US Survey Rocks Established Beliefs on CSR
22 June 2006 at 1:06 pm
A new US opinion survey has found that American consumers have their own views on corporate social responsibility that run counter to established beliefs.
More than environmental stewardship and philanthropy, nearly one in two Americans believe the most important proof of corporate social responsibility is treating employees well.
The survey was commissioned by the National Consumers League and PR firm Fleishman-Hillard International Communications.
The survey found that 76% of consumers agree that to be socially responsible, companies should place employee salary and wage increases above making charitable contributions.
Similarly, the survey found that 76% believe that a company’s treatment of its employees plays a big role in consumer purchasing decisions.
Average Americans feel strongly about buying products from, or working for a company whose values are aligned with their own personal values.
Survey respondents say it’s “extremely” or “very” important to work for (79%), buy products and services from (65%), and socialise with (72%) those who have similar values and principles.
Mal Warwick, chair of the Social Venture Network says the study findings are especially welcome because they demonstrate that the brand of CSR that most corporations favour simply isn’t enough to impress most consumers.
He says these consumer attitudes reflect more closely an approach to social responsibility called the ‘triple bottom line,’ in which people, planet, and profit are balanced.
Warwick says that rather than detract from the traditional bottom line, this approach, requiring policies that actively favour the key stakeholders in a business — its employees, its customers, its suppliers, its community, and its environment, as well as its owners — makes that business more competitive.
While Americans believe that social responsibility is important, only 21% give U.S. corporations top marks for being socially responsible. When asked to rate how companies are performing compared with two to three years ago, only 30% believe that companies are doing a “somewhat better” or “a lot better” job of being socially responsible.
Use of Internet technology is changing the way people learn about and determine which companies are socially responsible, the survey found.
Almost half of the respondents (47%) say they have used the Internet to learn about the extent to which a company is or is not being socially responsible. The survey results also demonstrate that 53% of Americans believe that their own online research is one of the most credible means by which to shape their opinions on deciding whether U.S. companies are being socially responsible.
The research indicates that a new generation of online activists is emerging that cuts across many socioeconomic groups in the arena of corporate social responsibility.
The survey also found a positive relationship between active Internet use and engagement in social responsibility. About two-fifths of those using the Internet have sent e-mail to a company about its products or services (41%) or to an elected state or federal official about an issue (38%).
Americans who frequently use online resources were also more aware of global standards that act as a seal of approval that people can use to validate a company’s social responsibility commitment.
In 2005, Fleishman-Hillard partnered with the National Consumers League (NCL) to conduct the benchmark survey to assess consumer attitudes toward corporate social responsibility, as well as their behaviours regarding CSR.
The survey also tracked the role that media and technology play in informing people about what companies are doing to be socially responsible.
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