Corporate responsibility? Not living off taxpayers

Corporate social responsibility is the term that encompasses all of the activity a for-profit (and sometimes nonprofits, such as SeHealth) company accomplishes to be a good citizen, often globally. Nowadays, the public, and customers, expect companies to sponsor charitable events, help educate their employees, and be environmental stewards.

Locally, McDonald’s employs a corporate chaplain to provide emotional and spiritual assistance to employees. Lumbee Guaranty Bank introduces financial literacy in local schools and offers scholarships. Greenstate Landscaping is looking into employing prisoners to provide them with job skills.

In university business schools, we teach CSR and how companies should not measure only the “bottom” line, but perhaps, the “triple” bottom line of financial, social, and environmental outcomes. An interesting unanswered question is how much social responsibility any company has. Businesses act responsibly when they minimize waste in their production or packaging. They also spend some of their income on community scholarships or food drives.

To me, it is interesting that most CSR activity focuses on relatively less significant activities, such as not offering patrons straws or sponsoring a 5K running race. Many companies that make these decisions, though, see little or no responsibility for the basic funding of their businesses. The most recent example, of course, is Amazon. Amazon advertises the $2 million it donates to the Right Now Needs Fund, yet it held a national competition largely to see which location would offer the most financial incentives for its HQ2. New York offered a package worth nearly $3 billion in subsidies. Although I disagree completely with the politics that resulted in Amazon withdrawing from Long Island City, close readers of this column will remember that I recommended that Amazon come to Robeson County, building something here rather than reaping the harvest others sowed in developing Long Island City.

Shouldn’t the first and foremost responsibility of society for any company be to finance its own operations? I don’t understand how any company could be considered socially responsible when it is taking more from taxpayers than it is contributing in CSR. Amazon is not an exception, though. You may recall that North Carolina offered the Dell Corporation about $260 million to locate in this state, and closed its operations here less than five years after these incentives were offered.

Corporations are asked to take pledges on a regular basis. My challenge to companies is to make a pledge that they will not call upon the taxpayers to fund their operations. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a role for the taxpayer to help retrofit an abandoned factory along Interstate 95 for reuse, but that companies should not ask for incentives in order to create jobs, for example, in a community. Are there any corporations or business owners out there willing to take such a pledge?

Eric Dent, a former professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, now teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University.

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