“The hacking scandal has shown some of the awful consequences of the powerful shirking their responsibility… in the space of just a few years, we have now seen three major crises in British public life among people and institutions that wield massive power.
“First the banks. Then MPs’ expenses. And now in our press…
“All are about the irresponsibility of the powerful. People who believed they were untouchable. This issue of responsibility is one which must be tackled throughout British society.”
Last year, on the back of the Google/China row over censorship and the consumer anger against the banking crisis, corporate bonus culture and MPs’ expenses scandal, I questioned what this all meant for corporate social responsibility (CSR), highlighting that if companies weren’t “being good” (inherently responsible) then “doing good” (being seen to ‘do’ good deeds/responsible activities) ultimately meant very little.
As the furore around the phone-hacking scandal rages – with new twists and turns and tales of corporate wrong-doing emerging on a daily basis – it’s clear that this applies now more than ever.
As I wrote previously, I felt there were two key factors that played a crucial role in consumer and corporate relations/social responsibility, and I believe these still hold true today:
i) The need for businesses to act as “corporate citizens” was, and is, vital – working for the interests of what is ‘social’ (for the benefit of all of us) as opposed to ‘anti-social’ (for the benefit of individuals… or those of corporate shareholders). How companies conduct their business, internally and externally, is under increasing (public) scrutiny – and companies that don’t take into account consumer opinion and feeling are being challenged and will ultimately face a fight for survival.
ii) The shift to social media is significant, as consumers have the ability to take away control from a previously dominant traditional media and tear down the boundaries between press and public. Consumers now have the opportunity – and are increasingly using it – to shout out about any socially irresponsible corporate behaviour and demand those involved take action. This infographic from The Guardian shows how Twitter reacted to the decision to close the News of the World.
“The arrival of the internet was key in an earlier step change in CSR’s evolution by suddenly making available additional information about corporate activity to those who went looking for it. Social media is providing another step change for CSR as this information is now being pushed at everybody online, every minute of the day”.
As is shown by the summoning of Rebekah Brooks and James and Rupert Murdoch to face today’s culture select committee, people are being held accountable, and one thing is clear: those not demonstrating responsibility are ultimately deemed to be irresponsible, and we, the public, have the power to ensure that things change. And do so for the better.