What makes a company be admired or perceived as socially responsible? Such a company meets its obligations to its stakeholders. Stakeholders are the individuals or groups to whom a business has a responsibility. The stakeholders of a business are its employees, its customers, the general public, and its investors.
Responsibility to Employees
An organization’s first responsibility is to provide a job to employees. Keeping people employed and letting them have time to enjoy the fruits of their labour is the finest thing business can do for society. Beyond this fundamental responsibility, employers must provide a clean, safe working environment that is free from all forms of discrimination. Companies should also strive to provide job security whenever possible.
Enlightened firms are also empowering employees to make decisions on their own and suggest solutions to company problems. Empowerment contributes to an employee’s self-worth, which, in turn, increases productivity and reduces absenteeism.
The Globe and Mail has compiled a list of Canada’s best employers for 2023 in organizations of over 1,000 people. Topping the list is Cisco, an Information Technology/Software company. Interestingly, six of the top ten were all in the IT category (in order these include Salesforce, Intuit, NVIDIA, SAP and CGI). Admiral Insurance was ranked second, followed by two professional services/consulting companies, Slalom (#6) and Deloitte (#9). Ranked in the number ten spot was DHL, a transportation company. What makes these companies so great to work for? Cisco, for example has a Caregiving Concierge that assists employees and their families with emotional, financial, legal, housing and in-home support. Admiral Insurance offers employees two-year interest free Life Event loans of up to $3,000 for significant incidents like assisting family members who are ill, moving, escaping domestic violence or happy events such as a wedding. Other organizations offer benefits such as recharge days, opportunities to do volunteer work on company time, exceptional mental health benefits, flexible work arrangements, etc. (Canada’s Best Workplaces Report, 2023)
Responsibility to Customers
To be successful in today’s business environment, a company must satisfy its customers. A firm must deliver what it promises, as well as be honest and forthright in everyday interactions with customers, suppliers, and others. Recent research suggests that many consumers, particularly millennials, prefer to do business with companies and brands that communicate socially responsible messages, utilize sustainable manufacturing processes, and practice ethical business standards (Landrum, 2017).
Responsibility to Society
A business must also be responsible to society. A business provides a community with jobs, goods, and services. It also pays taxes that go to support schools, hospitals, and better roads. Some companies have taken an additional step to demonstrate their commitment to stakeholders and society as a whole by becoming Certified Benefit Corporations, or B Corps for short. Verified by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization, B Corps meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability and strive to use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems via an impact assessment that rates each company on a possible score of 200 points. To become certified as a Benefit Corporation, companies need to reach a score of at least 80 and must be recertified every two years. There are more than 2,000 companies worldwide that have been certified as B Corps, including Method, W.S. Badger Company, Fishpeople Seafood, LEAP Organics, New Belgium Brewing Company, Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery Co-op, Comet Skateboards, Etsy, Patagonia, Plum Organics, and Warby Parker (B Corporation, n.d.; Kim, et al., 2016). View the list of almost 300 Canadian B Corps.
Business is also responsible for protecting and improving the world’s fragile environment. The world’s forests are being destroyed fast. Every second, an area the size of a football field is laid bare. Plant and animal species are becoming extinct at the rate of 17 per hour. A continent-size hole is opening up in the earth’s protective ozone shield. Each year we throw out 80 percent more refuse than we did in 1960; as a result, more than half of the nation’s landfills are filled to capacity.
To slow the erosion of the world’s natural resources, many companies have become more environmentally responsible. For example, Toyota now uses renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and water power for electricity to run its facilities. When its new $1 billion North American headquarters opened in Plano, Texas, in May 2017, Toyota said the 2.1 million square-foot campus would eventually be powered by 100% clean energy, helping the auto giant move closer to its goal of eliminating carbon emissions in all of its operations (May, 2017; Hardcastle, 2016).
This Fish Story Has a Tasting Ending
Duncan Berry has always been an environmentalist at heart. Brought up on the Oregon coast, he was a sea captain at an early age, spending nearly two decades on the ocean before going on to become a successful entrepreneur in the organic cotton industry. After selling the textile business at the age of 50, he retired back to the Oregon coast to work on a state initiative to preserve marine habitats.
