What Occupy Wall Street Means for CSR
by Derek Linsell on 27/10/2011
The Occupy Wall Street movement has officially become a national, if not an international, phenomenon. It has been successful in bringing together thousands of frustrated people, shedding light on the growing number of unhappy Americans who want corporations to exhibit greater responsibility and accountability in their dealings. One of the major criticisms of the protests has been the lack of a concrete list of demands. The protestors have countered that the goal of the protest is simply to warn corporations, and indeed the government, that a large portion – “99 percent” – of the population is disgruntled with the status quo.
Although corporations have little incentive to initiate major reform at this stage, they should not ignore the protests. Consistent with current trends, there will likely be an increase in various Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives by a number of larger companies, including those criticized by the movement. However, the effectiveness of CSR campaigns – especially without meaningful substance – in appeasing the growing masses of angry people remains to be seen.
Short-sighted philanthropic or cause-marketing based initiatives that simply throw money at issues are unlikely to change the minds of Occupy Wall Street sympathizers. While many companies currently engage in CSR programs that aim to create change at a deeper structural level, PR oriented CSR work continues to abound.
If there is one learning to take away from the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that these kinds of empty CSR gestures will no longer suffice. People are demanding more out of their government and out of their companies, and with social media and increased transparency, they will be able to judge the true sincerity of many of these programs. While a large portion of protesters are demanding widespread structural change to our current system, it is probable that they will at least look favorably upon more companies increasing their CSR initiatives in a sincere fashion.
A major complaint of the “99%” is that the people at the top simply do not care about the rest of the population. A company that is serious about CSR and displays initiative and a sincere compassion for the welfare of its operating communities (and society as a whole) will be more likely to fall under the grace of this growing movement. In terms of pure Wall Street style economics, this can only benefit them in the email@example.com