Some Don't Get It

Alan Murray, assistant managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote a piece last week (September 14, 2005) that began like this: "The last time I wrote skeptically about corporate social responsiblity, I received a curt email from my mother. 'So,' she wrote, 'corporations shouldn't be socially responsible.?"

Having read the article -- which is really about the "terrorist" tactics of an anti-animal testing advocacy group -- I am still on the side of Mr. Murray's mother. Mr. Murray does a good job of demonstrating that if we held NGOs to the same responsibility standard as corporations many would fall far short. But that's not the point, no matter how egregious the behaviour of NGOs. The public, including Mr. Murray's mother, increasingly expect responsible conduct, even if that is vaguely defined. And there is a market for virtue, even though it is still tenuous and limited at the moment. Points of view that shift attention away from encouraging companies to define responsible conduct or virtuous behaviour for their industry and their enterprise only prevent these companies from taking control of an agenda that shouldn't be left in the hands of NGOs driven by ideology rather than true public interest.

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