Corporate Social Responsibility is a tricky one to define. There is no doubt that large companies and corporations can have considerable power within economies and societies and that this is particularly the case if the economy and the society is weak or weakened by a systemic shock. The ethos of CSR is supposed to temper this power by requiring it to be deployed in a ‘socially responsible way’. What that way is of course, is poorly defined. Because of this lack of definition and critical analysis of how corporations should behave in order to fulfil the promise of social responsiblity there is a chance that measures taken under the heading of CSR might be interpreted as nothing more than a carefully managed PR exercise with the objective of enhancing the public perception of a brand which exists in a market that has suffered a seismic economic shock (for example, as a result of a massive financial crisis or natural disaster). Such claims that CSR are employed for good publicity are are open to the charge of bitter cynicism on the part of the person who make such a claim. In common parlance they are often referred to simply as ‘begrudgers’. Name calling, however, has also been identified as a tactic to silence critics of this mis-use of power.
Thankfully we have the libel courts to settle such disputes. But the issue of a poor definition of Corporate Social Responsibility remains. For example, here is one sample from the literature on CRS that is designed to provide guidance for modern corporations.
“Denis O’Brien of Digicel had multiple ways of communicating his CSR program for one important prospective client. He launched the Digicel Foundation in 2004 to build communities and community spirit in the areas in which the company operates. The foundation’s first undertaking was in Jamaica, where it built schools, launched and supported soccer teams, and supported post-hurricane rebuilding efforts. He got a rare opportunity to enter the Nicaraguan market when one day, out of the blue, he received a phone call telling him that he would have ten minutes to make a sales pitch—along with other telecommunications companies—to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.
After many long hours of preparation and research, O’Brien entered the meeting ready with facts and figures about the competitive advantages his company could offer. And just in case he needed a bit of extra ammunition, he came prepared with the story of his mother, who had once taken part in a pro-Ortega demonstration, despite Ortega’s somewhat authoritarian leadership of the country. However, before he had a chance to complete the story of his mother’s rallies in support of the president or launch into the value of the Digicel telecom network, Mr. Ortega interrupted and said, “Listen, I know what you have done for the people and the communities of Jamaica and Haiti. We would be honored to have your company serve not only our mobile telecommunications needs but also the needs of our communities.” A corporate CEO cannot get a better market entrance strategy than that!’
From Just Good Business: The Strategic Guide to Aligning Corporate Responsibility and Brand, by Kellie A. McElhaney”
Yet, the Irish academic and author of Corporate Social Responsibility, A Guide with Irish Experiences (2012 Gill & McMillan) Shiela Killian has another point of view :
“Tax avoidance and tax paid needs to occupy a central role in Corporate Social Responsibility. We, as consumers, need to recognize as responsible those firms which pay their fair share, and denounce as irresponsible those which do not.”
It should be noted that Denis O’Brien has claimed in the high court that he is not a tax exile, and that he is a significant tax payers in Ireland: “Mr O’Brien said that as a shareholder in Esat Digifone, which won the second mobile phone licence in 1995, he received €295m from the subsequent sale of the company to British Telecom in 2000.
In 2012, he agreed he received hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from the Digicel Group but disagreed that because he was now “living in a flat in Malta” that he did not pay any tax on that.
“I pay all my taxes in Ireland. I am a significant taxpayer in Ireland and that was one of the incorrect things (in the Mail article) describing me as a tax exile.”