In my last blog post, I posed the question, Is Corporate Social Responsibility Socially Responsible? This is a question that many have debated since the concept ballooned in 2005, when corporate donations grew by an unprecedented 22.5%, amounting to $13.77 billion, according to the Giving USA Foundation.
But as Betsy Atkins states in her Forbes.com commentary, “It is absolutely correct to expect that corporations should be ‘responsible’ by creating quality products and marketing them in an ethical manner. . . However, the notion that the corporation should apply its assets for social purposes, rather than for the profit of its owners, the shareholders, is irresponsible.” She goes on to say that it is the shareholders’ responsibility, not the corporation’s, to donate their own assets to charity.
Others say that companies should consider their impact on the world while pursuing their quest for profit, and thankfully for all of us, today corporate social responsibility (CSR) has reached an all-time high. In fact, some corporations are taking an even more radical approach to the concept of “giving back.”
Take Panera Bread for instance. Imagine walking into a Panera Bread restaurant, picking out anything you want from their menu, and at the end of the line there are no cash registers -- just a donation box. Sounds like a radical idea, right? Maybe so, but Panera Bread is doing just that in its newly established Panera Cares Cafes. A sign at the entrance says: "Take what you need, leave your fair share." While the stores do have cashiers, they don't collect money. They simply hand each customer a receipt that says what their food would cost at a conventional Panera Bread restaurant and direct them to a donation box -- but the cashiers will accept credit cards! All the money collected from customers is then donated to charitable causes. Customers who can't pay are asked to donate their time.
So if you knew that some of your lunch money would be used to serve at-risk youth or to feed people who aren't able to feed themselves, how much would you put in that donation box? That's what Panera Bread is trying to find out. But not everyone feels this is a good idea. Critics of the approach argue that the honor system won’t work in the long run and that others will feel uncomfortable breaking bread next to the very people they are trying to help.
In spite of such doubters, Nordstrom will soon be opening a charitable concept store of its own in New York City's Soho district where the store will donate all of its profits to charity. But it will be following a slightly different model than Panera Bread. The “Nordstrom” charitable stores will be about a 10th the size of a typical Nordstrom store and will carry a different name.
Whether this somewhat radical concept and definitely controversial approach to CSR will catch on is yet to be seen. But the question still remains -- do consumerism and charity work well together or not? What is your opinion? Please share it in the comments section below.
-- Kim Patton, Training Coordinator, Foundation Center-Washington, DC