citizens and making ends meet. Large corporations that are accountable to shareholders and sole proprietorships alike consistently make difficult choices that come with varying consequences.
This year, as in recent years, chief executives will certainly be wading into politics. The public all but expects companies to take a stand: In a recent report, PR firm Weber Shandwick found that nearly half of Americans think CEOs can influence policy with their activism, while 77% believe CEOs should speak out when their company values are threatened. About 46% said they would be more inclined to buy from a company whose CEO is vocal on social issues they care about.
People expect businesses to approach social responsibility in a way that makes sense for their brand. Additionally, a business’s commitment to corporate social responsibility can influence people’s buying decisions. One study surveyed 420 consumers in the U.S. to learn which issues they expect businesses to support and on which they prefer businesses to stay silent. It found that people expect businesses to demonstrate corporate social responsibility by speaking up on social issues relating to:
- The environment
- Human rights
Businesses need to be cautious about how speaking up on social issues can alienate consumers. Most people say businesses should support movements related to the environment (89%), human rights (80%), gender (74%), and to a lesser extent, politics (56%). Environmental and human rights issues are universal concerns, so people expect businesses to support them.
Businesses that speak out on human rights or the environment are least likely to cause controversy, but these issues still tend to be politicized in society, making controversy difficult to avoid. Some brands determine that the benefits of taking a stance on social issues outweigh the risks, especially if the issue aligns with their identity and values.
Companies should consider their branding and public relations strategies before taking a stance on a social issue. It’s important to make sure the issue in question aligns with their brand identity and long-term public relations goals.
Recognizing social responsibility issues in business has led many firms to adopt corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and practices. Some companies focus on specific issues such as climate change, while others embrace a more comprehensive approach that seeks to minimize undesirable societal impacts across the board. For example, companies may choose to utilize wind and solar power as an alternative to fossil fuels as a means of lowering their carbon footprint. Firms may require suppliers to document working conditions at their facilities and may even actively conduct site audits to ensure compliance with local laws as well as with corporate policies.
A desire to do good is an important first step. Following up with clear, corporate policies regarding social issues and programs to actively document changes at your facilities, as well as in your supply chain, can help ensure that your company’s good intentions are translated into effective actions that can help lead to a cleaner, safer world.