According to the United Nations, “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.” The obvious result is to benefit the business and society at large. We know from proxy statements that large corporations have stockpiled nearly $60 billion dollars from 2007 to 2011 and that many have used independently created non-profit organizations to invest nearly unrestricted amounts of money in local, state, and national elections and other causes. How far does the CSR extend toward assisting the poor especially the extreme poor? We know corporations have the ability to help the extreme poor. But should they? Is there a moral imperative that can be invoked?
Many corporations diligently support their local charities. These are typically non-religious organizations like the Boys Clubs, United Way, the Red Cross, or those under the auspices of the United Nations like UNICEF. These organizations reach millions of people in need and help make their lives more comfortable. That’s a very good thing. But is the corporate responsibility to write a check or is there more? What more can be done for the marginalized, and forgotten poor especially those in our region? They typically can’t vote, are not consumers of products, and are in poor health. They are vulnerable to all the negative forces in our society. They can and need to be found and helped as citizens of our country.
Member businesses of the Caux Roundtable provide some of the moral imperative needed to go beyond the letter of the law. Two of their principles are: a responsible business contributes to the economic, social and environmental development of the communities in which it operates, in order to sustain its essential ‘operating’ capital — financial, social, environmental; and provide all forms of goodwill, and collaborate with community initiatives seeking to raise standards of health, education, workplace safety and economic well-being.
Corporations in the US with high marks for good corporate citizenship are Microsoft, Google, Xerox, Starbucks, and Disney. Most of their initiatives center on green energy and sustainable environments. Dan Bross, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs, says “Our citizenship mission is to serve the needs of communities around the world and to fulfill our responsibilities to the public. This has been part of our DNA for the past 30-plus years.” Most businesses will rightly put their business objectives as their number one priority.
Statistics are hard to find for the extreme poor. In the US, the percent of people living in poverty rose to 12 percent in the last census. In New Hampshire, the number of people living in poverty jumped 1.3 percent from 2000 to 2010. In the US the number of children under 18 who are poor in 2013 was 22 percent, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. This does not include the extreme poor who are homeless and under the reach of the Census Bureau. Even a small percentage of the poor who are in extreme need can mean thousands of people. What are large companies and corporations with charitable giving programs doing directly for them? Are there non-profit arms of local corporations dedicated to reaching the extreme poor and bringing them back to a productive life? Most of the giving goes indirectly to the extreme poor. If you know of any programs, let me know.
Yes, our corporate neighbors are supporting local charities for disabled veterans, the visible homeless, the jobless, and a host of charities that try to prevent the adverse situations people find themselves in from getting worse. How much time and energy needs to be invested to reach the marginalized members of our communities?
The easy answers are to say “We don’t have any people that poor;” or “The charities will take good care of them.” Most non-profit charities are stretched to a dangerous limit. They need a massive infusion of funds so they can focus more resources on the extreme poor. We know that the extreme poor exist worldwide. We have images of refugees from war torn Syria, and Iraq fleeing to Europe. They leave with very little and have a lot of hope. They may be the lucky ones.
In the US, some are legal immigrants who find our culture more than they expected and hard to adjust to. How many have given up on ever returning to society and a productive life? Before they can return, they need to eat, have a bed to sleep on, return to their medications, and they need a program of re-entry to society and the workforce. They have limited to no access to these services.
Do such programs exist? State programs have been cut back in recent years. Perhaps the religious affiliated charities may have such a program. If so their resources are strained dealing with their current consumers.
Imagine the vast resources of a major corporation providing the services directly to the extreme poor by expanding the staffs of our local charities to find them, feed them, provide beds, and above all counseling and job training. That would be an interesting merger or acquisition. It won’t make a profit until those who were served return with their success stories and donations for the many blessings they received. It is worth the expenditures for just a few thousand in New Hampshire. The benefits to society and the economy are countless when considered across the country.
The homeless have resources to take them in and provide food, clothing, and shelter plus some job training. This last idea is the beginning of self sufficiency. I would think corporations would be interested in providing some relevant training for the extreme poor so they can become part of the workforce again.
Are they obligated to do this? The answer is no’ it’s not part of what our shareholders are looking for. How do we get started? We provide a name for the program. Fight Poverty, or End Needless Suffering or Operation Restore Hope or Children Deserve More are a few candidates.
Think of the children of single and extremely poor parents. What a start on their journey to greater participation in society that would be to address their needs. Their parents typically have no money, and have limited food, live in cars on meager savings and odd jobs. Save the Children, the leader in helping the indigent worldwide reached 52 million indigent children directly last year.
So in summary, what’s Corporate America’s responsibility for the extreme poor around the USA and even the world? Can CSR expand to include the extreme poor? Here are some ideas to start the discussion. First find a champion among the large corporations. Draw on the charitable spirit of their employees and make them available for short sabbaticals. Have a task force that identifies the extreme poor in large communities. Work side by side with established charities to identify their needs. Establish well funded programs to provide the basics; teach them the appropriate amenities to prepare them for re-entry; and train them for jobs that provide an income and opportunities to grow. Coach them through any issues that would prevent them from falling back into extreme poverty.
It takes a large infusion of capital at the state and local level to provide for this initiative’s long term success. Corporations with this line item in their budgets can do it. Call it Operation Restoring Hope. Let it begin in the US and spread throughout the world. Abraham Lincoln said it best: “It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.”
It’s my personal hope that extremely poor veterans of our recent wars are found and returned to a peaceful and productive life.
Bob Vecchiotti is a business advisor and executive coach in Peterborough. His website is www.leadershipexpert.com.