He quickly discovered that the state’s commercial fishing industry had gone into major disrepair since his seafaring adventure years earlier. Berry learned the majority of seafood consumed in the United States was being imported from other countries and more than 90 percent of U.S. seafood was being exported. In addition, great harm was being done to the ocean because it was being overfished.
Although several groups were already working to improve the commercial fishing industry, he observed that one key group was not part of the discussion: consumers. Berry decided a key component of change had to be involving consumers in the process. He spent more than a year meeting with everyone involved in the Oregon fishing industry—from fishermen to processors, distributors, truck drivers, chefs, and consumers—to gain perspective on why the industry was failing. His “aha” moment occurred when he realized the majority of fish is consumed in restaurants because consumers think preparing fish at home is too difficult and time-consuming. That’s when he co-founded Fishpeople Seafood.
Started in 2012, Fishpeople has a mission of changing the way people think about seafood by being transparent about where the seafood comes from, how it is processed, and how it is handled. Berry believes the company’s transparency helps consumers understand how the process translates into sustainable food that tastes good and is good for you. The company makes shelf-stable, ready-to-eat restaurant-quality seafood in the form of soups, meal kits, and fresh and frozen filets, complete with farm-to-table ingredients. On every package there is a code consumers can enter at the company’s website that will tell them everything about the seafood’s origin, down to the fisherman who caught it. Fishpeople also operates a processing plant in Toledo, Oregon, where workers are paid a livable wage and receive health insurance—benefits typically unheard of in the fishing industry.
Fishpeople’s products are available in more than 5,000 stores nationwide, including Walmart, Whole Foods, Costco, Kroger, and other grocery stores and markets. Recently the company announced a merger with Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, which will help further the two groups’ shared vision of supporting local fishermen and providing sustainable seafood to consumers.
Questions for Discussion
- How does Fishpeople’s transparency contribute to the company’s success?
- What responsibility, if any, does Fishpeople have to the local fishing industry?
(Buchanan, 2017; Crawford, 2017; David Santen Jr., n.d.; Fishpeople, n.d.; Tillamook Country Pioneer, 2017)
Companies also display their social responsibility through corporate philanthropy. Corporate philanthropy includes cash contributions, donations of equipment and products, and support for the volunteer efforts of company employees. For example, American Express is a major supporter of the American Red Cross. The organization relies almost entirely on charitable gifts to carry out its programs and services, which include disaster relief, armed-forces emergency relief, blood and tissue services, and health and safety services. The funds provided by American Express have enabled the Red Cross to deliver humanitarian relief to victims of numerous disasters around the world (American Express Company, 2016-2017). When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Bayer sent 45,000 diabetes blood glucose monitors to the relief effort. Within weeks of the disaster, Abbott, Alcoa, Dell, Disney, Intel, UPS, Walgreens, Walmart, and others contributed more than $550 million for disaster relief (Scott, 2017; Jones, 2005).
Responsibilities to Investors
Companies’ relationships with investors also entail social responsibility. Although a company’s economic responsibility to make a profit might seem to be its main obligation to its shareholders, some investors increasingly are putting more emphasis on other aspects of social responsibility.
Some investors are limiting their investments to securities (e.g., stocks and bonds) that coincide with their beliefs about ethical and social responsibility. This is called social investing. For example, a social investment fund might eliminate from consideration the securities of all companies that make tobacco products or liquor, manufacture weapons, or have a history of being environmentally irresponsible. Not all social investment strategies are alike. Some ethical mutual funds will not invest in government securities because they help to fund the military; others freely buy government securities, with managers noting that federal funds also support the arts and pay for AIDS research. Today, assets invested using socially responsible strategies total more than $7 trillion (Huang, 2017).
Perhaps partly as the result of the global recession of 2007–2009, over the last several years companies have tried to meet responsibilities to their investors as well as to their other stakeholders. Recent research suggests that now more than ever, CEOs are being held to higher standards by boards of directors, investors, governments, media, and even employees when it comes to corporate accountability and ethical behaviour. A recent global study by PwC reveals that over the last several years, there has been a large increase in the number of CEOs being forced out due to some sort of ethical lapse in their organizations. Strategies to prevent such missteps should include establishing a culture of integrity to prevent anyone from breaking the rules, making sure company goals and metrics do not create undue pressure on employees to cut corners, and implementing effective processes and controls to minimize the opportunity for unethical behaviour (Karlsson, et al., 2017; Bianchi & Mohliver, 2017).