Consumers demand corporate social responsibility

Is corporate social responsibility all about marketing as C. B. Bhattacharya wrote in 2009 or is there more to it? A new survey indicates consumers increasingly want organisations to play a role in solving societal issues.

When C. B. Bhattacharya wrote an article for Forbes with the thought-provoking title “Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s All About Marketing“, he didn’t want to be cynical. He wanted to share his views on how it works best.

Today, it seems people play an active role in giving direction to corporate social responsibility. It’s the impact of the arrival of the connected and empowered consumer.

IDC’s “What’s on the mind of the CIO” report, that looked into the priorities of Dutch CIOs, showed some societal issues are back on the corporate agenda, obviously with sustainability, ecology and (thus) reducing the carbon footprint leading the way when it comes down to ICT.

Edwin Hageman, CEO BT Benelux

Edwin Hageman, CEO BT Benelux

However, corporate social responsibility activities as BT Benelux CEO Edwin Hageman recently reported about them here, are about much more than marketing. They fulfil a real need in a modern world where organisations can make a difference but most of all are asked to make a difference.

The strengthening voice of the empowered consumer has found its way in corporate social responsibility as well.

How else can we interpret the findings in the 2011 Cone/Echo Global CR Opportunity Study, in which literally ten thousand consumers in major countries worldwide demand “a higher level of responsibility by companies in dealing with societal issues”?

Corporate social responsibility is not an option

The research indicates “81% of consumers say companies have a responsibility to address key social and environmental issues beyond their local communities.” Furthermore, 93% of respondents say, “companies must go beyond legal compliance to operate responsibly.”

Corporate social responsibility is not a separate activity that resides in a marketing context, on the contrary: 94% of respondents say, “companies must analyze and evolve their business practices to make their impact as positive as possible”. Or in other words: it’s not about promises. It’s about actual deeds.

Michael Lawrence - Chief Reputation Officer at Cone

Michael Lawrence – Chief Reputation Officer at Cone

Cone’s Michael Lawrence was surprised by the results. As he says in the press release“we expected consumer interest in corporate responsibility in these markets, but we got a groundswell.”

The research, that was conducted in the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, China, India and Japan (together they account for around half of the world’s population), does indeed clearly show what consumers expect from businesses nowadays in a way we have never witnessed before.

Corporate social responsibility has an impact on both consumer attitudes and actions

One could argue that it’s everyone’s role to contribute to solve societal issues, consumers included. The interesting thing is that people want to participate and 94% (!) of surveyed consumers say they “are likely to switch brands to one that supports a cause if both brands are similar in price and quality”.

The other way around, they will investigate, punish and even boycot businesses, which act in an irresponsible way.

The main areas where people want businesses to make a societal difference concern economic development and environment. However, they’re far from the only ones with hunger, poverty, disease and education following closely.

The proof that people want businesses to act in a responsible way instead of just talking about corporate social responsibility, is clear in the ways they want businesses to adapt the way they operate.

It’s an interesting report with a clear message to business leaders.

You can check out more data here, where you can also download the results (the charts, overviews per country and expert opinions are certainly worthwhile).

Share your thoughts by commenting below or joining the conversation in the BT Let’s Talk LinkedIn Group.


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