Canadian Businesses and Social Responsibility

Today, Macleans posted two articles that I found highly interesting. The first was Canada the good?, a look at why Canada is ranked very low on having socially responsible companies. The second article, Top 50 socially responsible corporations, takes a look at companies in Canada who are socially responsible, and what exactly it is that makes them socially responsible.

The companies who made the "Top 50 Socially Responsible Corporations" list have done anything from making their companies more "green" and sustainable, to improving accessibility for minorities, to collecting e-waste so that it doesn't end up in landfills, to helping out their communities better themselves in some way. With a large variety of industries on the list (including financial, food, telecommunications, etc), it's definitely positive to see how some Canadian companies are making a difference socially!

The other article, on the other hand, isn't quite as positive. I was, in fact, quite surprised by the results. I thought Canada was doing better than we apparently are:

A ranking of G7 countries performed for Maclean’s by Jantzi-Sustainalytics shows Canada near the bottom of the list when it comes to large publicly traded companies' performances on corporate social responsibility (CSR) measures that fall under the umbrellas of environmental, social and governance criteria. Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom all scored well ahead of Canada. (Canada the good?)

 

According to this article, while some Canadian companies are doing quite a bit of work in their communities and globally, it's not something that most Canadian companies feel is important enough to make a priority. Unlike other countries, Canada is more sparsely populated, with corporations not being in such close proximity to the general population. Dirk Matten, professor at York University's Schulich School of Business, believes that when the corporations are more closely located to the public, there is more pressure on them to behave responsibly in the community. This could be a very good reason why companies in remote regions – the oil sands industry was mentioned in particular – don't feel as much pressure from their local community to be socially responsible.

I've been considering what this means to us as consumers... is it that we're apathetic, that we don't educate ourselves about companies before purchasing their products or services? Where are these companies in other countries feeling the pressure to become more socially responsible? Is it through the consumers, industry associations, advocacy groups, government, or through what competition is doing? It seems like it's got to be a little bit from all those areas to really motivate companies to go out of their way to do something that wouldn't necessarily improve their business.

I know for myself, I really don't think much about companies corporate responsibilities and such, more than taking a cursory glance. Are their paper cups made from recylced materials? If they tell me a portion of proceeds go to charity, how much actually gets donated? Do they test on animals? After reading this article, it's obvious what I do isn't enough. If, as Matten has suggested, a good portion of what causes companies to become more socially responsible, is due to pressure from the local community, maybe it's time to start paying more attention to how responsible the companies I give my business to actually are. Maybe it's time to consider taking my business to companies that I know actually are doing something to improve their communities, the environment, and all other happy things like that.

So, I'm looking for a bit of input here - do you pay attention to corporate social responsibility when you buy products or services? How do you find out how responsible they are? What sorts of questions do you ask businesses? If you're in Canada, which businesses have you found, other than the ones on the top 50 list, are socially responsible?

 

 

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