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四十年,企业社会责任今昔巨变

Laura Vanderkam 2013年06月24日

1973年,《财富》杂志曾经刊登过一篇文章,探讨了当时的企业社会责任观。当时,包括弗里德曼在内,主流观点认为,企业的最大责任在于盈利。但如今,企业已经没有选择,必须切实履行社会责任。同时,实践告诉我们,花在社会责任项目上的钱同样能产生效益。

    企业的职责是什么?赚钱,还是其他什么?

    随着“公益公司”(一类必须对社会产生积极影响的新型公司)的兴起,以及今年4月孟加拉血汗工厂坍塌造成人员伤亡,各界呼吁企业严加管理供应链之后,这个话题引发了热烈的讨论。

    但这个话题并不新鲜。四十年前的6月,也就是1973年的6月刊《财富》(Fortune)杂志就刊登过吉尔伯特•伯克一篇有关“‘企业责任'风险”的文章。一方面,伯克援引米尔顿•弗里德曼的话称,企业的宗旨是实现利润最大化,而不是按他的说法,“用属于别人(即股东)的钱去解决社会问题”。

    弗里德曼曾经说过:“商人没有钱可以花在社会责任上,除非他拥有垄断的权力。任何参与社会责任活动的商人都应立即遭到反垄断诉讼。”

    站在这个巨大鸿沟另一边的是理想主义者们,伯克写到,他们“是自以为道德的极端”。这些倡导者们认为,除了“遵守法律,企业应当积极提倡减少污染的措施,扩大少数人权益,总体上成为模范公民,同时积极承担与模范公民相关的所有成本。

    不过,四十年前的《财富》杂志也曾暗示,或许还有第三种方式;认同社会责任或许不只是意味着花钱。现实世界纷纷扰扰,社会责任能以自己的方式影响在这个世界中经营的企业的盈利状况。四十年后再来看看伯克文章中提到过的一些公司以及企业社会责任的普遍现状,这种观点似乎已经胜出。

    《企业力量和社会责任》(Corporate Power and Social Responsibility)一书的作者、加州大学洛杉矶分校(UCLA)教授内尔•贾克比是第三种方式的早期支持者。“我并不是要求企业光干活,不挣钱,”伯克援引贾克比的话说。“但政治力量就像市场力量一样真实,企业必须对它做出回应。”

    对于旧金山Levi Strauss & Co.面临的选择,伯克就是这样定性的。“许多仰慕这家公司的人也都注意到了,它有3%的税后净利润来自精心挑选的社会责任项目,”伯克写道。但“Levi Strauss显然从这3%中得到了很多。它在一个非常开明的城市经营,市场品味受到年轻人的高度影响。因此,不管公司高管内心信奉什么,他们的社会责任支出看上去是相当有效的公关。”

    四十年后,Levi Strauss的许多企业社会责任项目仍注重涉及旧金山政治的相关事宜。Levi Strauss & Co负责社会和环境可持续发展的副总裁迈克尔•柯博瑞说:“80年代初,我们是第一批认同、推行艾滋病教育和工作场所政策的公司之一。”1991年,“我们是第一家制订全面供应商规范的服装公司,要求合作伙伴达到劳工、环境、卫生和安全相关标准。”

    What businesses owe the world: Then and now

    What is the role of a corporation? To make money, or something else?

    It's a heady debate these days, with the rise of "Benefit Corporations" -- a new class of corporation that requires a positive impact on society -- and calls for companies to police their supply chains in the wake of April's deadly factory collapse in Bangladesh.

    But it's not a new debate. Forty years ago this month, in the June 1973 issue of Fortune, Gilbert Burck wrote about "The Hazards of 'Corporate Responsibility.'" On one side, he quoted Milton Friedman, arguing that the purpose of a business was to maximize profit rather than, in Burck's words, "tackle social problems with money belonging to other people (i.e. their stockholders)."

    As Friedman said, "No businessman has money to spend on social responsibility unless he has monopoly power. Any businessman engaged in social responsibility ought to be immediately slapped with an antitrust suit."

    On the other side of this yawning chasm you had idealists, who "tend to extreme forms of self-righteousness," Burck wrote. In addition to "mere compliance with the law, say the advocates, business should actively initiate measures to abate pollution, to expand minority rights, and in general to be an exemplary citizen, and should cheerfully accept all the costs associated with this good citizenship."

    But perhaps, Fortune hinted, there was a third way; a recognition that things termed social responsibility might not just translate into money out the door. They could impact, in their own way, the bottom line of businesses operating in a real and often messy world. Forty years later, looking at some of the companies mentioned in Burck's piece and the broader state of corporate social responsibility, this view seems to have won out.

    Neil Jacoby, author of Corporate Power and Social Responsibility and a professor at UCLA, was an early proponent of this approach. "I don't really ask companies to do a single thing that isn't profitable," Burck quoted Jacoby. "But political forces are just as real as market forces, and business must respond to them."

    That's how Burck characterized the choices facing Levi Strauss & Co. of San Francisco. "As its many admirers note, the company contributes 3 percent of its net after taxes to carefully chosen social programs," Burck wrote. But "Levi Strauss is obviously getting a lot for that 3 percent. It does business in an intensely liberal city and has a market in which tastes are heavily influenced by young people. And so, whatever its top executives believe in their heart of hearts, their social-responsibility outlays would appear to be rather effective public relations."

    Forty years later, many of Levi Strauss's CSR programs still focus on issues that fit with San Francisco's politics. Michael Kobori, vice president of social and environmental sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co reports, "In the early '80s, we were one of the first companies to acknowledge and address HIV/AIDS education and work-place policies." In 1991, "We were the first apparel company to establish a comprehensive supplier code requiring our business partners to meet standards related to labor, the environment, and health and safety."

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