Buzzword of the Week: Corporate Social Responsibility
The Economist and New Republic report on the effort to make companies good global citizens.
Updated Friday, Jan. 21, 2005, at 4:37 PM
Economist, Jan. 20
One piece in the magazine's special report on corporate social responsibility (the buzzword coined to encourage corporations to be "charitably minded" and "socially responsible") analyzes the perspective of legal scholar Joel Bakan, who argues that pure business profit will always be disconnected from any public benefit. "Unless it is checked either by CSR or (as Mr. Bakan would prefer, if only as a first step) by double-strength government regulation, private enterprise makes losers of everyone but itself." … Another piece argues that there is an important distinction between "greed" and "self-interest." Contrary to what CSR advocates might say, corporations acting in self-interest do not harm the public good as long as they operate in a competitive marketplace and one in which pricing is fair. ... Most companies tack on policies to meet a sort of CSR quota, but don't view it as a necessary component of business. Is this wrong? No: "Capitalism does not need the fundamental reform that many CSR advocates wish for."—J.H.P.
New Republic, Jan. 31
Oil companies like Shell and Chevron claim to have embraced corporate social responsibility in the last decade, contributing funds to improve communities in Nigeria. But a Shell internal report found that, because money is channeled to the corrupt Nigerian government, the company "creates, feeds into, or exacerbates conflict." According to an article, oil-company executives "watch as much of the cash is wasted," by the government, "and then use the waste ... to justify stinginess in new spending." To Nigerians, this says oil companies are in cahoots with "a regime that cheats, steals, and kills." … An engaging profile of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen * offers background on the possible Democratic presidential contender in 2008. A Harvard-educated wonk from New York, Bredesen has designed the state Christmas card, built a canoe from scratch, and turned Nashville into one of the South's most dynamic cities. How does he woo rural Republicans? He doesn't back down from a trap-shooting challenge.—B.B.
New York Times Magazine, Jan. 23
A profile of evangelist Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, compares his Atlanta ministry to the alternative-rock scene of 15 years ago. Skater punks and lost losers are Bakker's flock; his M.O. is to criticize megachurches instead of major rock labels and to "flatten the status of the pastor" instead of the rock star. A middle-aged Southern Baptist minister says he attends Bakker's sermons because "What I saw him doing was what I had not seen, which is just loving people." ... A piece on militant Islam's growing reach in Bangladesh recounts how one of the country's leading poets was attacked by ax-wielding young men who had come to his door asking for a poem; he was saved by his 4-foot-tall wife and his sister-in-law. ... The cover story probes the mind of a convicted child molester, revealing that he is not very different from most men his age.—B.B.
The New Yorker, Jan. 24
In a piece looking at the president's significantly increased power over intelligence and covert operations, an unnamed source tells Seymour Hersh that U.S. military action against Iran is already under way. With the help of Pakistan, the administration has been sending recon teams into Iran since last summer. Bush has also authorized secret commando groups that would target terrorists in at least 10 nations, and the recruitment of local "action teams" reminiscent of the U.S.-financed Salvadoran death squads of the 1980s. Because these missions are classified as military rather than intelligence operations, they are not bound by legal restrictions imposed upon the CIA's covert operations, which must be reported to Congress. ... Another article examines a proposed ban that would outlaw fox hunting in Britain. Protestors have taken to depositing dead horses in the streets and disguising themselves as Labor Party members and construction workers in order to sneak into Parliament.—B.B.
Weekly Standard, Jan. 24 The magazine publishes two indictments of the recently released CBS report regarding the controversial 60 Minutes segment about President Bush's National Guard service. One piece declares the report "useless," as it fails to answer two key questions—whether the memos were indeed fakes and whether political proclivities drove CBS to use them. The article criticizes the investigators for relying solely on the word of Dan Rather and CBS producer Mary Mapes, who both declared they were not driven by politics, to determine that bias played no role in airing the segment. The other piece offers additional background on the scandal by delving into Mary Mapes’ long-grounded skepticism about Bush's National Guard duty, which first surfaced in 1999. The article says Mapes convinced herself of the memos' authenticity because "she wanted to believe the forgeries were real"; even her "superiors knew before the story aired that her reporting was slanted against Bush in an obvious and undisguised manner."—J.H.P.
Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 24 The Iraqi election. Time and Newsweek examine the situation in Iraq with respect to the impending national election. Although the hope is that Iraqi independence will promote a spirit of nationalism among the country's soldiers, it's possible that the election will spark the opposite sentiment: "[A]ll major Sunni parties are boycotting the elections, and many Iraqis have been warned that voters will be shot on sight by the insurgents. Sunnis may feel they have fewer reasons than ever to fight for their government," says Newsweek.... Time adds that given the high rate of attacks expected from insurgents on Election Day, only about half of eligible voters may participate, which could lead to "the drafting of the constitution dominated by Shiite Muslims. And that would further alienate Sunnis and embolden extremists." Meanwhile, although the United States works furiously to keep insurgents at bay, "the rebels have responded with ever more sophisticated strikes."
Bush's inauguration.U.S. News outlines what we can expect from President Bush in his second term—namely, his desire to establish an "ownership society," through reforms of the tax code, Social Security, and the tort system, among others, all of which allow individuals greater control over their assets. Though Bush is concentrating primarily on domestic issues, the situation in Iraq still remains of critical importance, according to one official: "If we don't get Iraq right, nothing else will matter much." … Newsweek attempts to dispel myths about Bush—apparently he's an avid reader, and although "you'd think Bush's guiding principle was to put yes men in positions of power," the president "draws a sharp line between people who can get things done, and those who simply agree with anything he says." … Time reiterates the now common refrain that Social Security is not in crisis, and adds in another piece that the program that really needs the overhaul is the pension system.
Twixters. Time attempts to coin a new phrase, "Twixters," to refer to young adults age 18 to 25 who won't settle down—they're single, tend to migrate from city to city, and frequently hop from job to job. Not to worry, says the cover story: "The twixters aren't lazy … they're reaping the fruit of decades of American affluence and social liberation. This new period is a chance for young people to savor the pleasures of irresponsibility, search their souls and choose their life paths." … A Newsweek interview with Sherry Lansing, the former head of Paramount Pictures, reveals the sexism rampant in the entertainment business in the early '80s. At the time, Lansing was promoted and sought the same salary as the man who'd had the job before her. "I was told that I was earning quite enough money for a single woman. He said to me, 'Look, we have to pay him more because he has a family to support.' "—J.H.P.
Bidisha Banerjee is the San Francisco-based co-author of a forthcoming Yale Climate and Energy Institute/Centre for International Governance Innovation report on scenario planning for solar radiation management. She is collaborating on a geoengineering game and has written about geoengineering governance for Slate and the Stanford Journal of Law, Science, and Policy.