Social Responsibility or Common Sense?

By | August 15, 2013

By Chuck Sink

This article may start out sounding like a sermon but it is more of an observation.

Hire the best suited people you can find for the various roles in your organization. Pay fair and equitable wages for work performed. Provide the best possible training and working conditions for your employees. Be sensitive to individual employees’ needs and unique backgrounds. Be sure to reward achievement and praise your team often. Freely give some of your profits to the community and the charities you choose to support.

Conserve resources and open spaces for future generations to enjoy. Strive to continually improve the efficiency of your operation. Make smart, economical use of recycled products and innovations in efficiency. Reduce consumption and waste. Clean up after yourself. Carry in, carry out. Leave each place better than you found it.

All of the above are rules of common decency. These are good habits that when practiced have always paid dividends in the short run and the long run.

Conventional wisdom today seems to convey that private business enterprise is inherently bad and its management greedy unless it conforms to a proclaimed standard of “socially responsible” behavior. Consider these key points from a leading socially responsible business advocacy website:

  • Businesses can do well while doing good.
  • Social responsibility begins locally, with each of us.
  • Businesses can be financially successful while bringing out the best in the human spirit, enriching the community and being respectful of the natural environment.

Most successful businesses have already been doing these things for a long time!

The underlying assumption is that these are newly enlightened positions; to do well financially, one previously had to shun these ideas or not care about people or the environment. Can you point to any business in America that has done well by doing bad, being an offensive neighbor, oppressing workers or destroying the environment? If there were such companies, they have long since cleaned up their acts or justifiably gone out of business, rejected by the marketplace.

There are a few major US firms that promote wonderful, sustainability and socially responsible practices here at home but have most of their manufacturing operations in countries with little or no environmental regulations so they can avoid compliance with ours; where workers are paid only a fraction of a fair wage. Are these companies having their cake and eating it too? You be the judge.

I love the convenience of K-Cups for brewing my coffee. Isn’t it ironic that millions (maybe billions now) of those little plastic containers have massively added solid waste to the environment while the company that designed and produces them will have you believe they are singlehandedly saving the planet? Please don’t get me wrong. I’m very brand loyal to that company because they make an excellent product. I don’t personally believe the extra plastic is going to destroy the environment. Obviously, neither do they.

Free markets always correct themselves – they must!

Free market forces include movements by disturbed customers and concerned citizens. It can be a wonderful thing. In an ethical and free society, people won’t tolerate business practices that abuse and pillage workers and resources. They will respond by taking their business elsewhere or demanding punitive responses. Government mandates only make matters more complex, confusing and ultimately worse, especially for small business. Just look at the healthcare debacle.

If you haven’t noticed, American business, especially small business, is heavily taxed and regulated. It’s getting much harder to thrive economically in this formerly business-friendly nation. We should pause to think long and hard before we place even more mandates on businesses to be “socially responsible.” The motivation should come from the head and the heart. Beware the violators. We, the marketplace, are watching!

Look around the country. Witness the vast open spaces, shining cityscapes, suburbs, parks and even strip malls (except in Detroit). Perhaps you’ll notice as I do that in spite of the comparatively high consumption levels in America, we have a clean and beautiful place to call home. There are many millions of good reasons to keep it that way and each one has a name and a tender face.

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