An Economist Intelligence Unit report has an intriguing reference to the role of government in corporate (social) responsibility. The report, “Corporate Citizenship: Profiting from a Sustainable Business,” was published in the heady days of the 2008 presidential elections. Here’s some of what it says: “A new U.S. administration means change — not only in Washington, D.C., but also for companies looking to government for guidance in corporate citizenship … A previous Economist Intelligence Unit report found that many U.S. companies would be open to more government regulation. In the survey conducted for this report, companies agree that they would be open to additional regulation, but mostly in traditional areas of corporate citizenship that are viewed in most countries as the government’s domain: health care, energy policy, ethics and worker rights, education and alternative energy sources. And when asked what should be the first priority for the new U.S. administration, the response — perhaps not surprisingly — closely mimicked those areas in which companies would like to see more regulation: 24 percent of survey respondents say that the new administration should make health care its top priority, followed by energy policy (14 percent) and alternative energy sources (11 percent).”
These findings came from the EIU’s online survey of 566 U.S.-based executives in September 2008. The respondents represented a range of functions in education, information technology, other technology, consumer goods, financial services and professional services. “Companies looking to government for guidance.” “Open to more government regulation.” “Traditional areas viewed as the government’s domain.” These statements are hard to digest in the 2012 presidential election season, with Republicans and Democrats lobbing verbal grenades at each other over big government, equated with regulation and the hamstringing of free enterprise. Big business, which contributes enormous sums of money to both parties, sponsored the EIU study. Lead sponsors were Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Qualcomm Inc. and SAS Institute, with additional support from Abbott Laboratories and United Technologies. The EIU ran a disclaimer that the findings did not necessarily reflect the views of those companies. Big business, too — including 3M, Duke Energy Corp., IBM, Procter & Gamble Co. and SC Johnson — participated in the survey.
Fascinated by this linking of corporate citizenship with regulation, I turned to the EIU report “Doing Good: Business and the Sustainability Challenge,” from earlier in 2008. It affirms: “Business leaders are open to more regulation on social and environmental issues. Executives responding to our surveys are often opposed to increased regulation. Not here. Forty percent of those in our survey believe additional regulation is necessary to tackle social and environmental challenges. Another 50 percent say that voluntary action is generally more effective, but that additional regulation may be required in some areas. But this openness to new rules is combined with the desire for clearer guidance about what government expects from business. Only 10 percent of executives in the survey say more regulation in this area is likely to harm economic growth.”
Since then, corporations have seized the CR initiative, having noted its positive impact on customer relations, talent attraction and the bottom line.
In the end, it’s just business.