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Public Affairs Insights from the Centre

5 Nov 2008

A crisis for corporate social responsibility?

George Onisiforou

Public affairs practitioners can now visit the UN Global Compact's website to do some serious thinking around the implications of the current global financial crisis.

The world's largest voluntary corporate responsibility initiative released its response to the crisis, requesting public commentary and observations. The Compact acknowledges that the crisis raises urgent questions relating to corporate responsibility, including one that suggests that there may be serious impacts on the current work of CSR or sustainability practitioners:

Will companies still invest in corporate responsibility during an economic downturn?

In other words, as companies re-order their priorities and potentially restructure their organisations, will they place less importance in the CSR initiatives they currently support?

Many practitioners may fear that this will be true. But what might appear to be a negative outlook can actually provide an opportunity to highlight the importance and need for corporate responsibility in tough times.

Several authorities and prominent politicians have rushed to support this position. They advocate that, in fact, the crisis makes the business case for corporate responsibility even clearer.

As the UN Global Compact notes, corporate responsibility can guide and assist companies trying to restore consumer trust to their market. In addition, commitment to corporate responsibility can differentiate a company from its competitors and produce demand for its services or products.

It will be interesting to see how companies will react to this premise, and the effect that their choices will have on their own sustainability, not only during the crisis but further into the future. Stay tuned.

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