CSR and Public – Private partnership: before, we used to call this propaganda, corruption or tender procedures.

This my contribution to the first Aid Blog Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility.

When I look at the different contributions on CSR, the negativity of the academia and practitioners oozes from my screen. For good reason. Who pays the piper calls the tune. And the tune  set by a private partner is seldom purely “needs based”. There will be need for visibility and publicity (CSR is mostly about signallingand branding, Marc Bellemare). The moneyshark will come with his own ideas of what is important and what not (please add at least a micro credit chapter). And you will have to say yes.

What annoys me most is the blurring of the lines. How fast does CSR become single sourcing? How much of what we call CSR can be classified as propaganda, how much are the lines of good procurement procedures blurred by it?

Corporations have an identity, with different concentric circles. In the outer segment, we see branding and marketing. These signal the view of the corporation as they want us to see them. At the core, there is the real identity: cutting corners or maintaining quality even if business is slow. Some companies treat their employees well, some don’t. I could well imagine that CSR fits in the core of a company. When a soccer club sponsors UNICEF, I might believe it is. When a clothing giant campaigns on HIV/AIDS, it looks like marketing to me. It degrades the Cause and puts everything at the service of the bottom line.

Just like developing countries are victim to fickle donors looking for visibility,  CSR campaigns that are aimed to be marketing will sell the soul of their partners, and run off with the next posse.

humanitarian action should act like an insurance including preventive care. It should not depend on the media when aid comes, it should be send when you hit rock bottom. Of course, this kind of assistance acts before children are dying. Very seldom star-based initiatives support flexible funding to UN-bureaucracies. However, this is what we probably need. Prevention is more efficient. Needs based allocation is better than media based allocation. We have standards for servicing the affected populations we can be held accountable to.

Institutional philanthropists and some CSR companies do support such an approach. Most private donors however, don’t. In humanitarian assistance, most CSR seems to follow the flow, and create political incentives against Good humanitarian Donorship. Bono criticized countries for not giving “as much as IKEA” to the Horn of Africa. As far as I know, Ikea does not contribute to the Central Emergency Response Fund.

Somewhere, we must draw the line.
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