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NFP's Engaging in the CSR Debate?


15 December 2005 at 12:12 pm
Staff Reporter
Why are discussions on social responsibility and ethics widespread in the for-profit sector but singularly lacking among the Not for Profit sector?

Staff Reporter | 15 December 2005 at 12:12 pm


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NFP's Engaging in the CSR Debate?
15 December 2005 at 12:12 pm

Social sciences expert and commentator Eva Cox asked a key question at the recent CSR Summit in Sydney . Why are discussions on social responsibility and ethics widespread in the for-profit sector but singularly lacking among the Not for Profit sector?

Here is an extract from her discussion:

Maybe it is because these groups feel they are doing good works, there is no need to question whether they do it well and how their stakeholders see them.

There are some good reasons why such issues should be discussed and some appropriate measures be adopted as assuming that only businesses need to be ethically accountable puts NGOs at a disadvantage.

The first argument is that if we want others to be socially responsible, we should be prepared to show we are, and we operate in ways that our stakeholders see as ethical. More than just showing that we can legitimately occupy the high ground, we can hope to demonstrate that there are some differences that exist because of our structure, and there are good reasons for both public funding and donations to continue.

This question may become more salient as governments offer funding on the basis of competitive tenders. If ethical practices can be deemed core skills, and these are shown to be more prevalent in Not for Profits, hopefully these groups could make this a ‘competitive advantage’.

We need to explore possible differences between business models and community models. This does not mean that we reject efficiency but we need to explore effectiveness against multiple bottom lines. Part of this involves understanding what makes people commit themselves, both as paid workers and volunteers, to many of the organisations in this sector. We need to know what happens when some organisations become very large and necessarily bureaucratic. We need to discuss the ways in which differently sized groups relate to each other, and to governments and the effects this may have on local services.

Are we seeing the equivalents of the Walmarts in the community sector, overwhelming local groups?

There are also corporate responsibility questions about funding and advocacy. Do organisations too often second guess governments by becoming tacit supporters of bad programs because they are tied by the levels of funding received? In the light of recent changes like welfare to work, are there programs that ethical organisations should refuse to manage? Is it ethically justifiable to run programs that are inherently unjust, because the organisation can compensate by other means e.g replacing breached incomes through emergency relief? Do relationships with corporate donors lead to toning down protests?

There are many issues of ethics we need to discuss and measure if we are to deserve retaining the trust of the Australian population. If we are prepared to be open for scrutiny and aware of some of the danger spots, our involvement in looking at our own possible problems would both increase our reputation and encourage more creative explorations of futures. We need to do this is ways that are open and suited to our sector, which means some initial thinking and not wholesale acceptance of business models. Let’s start talking ethics!

Eva Cox eva.cox@uts.edu.au .



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